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Nurses Hold Nurses Week Dear

 |  By  
   May 04, 2010

I touched a nerve last week when I asked if we still need Nurses Week. Judging from the emails and comments I received, the answer is an emphatic yes.

My role as devil's advocate annoyed some readers, who argued that nurses deserve recognition for their hard work and contribution to positive patient outcomes. I agree. Too often, as I argued, Nurses Week is applied as a salve; one week of recognition for 51 weeks of being under-valued and under-appreciated.

One senior nursing leader told me she was upset when she first read the article. As she thought about it, however, she changed her mind.

"I was upset because there's truth to it," says Marcia Donlon, vice president, Medical Center, and CNO at Holy Family Memorial in Manitowoc, WI. Donlon told me about the work her organization has done to strengthen nursing professionalism.

"For many years, nurses haven't felt empowered," says Donlon. "They were always being told what they can't do, rather than what they can do. Now our nurses feel empowered."

Donlon says that empowerment is demonstrated at through the work of shared decision-making councils—including performance improvement and professional development—that represent not only the hospital, but all the settings across the system, including home care and clinics.

Donlon says the celebrations on Thursday are proof of the organization's support for the professionalism of its nurses. "The fact is we're recognizing nurses' responsibility for being accountable and being empowered," she says.

One former CNO wrote of her struggles to recognize quality care, which did not resonate with the c-suite:

Bravo! As a former CNO, I always felt that Nurses Week celebrations were patronizing spectacles to "keep the ladies happy." Yes, I subscribed to the hoopla, but I would have much preferred recognition programs that rewarded objective improvements resulting from professional nursing interventions . . . to convince the C-suite that significant financial incentives recognizing exceptional care and quality improvement carried more weight than the perfunctory annual raise, was a major hurdle. Nothing has really changed over the years - the archaic structure of the hospitals governance system still exists; physicians are still being paid for questionable care even while the hospital reimbursement is denied; and rather than reining in inappropriate, ineffectual and non-contributing physician-generated clinical expenses, nurses are among the first to be laid off when revenue shortfalls puts the hospital at financial risk. And we still paternalistically pat the heads of the nursing staff to keep them happy and to say thank you.


Another reader made a connection between Nurses Week and Black History month:

While it would be nice not to need Nurses Week anymore (like not needing Black History month), it is still one time when attention is given to the backbone of the healthcare industry.


Several readers made the point that Nurses Week provides a vehicle for media discussion of the role of nursing. If you ever wanted to be published in your hometown paper, Nurses Week is a good hook to get an editor's attention.

There are many members of the public—my own family included—that still do not know enough about the importance of nursing. Part of the reason that nursing week is fantastic is that it allows for discussion and media coverage of the VAST amount of work that nurses do. I'm always excited to see the different work nurses are doing and how they are improving the health of people in all sorts of ways.


Indeed, many people wrote to tell me their organizations use the week to hold nursing research symposiums or bring in expert speakers for continuing education activities.

Nurse Week, like other observances and holidays, is what you make of it. Don't throw out the week, just because some organizations are not evolved and do not recognize and value their nursing staff. I can understand how someone with 10 patients would not appreciate the hypocrisy, and I would surmise that a phony nurse week celebration is the least of that facilities issues. Many hospitals celebrate the week with symposiums and other non-patronizing activities.


I even received a very touching piece from a communication director at a hospital who did not understand the importance of the caring side of nursing until he himself needed care. You can read his article in this week's NurseLeaders Forum.

As you kick off your celebrations on Thursday, please keep the emails coming and let me know what Nurses Week means to you.

Note: You can sign up to receive HealthLeaders Media NursingLeaders, a free weekly e-newsletter that offers concise updates on the top nursing leadership headlines of the week from top news sources.

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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