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Do We Still Need Nurses Week?

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, April 27, 2010

Take the banners out of storage and order platters of cookies! National Nurses Week is almost upon us! The annual tradition begins with National Nurses Day on May 6, and ends May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

Each year, in hospitals across the nation, Nurses Week is marked by the parade of suits from the C-Suite bringing lunch or snacks to the units, the traditional exchange of trinkets, and mandatory maudlin accounts of the angelic nature of nursing. If you haven't ordered a logo-bedecked gift yet (mug, hand sanitizer, pedometer, water bottle), you're too late.

Is it just me, or is anyone else uncomfortable about the tradition and hoopla? Why do we need Nurses Week? Few other healthcare professions receive such singular attention. Respiratory Therapy Week? Don't hold your breath! Phlebotomists' Week? They don't even get a Phriday! Physicians get one day (March 30, if you forgot to send a card.)

Yet, each year, health systems make a big deal out of Nurses Week. Nurses are thanked, exalted, and much is made of the touchy-feely aspect of nursing. There's a guilt complex at work here—one-week recognition permits nurses to be ignored and under-valued for the remaining 51 weeks.

Much has been written about efforts to shape up the image of nursing and raise the profession's stature, including the fact that nursing needs to exert greater influence over healthcare. When this happens, we won't need Nurses Week as a salve for our burned-out, overworked nurses.

Let's frame this year's Nurse Week festivities less in the context of nurses as angelic heroes (they are) and celebrate the highly-skilled professionals who possess critical-thinking, problem-solving, and care coordination skills that ensure patient safety every day.

Instead of spending money on logoed tchotkes, put the money into nursing research, or create a fund for continuing education conferences. The American Nurses Association has some great suggestions about how to mark the week. Host an editorial board meeting with your state and local newspapers to promote the role of registered nurses at the bedside and the profession's concerns about safety and quality of care.

Many nurses love Nurses Week. I shouldn't ridicule the importance of a piece of cake and a heartfelt thank you once a year. So yes, we still need Nurses Week. But wouldn't it be nice if we didn't?


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Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits www.StrategiesForNurseManagers.com and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at rhendren@hcpro.com.

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1 comments on "Do We Still Need Nurses Week?"


H. McMillan RN (9/27/2014 at 2:06 AM)
The Hospital I work at celebrates Hospital Week and everyone is included. While cake may be trivial, a profession that is as challenging and as important as nursing does deserve recognition and always will.