By Dr. Stacey Malinowski
Associate Dean, School of Health Sciences
This year is the 40th anniversary of former president Ronald Reagan’s proclamation to mark May 6th as a national recognition day for nurses. Expanded in 1990 by the American Nurses Association to encompass a whole week, National Nurses Week now concludes on May 12th, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. This week is a time for individuals, employers, community leaders, and nurses to recognize and celebrate the vast, selfless contributions made by America’s almost 4.2 million registered nurses to our communities.
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Affecting Nurses
While the past two years were uncharted territory for everyone, nurses – the largest segment of the healthcare provider population – really felt the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, there was already a shortage of nurses and nurse educators across the nation.
COVID-19 then came and left many nurses in a state of flux. Nurses were either furloughed or reassigned if an outpatient, clinical, or non-urgent care center was temporarily closed. Many nurses were exhausted, short-staffed, and working with constantly changing guidance from the top authorities and working under contingency plans.
Patient Violence Against Nurses Has Increased
Change has been the only constant in the nursing profession. Many nurses also did not have access to appropriate personal protective equipment, which led to many resignations or retirements. Scarcity of resources and ethical dilemmas were the norm rather than the exception.
Also, violence against nurses by patients has escalated, and one-third of nurses surveyed by the American Nurses Foundation reported an increase in physical violence at work and two-thirds reported increased bullying. Nurses provided emergency and end-of-life care to their colleagues, as thousands of nurses are thought to have died as a result of COVID-19.
The Guardian and Kaiser Health Network estimated that 32% of all COVID-19-related healthcare professional deaths were nurses. It is also estimated by Hospital IQ that 90% of nurses are considering leaving the profession within the next year.
Nurses: The Most Trusted Profession
We can’t completely blame the pandemic for the current state of nursing in the United States. Short-staffing, turnover, workplace violence and a lack of qualified candidates have been pervasive issues within the profession for decades.
However, nurses persist. And for the 20th year in a row, nurses have been named the most trusted profession. So how can we, during National Nurses Week or at any other time, begin to show our appreciation for our nurses and frontline healthcare providers?
How to Thank Nurses during National Nurses Week and Other Times of the Year
First of all, nothing goes further than a simple “thank you.” In addition to thanking your nurse for their work, consider sending a note or an email to the manager of the nursing unit sharing your praise for the staff, an individual, or the whole nursing unit.
Many organizations participate in the DAISY Award, which allows visitors and other staff to nominate those nurses who go above and beyond. If you see signs for this award at your local hospital, consider participating.
If you have the means to do so, please consider donating to one of the many professional nursing organizations that advocate for nurses, such as the American Nurses Association or your local state chapter. Advocacy efforts at the local, state and federal level for legislation to protect healthcare workers is another way someone can give back to nurses.
Join the citizen advisory board at your local healthcare facility. Find out how local delegates are voting on nursing related issues and share your input. And finally, extend a nurse some patience and grace.
While the pandemic is not at the critical level it once was, nurses are still caring for COVID-19 patients, and hospitals are still reeling from staffing shortages from the past two years. Resources still may be scarce, and nurses are still working overtime to ensure that all patients are cared for. Let’s show respect and care for those who so selflessly care for us, especially during National Nurses Week.