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Nurses' Week has come and gone for another year. Nurses' Week, which corresponds with Florence Nightingale's May 12 birthday, has become a time to recognize nurses and the contributions nurses make to the health and well-being of the public. Recognition takes on many forms from scholarship banquets with high-profile donors to complementary cake in the hospital cafeteria. Many healthcare agencies develop public service announcements and purchase advertising to recognize and thank nurses. This year, however, a couple of days into Nurses' Week I, was feeling more perturbed than thanked. It was the radio ad that I noticed first. It featured a patient's testimony to nurses by emphasizing the "the simple things." According to the grateful patient, it was the simple things that nurses did that made the hospital stay so much better. In less than a minute, simple was used 3 times to describe nursing care. Then I noticed the outdoor billboard placed along a busy thoroughfare that featured a message about nurses guiding an "emotional journey." Nurses-simple-emotional. This was followed by a full-page newspaper ad with a picture of another grateful patient proclaiming, "My nurse was my guardian angel." I do not know much about the nature of angels but I am confident angels are more ethereal than nurses and are not required to earn an academic degree and be licensed by the state. Nonetheless, for Nurses' Week I was portrayed as simple, emotional, and invisible.


Ten days after Florence Nightingale's birthday, the business section of the daily paper noted that Medicare is considering cuts in payments for conditions acquired by a patient after he or she is admitted to the hospital.1 The unacceptable conditions cited were catheter-associated urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers, objects left in after surgery, air embolism, administration of incompatible blood, Staphylococcus septicemia, ventilator-associated pneumonia, vascular catheter-related infection, Clostridium difficile gastrointestinal infection, drug-resistant Staphylococcus infections, surgical wound infection, wrong surgery, and falls. If you are a hospital administrator interested in eliminating these problems and preserving cash flow, who you gonna call? An angel?


The problems listed above are not simple and do not respond well to emotion-based interventions. The National Quality Forum, an organization created to develop and implement a national strategy for healthcare quality measurement and reporting, identified many of these conditions as "nursing-sensitive," meaning that they are affected, provided, and/or influenced by nurses. National Quality Forum's position is that "nurses, as the principal caregivers in any healthcare system, directly and profoundly affect the lives of patients and are critical to the quality of care patients receive."2 These problems that threaten patient outcomes and Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals are problems that can be reduced or eliminated by nursing interventions either alone or in collaboration with other care providers. Clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) provide the leadership for system-wide nursing initiatives related to these problems. It appears that CNSs also need to address the public media portrayal of nurses. How we are portrayed in public is important in setting expectations for ourselves and for others. To help impact system-wide changes, CNSs need to address public messages and media portrayals of nurses to better align expectations of consumers, employers, and nurses with professional standards and national quality indicators.


Nurses should be celebrated for knowledge, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. Nurses are prepared through rigorous scientifically based curricula and deliver safe, innovative, cost-effective interventions across different population groups and in multiple different settings. CNS practice advances the practice of nursing. The images and words used to portray nurses and nursing are important in creating an environment where nurses are respected as scientifically sound and clinically competent. Next year for Nurses' Week, let us celebrate nursing's clinical contributions to safe, quality patient outcomes. If you are interested, here is my suggestion for next year's grateful patient billboard: My nurse-smart, caring, keeping me safe. I also suggest adding one with a hospital administrator proclaiming: Nursing interventions reduce hospital-acquired infections. CNSs, start now to plan the message for next year's nurses' week. Send a letter to the editor with your ideas of the best and worst public media portrayal of nursing's contribution to the health and well-being of the public.




1. Lee D. Hospital-borne ailments face Medicare budget ax. Indianapolis Star. Tuesday, May 22, 2007. [Context Link]


2. Nursing Care at the National Quality Forum. Available at: Accessed June 4, 2007. [Context Link]