I read recently, “We will not protect our own hearts, we will work to protect our human family.” For the millions of men and women called to nursing, these words are a principle to live by. National Nurses Week begins every year on May 6. While on the surface it’s a time for nurses to be recognized for their contributions to healthcare by our colleagues, patients, families, and friends, it’s should also be a time to reflect on how far the field of nursing has come in a relatively short time.
Too few people know the story of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Having strived through her lifetime to elevate a helping vocation to a full-fledged profession, her legacy is the foundation of modern nursing. Through considerable effort, she pioneered medical and hospital sanitation to reduce mortality, developed and tracked statistics to support those efforts, and helped shape field medicine, nursing education, and hospital administration. Moreover, Nightingale left a remarkable and timeless example of what a compassionate, devoted, and dedicated caregiver to the sick and injured looks like. Less than 200 years after entering nursing training herself, could Florence Nightingale have ever imagined what the field of nursing would look like today?
In 2016, nurses remain diligent care providers at hospital bedsides and in clinics where they are trained and certified in their specialties, sharing the mantle of medical care and leading the interdisciplinary team. Intensive care nurses tirelessly care for the sickest of the sick. Pediatric nurses bravely care for medically fragile children. Oncology nurses face cancer and all of its complications with their patients. Cardiac nurses show no fear in a Code Blue. Emergency department nurses can handle anything that comes through the door.
Beyond the bedside, nurses are in prisons, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, homeless shelters, and nursing homes, caring for and about the marginalized. Public health nurses advocate for the most vulnerable in our communities. Forensic nurses are devoted to the victims of violence and abuse. Hospice nurses face death every day, shouldering fear and pain with their patients. Genetics nurses are caring for patients at risk for or affected by diseases for which there are no cures. Case Management nurses coordinate care, patient resources, and services with a goal to keep patients healthy. Informatics nurses utilize their expertise to improve care delivery and impact healthcare policy. Nurses are important members of revenue cycle teams, ensuring clinical outcomes are drivers of business efforts. Clinical Nurse Specialists ensure our professional standards are met. Nurse practitioners are protecting access to healthcare for all of us through their advanced practice. Nurses are influencing the healthcare continuum through their diligent work as executives of hospitals and health systems.
The reach of modern nursing practice is expansive. From the operating room to the board room, men and women who have answered the call of nursing are deserving of this week of acknowledgement. National Nurses Week is a time to remember the vocation that became a most honorable profession.