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It's Nurses Week. Get It?

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   May 03, 2011

National Nurses Week is upon us once more, giving hospital leaders an opportunity to spend time with nursing staff and engage in meaningful conversations. The week begins May 6 and ends May 12 marking the 191st anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. The past year has seen highs and lows for the profession, and Nurses Week provides a time to recognize achievements and hard work.

As I argued last year, too often Nurses Week is applied as a salve; one week of over-recognition for 51 weeks of under-value and under-appreciation. Some clueless hospital leaders see Nurses Week as a time to hand out gifts and make speeches about "angels of caring."

Leaders that "get it" use the week to recognize dedicated professionals who perform a difficult job—problem-solving partners who tackle tough issues such as lowering healthcare-associated infections and reducing distractions so nurses can spend more time on patient care and less on paperwork.

This year Nurses Week is a welcome distraction from an uptick in news about disgruntled nurses striking or threatening strike action. Nursing unions are fighting battles across the country over staffing issues and safe patient care. On Friday, nurses at one of Boston's high-profile hospitals, Tufts Medical Center, have planned a walkout over safe patient staffing levels, and it looks like the strike will be echoed at other hospitals in the state.

At a time when important new studies have been published linking higher nurse staffing to reduced readmissions and lower patient mortality, relationships between hospitals and nursing staff have been tumultuous.

The last year has also seen the release of the most important report to hit nursing in decades with the conclusion of the Institute of Medicine's study on the Future of Nursing. The report offers a blueprint for where the profession can go, along with concrete steps for how to get there.

If you haven't read its eight top recommendations, I suggest you do so.

I was delighted to discover that nursing executives had the IOM report on their minds at the annual convention of the American Organization of Nurse Executives last month. Attendees were actively talking about how their organizations could implement recommendations, particularly through focusing more attention on new graduate preparation and nurse residency programs to support transition.

Nurse residency programs are one of the easiest IOM recommendations that hospitals can implement right away. The report calls for all new nurse graduates to be given transition programs. Such programs help new graduates bridge what is known as the preparation-practice gap, which is the technical term for the fact that new graduates are woefully unprepared for full-patient caseloads after only a short orientation and that they need time and assistance to become competent, confident practitioners.

Nurse residency programs benefit both new graduates and the organizations they work for. Not only do they support and educate new nurses, guiding them as they learn how to be nurses, they also increase competence and reduce turnover, ensuring the hospital a favorable return on investment.

Many new nurses graduating in the coming weeks will actively seek hospitals that offer nurse residency programs. To new grads, they are a sign that hospitals prioritize staff member's professional development and offer a positive work environment.

As you celebrate nurses this year, focus on positive accomplishments, but don't miss the opportunity to engage in frank conversations and build partnerships for improvement.

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

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