Nurses Week and Nurses Day: Please, No Pens!

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale 1820-1910 ministering to soldiers at Scutari a suburb of Istanbul during the Crimean War, Lithograph by Robert Riggs ca. 1930 with modern watercolor.   Copyright Everett Historical
Nurses Week recognizes professional nurses’ contribution to healthcare. The nation will recognize professional nursing from May 6th to May 12th, the birth date of Florence Nightingale. I encourage you to read this 2014 New York Times article on Nightingale. You’ll be surprised by the differences between the real person and the image of Florence Nightingale we often perceive.

A Brief History of Nurses Week and Nurses Day

Dorothy Sutherland, an official in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare,  presented the proclamation for “Nurse Day” to President Eisenhower in 1953. Thirty years, 6 presidents, and 17 years after the International Council of Nurses proclaimed May 12th International Nurse Day, President Reagan proclaimed May 6th National Recognition Day for American Nurses. Click here for a complete history of Nurses Week and Nurses Day. Now, annually from May 6th to May 12th, institutions, organizations, and businesses recognize Nurses Week and Nurses Day.

Nurses Week and Nurses Day Then and Now

Early in the history of Nurses Week, organizations chose to recognize their nursing staffs with trinkets: pens, stickies, bags, and pins—and lunch: night nurses were often short-changed. Many organizations now take a more intellectual (and inclusive) approach to celebrating Nurses Week and offer a combination of stress-relieving events and knowledge-driven forums to recognize nurses. Also, keynote presenters and speakers  discuss topics of interest and of concern to professional nursing and to healthcare.
Two years ago I attended a Nurses Day luncheon at which the president of a health care institution and the president of the institution’s medical staff spoke of the contributions of nurses to that institution and to the surrounding community. In great detail, their speeches lauded nurses’ contributions to medical-surgical and critical care units, and outpatient clinics; nurses’ contribution to nursing, medical, and allied health education; contributions to hospital administration; and contributions to research.
Many of the nurses who attended the luncheon originally felt contrite for the displeasure they often expressed regarding physicians’ failure to recognize nurses’ contribution to healthcare. If these two physician leaders expressed the sentiments of the institution’s medical staff, then clearly nursing staff’s point of view was grossly inaccurate.
After the physicians concluded their speeches, the host introduced the keynote speaker Diane Mason, PhD, Professor of Nursing at Hunter College-Bellevue School of Nursing; Director of the Center for Health, Media, and Policy at Hunter College; and former Editor-in-Chief of American Journal of Nursing. Two minutes into Dr. Mason’s delivery, the physicians who spoke of nursing with such intent and regard exited the venue.
What did this action mean? Nursing should not look to or expect recognition  from another profession or from an organization during Nurses Week or any other time.
 Nurses must acknowledge, celebrate, and promote their immense contributions to healthcare. 
In a recent interview, Cindi Lieve, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour,  stated, “You should count the number of times you praise somebody [for doing a good job] and then double that.” That may work in most professions, but not in nursing. Nurses must acknowledge and celebrate the value and the significance of their fellow nurses and their profession themselves.
Nursing Tag Words
Copyright: Kheng Guan Toh
Nurses are well-educated professionals many of whom have longstanding careers and contribute to improving the health of patients, providing healthcare education, and assisting patients and their families in navigating the maze-like and often overwhelming healthcare system. Nurses work in communities, hospitals, media, politics, the military, and just about any field one can imagine. For these, and numerous other reasons, nurses should be the driving force behind Nurses Week and Nurses Day celebrations.

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