National Nurses Week 2012

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May 7th, 2012

By , BSN, RN

”May 6 to May 12 is National Nurses Week (NNW), an opportunity to recognize the contributions of the nation’s 3.1 million registered nurses and educate the public about the vital role we play in America’s health care system,” said American Nurses Association (ANA) president, Karen A. Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN, in her message to the country’s RNs. “This week, the American Nurses Association, with its constituent and state nurses associations, honors your commitment to nursing.”

”As a nurse, you strive for excellence in all you do. You provide patients and their families with skilled, compassionate care, and help them navigate a complex and oftentimes overwhelming health care system,” Daley continued. “Regardless of your role or title, you educate, counsel, advocate, and lead.” Your work makes a difference to countless patients, families, and communities who benefit from your dedication and professionalism. Amid the fast pace of your life, you may not take time to reflect on all the good you do. This week is the time to acknowledge and celebrate the difference you make.”

How The Week Came to Be

Getting a national recognition day for nurses did not come easy. In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a "Nurse Day" in October of the following year. The proclamation was never made. In 1954, 1955 and 1972 similar proposals were put before Congress and still nothing happened.

In January 1974 the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed that May 12 would be "International Nurse Day." Since 1965, the ICN has celebrated "International Nurse Day. Finally, in February 1974, President Richard M. Nixon designated a National Nurse Week, and issued a proclamation.

In February, 1982, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6, as "National Nurses Day." The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as "National Recognition Day for Nurses." President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25, proclaiming "National Recognition Day for Nurses" to be May 6, 1982.

In 1990 the ANA Board of Directors expanded the recognition of nurses to the week-long celebration it is today.

Celebrating Who We Are

This year’s theme is Nurses: Advocating, Leading, Caring. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.

  • Advocating – An advocate is someone that argues for a cause; a supporter or defender. Well, that certainly seems to define most nurses. We take very seriously our roles as the client’s advocate, often standing up for them when they cannot stand up for themselves due to illness, injury, or disability. According to Daley, “During this pivotal time in our nation’s journey to transform health care, the theme is particularly meaningful. We continue to advocate for a system that puts patients at the center and that emphasizes prevention and wellness.”
  • Leading – If we take the definition to mean directing or guiding I think that embraces much of what nursing is about. Dailey references the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing Report, which identified nurses as the healthcare providers who can most improve healthcare practice environments. We spend more actual time with the patients than other members of the healthcare team, we are responsible for the bulk of the recordkeeping, and for much of the healthcare teaching. It is this intimate knowledge of what patient’s and their loved ones need and expect that give nurses insight into ways to improve healthcare delivery in this country.
  • Caring – Feeling and exhibiting concern and empathy for others—this definition likely describes why many of us entered nursing in the first place. Caring is the cornerstone of what we do and it is caring combined with integrity that makes Americans vote us the most trustworthy profession year after year.

Joining Forces

I think a perfect example of the Advocating, Leading, Caring theme is how, last month, nursing threw its support behind the White House’s Joining Forces initiative. The newest goal of Joining Forces has been the enlisting of nurses in recognizing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). It is believed the injuries have affected one in six of the troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq—or more than 300,000 veterans. However, the number may be much higher.

The First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the vice-president, announced in April that 150 nursing organizations and 450 nursing schools in 50 states have committed to training nurses to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD.

Though the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration continue their strong efforts to address PTSD and TBI, we know that more than half of today's Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seek care from health care providers outside of the VA system. There are veterans in every corner of this country and if we are going to fully understand the issues they face, we've got to meet our veterans where they live. That means health care providers across the country need to have some fundamental understanding about PTSD and TBI so they recognize the conditions and then positively impact the health care outcome for veterans.

The Obama-Biden effort aims at expanding the network of professionals prepared to help. And, it uses nurses, who are increasingly the primary providers of health care.

A Healthy Dose of Self Care

Many hospitals will take a few minutes over the next week to recognize their nurses for the work they do. There will be luncheons and ice cream socials, there will be award presentations and little gifts like lunch bags, pedometers and throw blankets. That’s all well and good but if as a nurse you want to do something serious for this national week of recognition learn to take care of yourself.

“Nursing is a challenging and rewarding profession. I encourage you to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally. Doing so will allow you to be fully present for your patients and their families,” Daley said. The “ANA has developed a range of resources for you as part of our Healthy Nurse program, and our Healthy Nurse Conference on June 14 offers a unique opportunity to join with other nurses who understand the challenges of incorporating healthy habits into our busy lives.”

Find some time this week for you. Go take a walk, get a mani/pedi, have lunch with a friend, take a nap, spend some extra time with your spouse or children. The best way for nurses to be their best is to treat themselves with a little TLC. In fact, you might consider making a Nurse’s Day at least once a month—taking care of your self will make taking care of your clients that much easier. And, Happy Nurses Week!

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