2020 is the ‘Year of the Nurse’ (Opinion)

Julie Clayton, RN, MSN, NEA-BC
Julie Clayton

Back in 2019, the World Health Organization, the American Nurses Association and others pronounced 2020 Year of the Nurse, and in 2020 it would celebrate nurses and nursing.

They chose this year because it’s the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing who trained nurses to focus on compassion with a commitment to patient care.

I look back now at that decision as prescient and relevant more than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the world.

There likely isn’t a person in the United States today that doesn’t carry tremendous respect and gratitude for nurses and health care workers on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients. More than 30 years ago, I decided to become a nurse because of the care and compassion I experienced from nurses when my father passed away when I was 10 years old.

I wanted to improve every patient’s sense of well-being, restore them to full health and, if that wasn’t possible, provide them with the dignity and comfort to say goodbye to their families and loved ones. I wanted to impact the lives of people as mine had been impacted by very special nurses.

Every nurse has stories that grab our hearts, stories of grateful patients and devoted family members who became — for a day, a week or even months — an extension of our own families.

We comfort them, make them feel safe, hopeful and, on occasion, at peace with what is to come.

These stories are a testament to the critical role nurses play: caregivers, counselors, teachers and confidants, treasures who put their patient’s needs first. Nurses understand that every patient is an individual, every family is special and every experience is unique to someone —even if you’ve seen it a dozen times.

And while none of us likely could or would have predicted that 2020 would see a worldwide pandemic, all of us remain committed to the calling to care for patients, sometimes even at risk to our own health.

Day after day, for more than two months now, I’ve seen courageous colleagues step up andfigure out how to care for patients when the very model of patient care is changing around us.

They are fearless, testing those who may be infected, caring for those in the throws of illness and offering compassion to isolated patients who cannot see family or visitors.

May 6-12, the country will celebrate Nurses’ Week, traditionally a time to pause and remember why we chose this profession and a chance for others to thank nurses. But this year feels very different.

In a pre-COVID world, I would embrace my colleagues and thank them for the tireless dedication to their patients, their team, this hospital and each other.

But this year my appreciation and gratitude can only come with a smile (behind my mask) and the most heartfelt, sincere, “thank you” I’ve ever said in my life. Florence would be proud of what her vision has become.

Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart.

Julie Clayton, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, is chief nursing officer at Barton Health.

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