Nurses Week is May 6-12, and this year the final day of Nurses Week coincides with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of the modern nursing profession. What an extraordinary time for us to think about the contribution that nurses make to our society! The challenges that nurses and our care teams are facing as we confront the coronavirus rival the wartime years when nurses were celebrated for their service in combat areas and field hospitals, or during times of societal crises, such as the polio epidemic in 1952.
It is not a surprise that for the 18th consecutive year nurses topped the 2019 Gallup Poll’s annual ranking of how Americans view 22 major professions. Nurses, medical doctors, and pharmacists are all among the professions ranked highest for honesty and ethics—and 85% of Americans describe nurse ethics as “very high” or “high.” It is a well-deserved distinction, and something that nurses reconfirm by their work and in their lives every day.
The words nurse and nurture share the same roots in language—and contain the idea of one who takes care of, looks after, educates, and advises. Nurses and nursing have always been about nurturing and providing care. Since the beginning of the 17th century, nurse has carried a specific medical sense. Many of the nurses that I know regard their work as a calling—a ministry—patterning their professional lives after Florence Nightingale, whose vision and courage for nursing first established nursing as a profession.
It was in the Crimean War in the 1850s that Nurse Nightingale’s nursing skills and ideas were tested and proved. At a time when hospitals were poorly equipped and lacked even basic sanitation, she saw an opportunity to create environments for healing. Nightingale’s army of nurses set new standards for care, and as the reduction in death rates became evident, her success was soon copied by other hospitals. She passionately lobbied for better training for nurses, and she tirelessly advocated for the development of clinical environments that would facilitate and enhance the care that patients received.
About her passion and commitment she wrote, “Rather, ten times, die in the surf, heralding the way to a new world, than stand idly on the shore.” Generations of nurses have taken up her cause, and they embody her commitment and spirit.
Like movie superheroes, nurses don’t wear capes anymore. But they have never been more effective or essential. Our nurses bring skillful practice, critical thinking, situational awareness, and Florence Nightingale’s perseverance to their jobs each day. They are on the frontline of helping our patients and community confront the hard realities of this extraordinary time. We have asked more of them than we fully know, and we have seen them reach deeper for inner strength than anyone thought possible.
If you are a nurse, we take this opportunity during Nurses Week to honor your contribution and commitment. Thank you! May the blessings that you bring to your patients and your colleagues in care also be yours as we recognize your vital role in our work and in our world.