‘How Can You Bear to Be a Nurse?’ – Nurses Week Begins

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief

Photo from otisarchives4, via Flickr.

Many people, myself included, have mixed feelings about Nurses Week. But since many institutions have finally gotten the message that “I love nurses” shoelaces and bumper stickers are not appreciated, I’m fine with using the week to highlight nurses’ accomplishments or provide special educational programs—we should use all opportunities available to increase awareness of the value nurses bring to health care.

Former AJN editor Mary Mallison wrote an editorial for Nurses Week in 1987 that’s been deemed a classic. We’ve reprinted it in the journal, but it’s timeless in how it captures what nurses do, so here it is again (either click the above link to the article on our Web site, or just click the PDF below) for Nurses Week.

  PDF version: HowCanYouBearToBeANurse?

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Abby May 30, 2012 at 10:04 am

    My first response to the question would be that I find it difficult, but I give it my 100% each and every day because there are others that are depending on my experience, knowledge, and skills to provide them with the compassion, information, education and advocacy that only comes from a nurse.
    However, I am in agreement with many of the other respondents that it is becoming more difficult by the day due to the ongoing administrative policies that are affecting the health care that we receive, all based on fiscal bottom lines. Nurses are being replaced in some clinical areas through attrition with non-licensed staff that enable the hospitals to cut costs, but at what other cost? Nurses have been the back bone to health care excellence, but now they have become a fiscal liability to the very system and they are bombarded with extra work that the un-licensed staff can not legally perform, yet are told that they are equals and are under the same job description. Harassment, bullying, and other tactics are utilized in hopes that the “overpaid” employee will leave. In today’s society of “high-tech”, the experienced and knowledgeable nurse is being replaced by younger, computer-savy, facebook-active, self-concerned unlicensed, and in most cases, incompetent “help”. Errors abound, but the concerns are overridden for the benefit of cost savings.
    I would end in these words for rumination;
    Who do you want to be taking care of you in your time in need?
    A well-educated, knowledgeable, caring and compassionate nurse with the skills of assessment to pick up on those tiny, sometimes just “gut-felt” instincts that could mean life or death.
    Or, someone that is uneducated, lacking experience, caring and compassion, and is more interested in what their BFF just texted about their night out.
    It’s up to you. There is a movement out there that started 15 years ago all for the sake of the bottom line and we all must be aware of it. It will not be the end of nursing, but nursing will change dramatically. We must stand up now for our rights as nurses and most importantly for the rights of the patients to have the best care by the best clinicians AND the advocacy that they have come to know and expect. Only we can make that difference

  2. Cj Carver May 8, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I can’t. How many times can one person turn a blind eye to errors and go on? I have advocated for patients and was fired for my troubles. Harassed and bullied, this nurse has had enough. It is sad but for me, another nurse bites the dust. My body, mind and spirit can no longer bear it.

  3. JParadisiRN May 7, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks Shawn for re-publishing this lovely editorial. “Timeless” is the best word to describe it.

  4. Coach Perg May 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Until nurses are treated as the commodity we are, rather than the fiscal liability corporate health care views us as, we will continue to be placed in positions that are both dangerous to our patients as well as ourselves, due to low staffing levels poor, inept management style and corporate greed.

  5. […] ‘How Can You Bear to Be a Nurse?’ – Nurses Week Begins(ajnoffthecharts.com) […]

  6. jm May 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Please note, per AJN’s comments policy, that if your comment includes a link to a Web site advertising for-sale products or services, we reserve the right to treat it as spam or remove the link but allow the comment. Thanks for respecting our preferences in this.-the editors

  7. Shahina Lakhani May 7, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Dear Shawn, I agree with you. Just posting “I love Nurses” buttons and bumper stickers are of no use whatsoever. I admire you for going a step further and highlighting nurses’ accomplishments. At the same time, it is imperative that we go even beyond that. How about advocating for safe competent and compassionate care by advocating humane work conditions for nurses that is free of fear tactics and bullying so they can advocate for their clients without the fear of retaliation? How about advocating for bringing back humane care in healthcare? It is time nurses take a stance collectively and help bring healthcare back to the basics of care. Nurses’ week is an opportunity for us be united and to begin to play our true role in healthcare as advocates not only individually but also collectively.

  8. nurseinterupted May 7, 2012 at 11:14 am

    In the spirit of nurses week 2012 lets remember our sisters and brothers who put everything on the line to protect the interests of their colleagues, their patient’s safety, and the integrity of our profession…. of who we are. While we celebrate a profession we love and are proud of—please dont forget to silently think of those individuals who sacrificed enormously to “try” and make sure our profession was safer, better, while advocating for their colleagues and patients. Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Durango, Maryland, and those who are still too frightened to go public in Louisiana, keep them all in thought. There are beautiful parts to our profession, but along with our responsibilities comes tremendous risks to our own selves. Let this be a week of remembrance of what our profession is about and a time to reflect on what we want nursing to look like and feel like for the young who will be practicing alongside us in the future….because, we have a long way to go before getting to a safer, stronger, united entity.

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