Oh for a Thimbleful of Gratitude!

By Christine Moffa, AJN clinical editor

I had surgery 12/28 and spent four days on med-surg afterwards. I literally spent 3/4 of my time sleeping (bliss! oh rapture unforseen!), but *every single time* anyone came into my room for any reason (meds, IV change, turn off the freaking IV alarm, phlebotomist, housekeeping, whatever), I said “thank you.” I got the feeling I was abnormal. . . . So. How often do your pts say thank you, and does it come as a surprise when they do?

It’s been a few years since I’ve worked directly with patients, but in the past when I had a particularly tough day I would tell people that “nursing is a thankless job.” I’m talking about the kind of day when you barely had time to use the bathroom, never mind eat something, and the only feedback you heard from patients and administration was about what you didn’t get done. So when I saw a post (excerpted above) called “How often do your pts thank you?” at Allnurses.com, it hit a nerve.

by Orin Zebest/via Flickr

The responses to the post were mixed, with some saying it’s common to be thanked by patients and others arguing the opposite. Maybe it’s regional—I’ve only worked on the East Coast, and in my experience complaints seem to get more air time than gratitude. Or maybe it’s just the times we’re living in. Either way, I’m sure most nurses would say they didn’t choose this career in the hope of being thanked all day long. I just think it could make the day a little more enjoyable if you were.

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


  1. Mary Lou Schwartzberg February 16, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I work in college health and our patients almost always say thank you. However, even more, they are thankful for having someone just spend time with them and showing them care and concern.

  2. cynfry February 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    I think it is just a mentality of nurses these days that it is their job, that you shouldn’t be thanked constantly for doing your job. I, too, live in the South and sometimes here people thank you for every single thing that the thank yous go right in one ear and out the other and they really don’t mean as much. I would rather be thanked for doing things above and beyond and it mean something.

  3. Doug Olsen February 1, 2010 at 10:14 am

    And if the patient whose wounds you are washing did not meet you with gratitude, but worried you with his whims, without valuing or remarking your charitable services, began abusing you and rudely commanding you, and complaining to the superior authorities of you (which often happens when people are in great suffering) – what then? Would you persevere in your love, or not?’
    Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. pg. 61

  4. torontoemerg February 1, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Being thanked, not frequently, apart from the perfunctory thanks for bring a cup of coffee, or a magazine. We got flowers in the emergency from a patient the other day in thanks for care, and we all stared at it like it had just dropped from an airplane. Finally someone said, “Is that really for us???”

  5. Mary January 30, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    I get thanked once in a while but what really bothers me is people not saying please. I work in dialysis so I am part maid/waitress and patients do not say please get the tv for me, or please cover my feet with the blanket. AND I live in the South where everyone is unusually polite. In fact I am in the most polite city in America a few years in a row.

  6. cmonkey January 30, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Wow, that was my post. I’m glad to see that it got people thinking, even off of AN. I still haven’t been able to come to a reasonable conclusion as to why the staff seemed so surprised by me. I think part of it is that all the other pts I saw were so gorked out on pain meds that they probably *couldn’t* talk much. But I think another part is that Americans don’t much thank people for doing their jobs anymore. Think of all the people who leave their popcorn cups on the floor of the theater when they leave. “It’s their job to clean it up!” Sure, it’s their job, but that doesn’t mean you have to make it harder for them. I don’t know. I guess I’ll have a lot of time to think about it in school.

    Thanks for quoting me!

  7. Peggy McDaniel January 29, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    As a peds nurse for many years I did have a lot of parents tell me thank you and many made their kids say thanks… I agree, it does make the day a little brighter. The thank you’s helped counter balance the days the parents reamed me out for things that had to be done to get their kid well.

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