Nurses Week is now upon us. Historically, many organizations commemorate the birthday of Florence Nightingale each May by celebrating with a week of festivities to honor nurses. Whimsical pens, mugs, and “Nurses Call the Shots” sheet cakes are merrily distributed by administrators to give thanks for their amazing nurses May 6 through 12. Given the current climate of a stressful pandemic and critically low personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, what can organizations do this year to celebrate the nursing staff?

Is "Celebrating" for Nurses Week Still Okay?

As I expected, I received a wide range of answers from my nursing network over numerous social media sites. Equally, healthcare and hospital leaders had varying degrees of ideas for the traditional celebrations as I posed the “what’s your plan” question to my colleagues at the helm. The universal theme, however, to all the responses is the acknowledgment that this is the most challenging time – ever – to offer any type of merriment.

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After all, how do organizations show the nursing staff that they are valued when many cannot provide additional staffing or proper PPE? Add to the fact that administrators can't possibly meet each individual's perceived personal wants and needs, there is no one-gift-fits-all approach, which is not a new challenge for leaders.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) named 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, they never dreamed that a small virus would sweep across the globe, causing healthcare workers to put their lives on the line to care for the infectious illness. No campaign to highlight the vital work performed every day by nurses in every nation could ever have included the faceless 7PM roar in New York City as healthcare workers return from their shifts. Champions for nursing rights and global acknowledgment of the essential care they provide to patients, communities, and nations never dreamed that most major television stations would dedicate an entire broadcast in support of their heroism. How is that captured in a gift for Nurses Week?

To Draw Attention or Not: That Is the Question

Many nurses I've spoken with are embarrassed by the attention of being called a hero. The Charge Nurse of a large ICU in California noted, "This is our job, this is what it means to provide care and nursing. I feel bad to whine about reusing our PPE when bus drivers are dying because they didn't know to protect themselves. We know the risk, and we come back each day to support our patients and one another. This is nursing, baby!"

Yet there are many nurses who, unfortunately, do not feel the support or comradery from their units. One staff nurse in Kentucky wrote, “I didn’t sign up for this. I signed up to be a valued member of the care team, and when they (administration) don’t care about us, we stop caring about each other. When we aren’t given the PPE we need to do our job, and if we complain about it, we're threatened to be fired. This is not the nursing I signed up for." Sadly, she's not alone. Social media comments are ablaze with a similar sentiment.

Practical Solutions and Gifts for Nurses Week

What can we do as leaders to ensure that the staff on the front lines feel that they are valued by the organization? Here are some of the ideas that I collected from staff and administrators who are planning events to honor their nurses:

1. Personalized cupcakes: A little something sweet that allows for social distancing

2. Daisy Award plaque for the unit for all the nurses to sign who worked during the pandemic

3. Funds for student loan forgiveness for nursing students who bypassed the NCLEX line and went straight into the fire of nursing

4. Personal hand-written notes from the manager, director, and administrator. Seriously, hand-written and not just photo-copied

5. Personalized fabric masks to wear over their N95s to provide a layer of protection

6. Personalized safety goggles

7. Free meal voucher to a local restaurant from a delivery service

8. A headband that absorbs sweat and has buttons for the straps of the mask to hook onto to minimize ear irritation

9. Administrators donning scrubs once a week and helping on the units, regardless of their clinical background – there's always something to do

10. "Year of the Nurse" specialized Scrub tops for nurses who worked during the pandemic

While this is obviously not an exhaustive list, the overwhelming response from nurses was for organizations to do something. Sadly, many nursing leaders responded with plans of “Doing nothing this year. Too busy” or “Delaying the celebration until June or July, IDK.” On the flip side, some staff nurses responded to the inquiry with unattainable requests, given the current climate: adequate staffing at all times, always able to take a lunch and break, stop excessive documentation, pay nurses more money, and prosecute patients who abuse nurses. While these are valid and honorable requests, you can't exactly wrap them in the Happy Nurses Week gift paper.

One Special Day or Week, or Appreciation Year-Round?

Authentically acknowledging nurses during National Nurses Week or on a specific day, such as May 12th for Ms. Nightingale’s official birthday, is a challenge this year. Organizations could form nurse-led committees to come up with the “right” answer, but most departments cannot spare nurses’ time to such “non-productive” activities. Many can argue that showboating to the nurses for one day or even one week makes up for the lack of acknowledgment or value on the remaining days.

Organizations can start now to begin to build trust from their nursing staff and consistently show how much they are valued. Although not all nurses will be happy with their 2020 Nurses Week trophy, make an effort – a grand effort – to do something for your staff this year. Start today.

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