Every year in May, we celebrate National Nurses’ Week. It begins on May 6 and ends on Florence Nightingale’s birthday; May 12. For nursing students, National Student Nurse day is May 8. Depending on the state of the national staffing picture, in the past employers have celebrated this week in various creative ways, often giving out items like tote bags, t-shirts, mugs, or water bottles, typically branded with the employers’ logo.
Over the years, as staffing crunches have dissipated, so too have these exuberant exhibitions of employer largesse. First celebrated way back in 1954, the week began as a single day of recognition, which gained national support under President Ronald Reagan. Today it has been expanded to an entire week.
The show of gratitude and support for nurses’ hard work and dedication is well placed. Nurses remain the most trusted professionals in the nation, according to surveys. They have remained at the top of this prestigious list as the most honest, ethical professionals of all, for more than 15 years.
In recent years, however, employers have tended to progress from giving away essentially meaningless trinkets, to demonstrating their genuine gratitude towards nursing staff by disseminating more meaningful, profession-oriented gifts. Examples include access to free continuing ed classes, guest speakers who highlight nurses’ accomplishments and contributions, or business cards to be handed out to patients and their families.
It is a trend that many long-term nurses welcome. They feel more valued when gifts meant to recognize the profession actually contribute to professional advancement, edification, or respect. While the gestures were nice, the consensus among nurses (many of whom have never actually been asked what they’d like to receive during Nurses’ Week) seems to be toward more professional development and away from yet another useless, but well-intentioned, tchotchke. Coffee is great and all, but the feeling seems to be that one can only drink from one mug at a time—and enough is enough.
Of course, some nurses are not quite as willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. Free pens are always popular—and useful—for instance. But to be truly meaningful, many nurses express a desire to receive genuine expressions of support; from supervisors and other staff who may not always excel at providing the morale-boosting support nurses crave.
This year’s theme is: Nurses Inspire, Innovate, Influence. Calling nurses “Everyday Heroes,” nurse.com notes that simple recognition, gratitude and verbal expressions of thankfulness go a long way toward boosting nurses’ morale. Of course, if you are still a student, perhaps attending an online nursing school, or pursuing your RN-to-BSN degree, you may be participating in your first, or even your fifth national Nurses’ Week.
In either case, we suggest you take a moment to take pride in the work you are doing, will do, or have already done on behalf of the honorable, ethical profession of nursing. Take a moment to praise a fellow student or colleague, and offer words of support and appreciation. And remember that respect and gratitude are always better than free trinkets.