Last week was National Nurses Week. Every year during that week many hospitals pay tribute to their nurses with free meals, cookie trays or small gifts like mugs, pens or bags. 

I started my career as a hospital nurse, working first in medical/surgical orthopedics and then pediatrics before moving into women’s health, where I found my niche as a labor delivery nurse. When I moved into my current position as a certified nurse midwife after 14 years of hospital nursing, I vowed that I would never forget where I started.

Hospital nurses are the backbone of the hospital. They are the ones holding hands and providing comfort at all hours of the day and night, 24/7, 365 days a year.  They are the constant connection between provider and patient — acting as the eyes, ears, and hands when the provider is not present.  I often tell residents that they will learn as much or more from a seasoned nurse as they would from a physician. 

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Being a nurse in this age of modern medicine requires more than a caring touch and a gentle nature.  Today’s hospital nurse must be knowledgeable, highly skilled, intuitive and organized.  More tasks are falling on the nurse each year — tasks that previously would have been the provider’s responsibility.  

The daily paperwork that modern nursing requires is staggering, and as technology advances nursing is also becoming more high tech. Charting, lab orders and even medication administration have been digitized. The goal is improved patient safety and providing the highest level of care, but many nurses are complaining that this leaves them little time left over for actual hands-on patient care. 

Nurse staffing is also a big issue on many units. I have heard many nurses worry that they are working with unsafe staffing levels for the patient acuity on the floor. I know that on occasion as a midwife, I’ve had to change my plan of care for a patient during high volume times due to poor staffing. 

This is very frustrating for all involved from the patient level to the provider level.  Yet every year hospital administration requires higher patient to nurse ratios, despite increased patient acuity and nursing responsibilities. 

Perhaps instead of that tote bag bearing the hospital logo and an inspirational phrase, hospitals could show more nursing appreciation by listening to nurses’ needs and finding ways to increase staffing. Sure the free meals and gifts are a nice pat on the back during National Nurses Week, but I think everyone would benefit from year-round acknowledgement and appreciation of all that nurses do every day.