Why I Like Nurses Week

Safety Plan

Safety Plan/Plougmann/via Flickr

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.)

Editor-in-chief, AJN

One Comment

  1. Stela Naco July 27, 2016 at 10:55 am

    Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

    Thank you for posting a blog in regards to nurse’s week. As a fellow RN, I must agree with you about the under appreciation of the work that we do. I myself, am a novice nurse who started her first job in the NICU. It has been a challenging career so far. Caring for little patients and their parents, are my number one responsibility. I work the night shift. During this time, our doctors are somewhere sleeping and should only be interrupted when necessary. As a new nurse, every day is a learning experience. Determining the difference between a critical situation versus a normal occurence has been challenging. Despite my uncertainty, if anything about my patient seems like it should be attended to, I always call the doctor to have them assess the patient. You cannot imagine how upseting this is to them. Sometimes, it has not been necessary to call them and sometimes it has been very critical. Either way, we receive little appreciation for the extra careful care that we give and in return, we get scrutinized for advocating for our patients. The stigma that nurses are doctors’ aids remains because doctors have yet to acknowledge us as important members of the interdisciplinary team. I am proud to be a nurse, and whether or not I am recognized for the work I do, my job is to take care of my patiens. If they can walk out of the hospital healthy, then that is rewarding enough.

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