By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief
Here’s why I like Nurses Week. I’m sure some folks groan over the idea that for only one week out of the year, health care administrators actually think about all that nurses do and show their appreciation. My perspective is that at least we have one solid week with the spotlight on nursing, when we can toot our horns and make sure that people know the critical role of nursing in health care.
Sure, there are some people who will never “get” what nurses do beyond the old stereotype that nurses are doctors’ helpers. I’m always flabbergasted, though, when physicians—after so much time working alongside nurses as medical students, interns, and residents—still don’t have a more nuanced view of nursing.
In this month’s editorial, I address the American Nurses Association Nurses Week theme, “Culture of Safety: It Starts with You.” How many times, in the dead of night, have nurses called physicians to alert them to a critical change—or questioned an inappropriately ordered medication that, if given as ordered, could have had dire consequences? I also addressed this issue in a 2014 blog post about Arnold Relman, now deceased but then an emeritus professor of medicine at Harvard and a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who wrote about the nursing care he experienced while recovering from a serious accident:
“I had never before understood how much good nursing care contributes to patients’ safety and comfort, especially when they are very sick or disabled. This is a lesson all physicians and hospital administrators should learn. When nursing is not optimal, patient care is never good.”
After all his distinguished years in medicine, Dr. Relman may have only fully realized the value of nursing as a 90-year-old trauma patient.
Patient safety is on us. As I noted in my May editorial, we are “the sentinels, the around-the-clock watchers, detecting the changes that might herald a patient’s deterioration. Nurses are the ones that the system looks to—and often blames—when there’s a failure to rescue.”
And that doesn’t mean the dismal record of hospital errors are our fault—we know that in most systems, processes make it easy for errors to occur. Ask any nurse and she or he will tell you how many near misses they’ve been involved in.
What I do mean to say here is that we are the closest professional to the patient: most care goes through us or is coordinated by us. We have a duty to always question interventions and ask how something is going to help a patient. The buck stops with us. Nursing is the most important job in health care and we need to keep telling people about what we do. Not doing so make us invisible, and invisible groups don’t get resources.
So for the rest of this week—and beyond—make sure you make nurses’ work visible. (And take advantage that the May issue of AJN is free through the week. The podcast audio interviews and videos on the site are always free.)