We’ve come through another blizzard here in New York. Many people worked from home that day (we did, at AJN, since the office was closed), or enjoyed the luxury of spending the day safe at home with family. But most nurses had to find a way to get to work.
Long Slog to the Bronx
Many years ago, I worked the evening shift at a hospital for the terminally ill. I was assigned to work on the day of a blizzard. I love my work and had no one to worry about at home, so I was determined to get to the hospital. I usually took a bus across the Bronx to work, but the buses weren’t running. My only option was to take the subway south to Times Square in Manhattan, then shuttle underground across town and switch to another subway line to go back north, to the east side of the Bronx. With luck I could make the trip in less than two hours.
With no buses running, I had to walk to the train station—25 minutes in good weather. The blizzard slowed me, but at least my path was downhill. The subway ran above ground in my neighborhood, on elevated tracks, and I managed to climb the snow-covered steps without slipping off and falling onto Broadway. When the train finally came – few were running – we all stood gaping on the platform. It was like watching a ghost train as first the headlights, then the first car, emerged from the heavy swirl of snow.
I wasn’t alone on the train. Others, too, were headed for work, and not all were nurses, police, firefighters, or emergency managers. New York City is very much a workers’ town. We ride public transit and assume we will be delivered to our jobs, whatever the weather. That’s almost always true. We sat (all had seats!) in quiet solidarity, relieved to have made it through the snow to a train that was running on a track not yet blocked by the snow.
The stop nearest the hospital left me with less than a mile to walk. The blizzard hadn’t abated, but after a long train ride and with the end of my journey in site, I hiked the last leg of my trip excitedly, knowing now that I would reach my destination. (I’m from Michigan. I like snow.)
I arrived at the hospital soaked, my long hair dripping despite my hood. I pulled uniform and shoes from my backpack, changed quickly, and headed to the nursing office to check in. I was greeted ecstatically by the two or three staffers who had made it in (or stayed from the day shift). You would have thought I’d brought five other nurses with me! But with staffing tight during the storm, even one more RN would make a difference.
A Little Appreciation
Administrators at this hospital had always shown their appreciation of frontline staff. Food in the hospital cafeteria was free on every holiday. At Thanksgiving, a freezer truck pulled up to the hospital and administrators handed out turkeys to all staff—full time, part time, per diems. Even a vegetarian like me couldn’t help but acknowledge their generosity.
On the night of the blizzard, the cafeteria was once again free. Pizza was ordered late in the evening, delivered to every nurses’ station by the head of the hospital, who thanked us for coming to work (or staying an extra shift) in the snow. We had lights, heat, and water, and enough staff to attend to our patients and to the family members who had stayed on during the storm. We were safe, it was cozy, and we went about our work as we always did.
The administration of this hospital understood better than any place I’ve worked that thanks and appreciation go a long way with nurses. And how much did free food and an hour of “thank you” rounding on the units really cost? This small investment paid off in a loyal, low-turnover, and for the most part happy workforce. Of course we want fair salaries and good benefits, and we want to be respected for our expertise. But for most nurses, a sincere thank you goes a very long way.
In bad weather and other emergencies, we often go to extraordinary lengths to be there for our patients and coworkers. It’s part of the job; we know we’re needed. Those health care administrators who genuinely appreciate our dedication and expertise will find that they reap more in loyalty, commitment, and low turnover than any Magnet designation ever can.