Nurses Week–Here We Go Again

Here we go again. It’s Nurses Week and we are still battling a misguided perception of nurses.

This isn’t just a week to celebrate nurses for all that we do to keep patients well and safe, not only in hospital settings but on the world stage, and to remind ourselves that for 52 weeks a year we need to be vigilant and proactive to maintain our autonomy.

This time a politician shows her ignorance regarding nursing practice in hospital settings. The following is an excellent response by two nurses to the offensive comment:

Nurses aren’t sitting around playing cards, they’re working to fix global health

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Nurses aren't sitting around playing cards, they're working to fix global health

© Getty Images

Washington State Republican Sen. Maureen Walsh’s recent comment  that nurses “working at hospitals in rural regions probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day” is offensive to nurses regardless of nursing role or practice setting.

While Walsh has apologized and many nurses have expressed their disgust for her statement, voicing their disdain on social media, via emails, letters and even sending  1,700 decks of cards to Walsh, nurses can seize this moment to educate Walsh, policymakers and citizens on the role and contributions of nurses who daily care for individuals and communities worldwide to help people achieve health.

As nurses with decades of service to the profession, we know firsthand the tremendous work that our colleagues do as clinicians, researchers, educators and policy advocates. On a daily basis, we work alongside and in collaboration with very talented, educated and committed individuals who consider it an honor to serve in this capacity.

Whether in rural or urban areas, the demands associated with providing quality care require that we spend our working hours doing just that, not engaging in activities that do not lead to better outcomes for those we serve. To do otherwise would be disrespectful to the profession and would violate nursing’s contract with society.  

We do not take the distinction of being the most trusted profession lightly. For 17 consecutive years Gallup poll results revealed that more than four in five Americans, or 84 percent, rated nurses’ honesty and ethical standards as very high or high compared to 20 other professions.

Yet, the misrepresentation of nurses is not new.

For years the profession has worked to elevate the image of nursing and reverse the stereotypical images depicted in the media. Sandy Summers and Harry Jacobs Summers, authors of the 2009 Saving Lives: What the Media’s Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us all at Risk  provide examples of  the dangers of inaccurate portrayal of nurses.

As a profession, nurses have made progress highlighting the tremendous role nurses play in caring for those need of health care services. This month, Oprah magazine featured  five nurses who “just might save the world”.

Globally, nurses such as Dr. Sheila Tlou, a former UNAIDS Director for Eastern and Southern Africa and former Minister of Health in Botswana, raise awareness of the critical role nurses play in health policy. Tlou used her expertise as a nurse to develop and lead a nurse-driven intervention to decrease the maternal mortality rate due to HIV/AIDs in the region from 38 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2008. These interventions reduced  mother to child transmission of HIV from 40 percent to less than 4 percent within four years.

Members of the British monarchy have recognized the contributions of nurses in protecting human health and wellness. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, helped launch the campaign Nursing Now. The campaign is based on the triple impact report identifying the need to develop  the profession of nursing in order  improve health, promote gender equality and support economic growth.

Nursing Now, recently launched in the U.S., is committed to elevating the status of nursing globally and helping people understand how important it is to have the expertise of nurses in their communities and in positions of decision making on health care initiatives.

It is time to erase the inaccuracies and re-examine the prevalent image of nurses in this country. The opportunity to elevate the conversation extends beyond our elected officials. Everyone could benefit from knowing our commitment to advancing a nation’s health.  

This is not a game to us.

Janice Phillips, RN PhD, is an associate professor at Rush University College of Nursing and the Director of Nursing Research and Health Equity at the Rush University.  Medical Center. Colleen Chierici BSN, RN is the president of the nursing staff at Rush Oak Park Hospital and working towards her doctorate in Family Nurse Practice.  Both are Public Voices fellows through The OpEd Project. 

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