As you may know, the World Health Organization has named 2020 the ‘Year of the Nurse and the Midwife,’ as it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. What a year to set aside for nurses! When picturing the year of the nurse, I imagined pampering, not pandemic. Celebration, not COVID. Selfishly, I wanted more for nurses this year. A lot has changed in 200 years, and I wanted a year of recognition for how far we have come as a profession.
In this desperate hour, I reflect on Florence – the reason for our year of recognition. What wisdom can the matriarch of our profession offer us?
In a summary that does not do her nearly enough justice, the “Lady with the Lamp” was reportedly strong-willed and felt nursing was a calling on her life. Within a year of her first job, she was made superintendent of her hospital, and she improved hygiene standards, significantly lowering the death rate with her high-quality care and infection prevention methods.
Four years later, the secretary of state for war reached out to her for her help caring for fallen soldiers in the Crimean War. She assembled a team of 38 nurses and was in Crimea a few days later. While there, Florence continually sought ways to meet the needs of sick, wounded, infected patients. She was focused and determined, and when asked about her accomplishments, she replied, “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse.” In her life, Florence was heralded as being an educator, administrator, infection preventionist and activist.
How did she do it? She was seemingly fearless with boundless confidence and courage. She acted on her convictions and encouraged others to follow her path.
Now, 200 years later, nursing looks very different in many ways, although infection prevention is still the discussion of the day. The challenge is that what we are facing is unique and has many of us trapped by the fear of the unknown.
But, Florence has wisdom for today’s fear, too. “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” Florence knew how crippling a defeated mindset was. She knew the work of caring for others was sacred, and that fear would only cloud her ability to care for her patients. I imagine her rallying her group of nurses in Crimea using those words to bring courage to those who had too many dying patients in an unfamiliar environment, without the supplies they needed, separated from their families. How familiar that feels.
Looking at the current nursing workforce, I am proud to say that I see a lot of Florence reflected. Strong-willed caregivers who continually seek to meet the needs of their patients. Determined clinicians who don’t give excuses, but show up shift after shift to nurse, educate, lead and advocate.
This year, I have seen nurses take the challenge of COVID-19 and meet the need. When patients started showing up, they received and treated them. When hospitals were stopping elective surgeries, nurses from those areas quickly stepped in to help EDs and ICUs that were overrun with COVID patients. When there was a need in another part of the country, nurses packed their bags and arrived a few days later. When citizens protested stay-at-home orders, nurses spoke out to advocate for the sick and vulnerable, even physically creating a barrier to show the importance.
I would be remiss to continue further without acknowledging that much of the work that Florence identified as being essential to the care of a patient is now being performed by a diverse team of caregivers: nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, environmental services, physical and occupational therapists, chaplains, dieticians and physicians. It was Florence’s view of patients as humans needing holistic care that revolutionized patient care in hospitals in her time.
As I reflect on the year of the nurse, I don’t think there is anyone who could doubt that 2020 is, in fact, the year of the nurse. It has been an inspiration to see the confidence and courage of nurses who are seemingly fearless and are sacrificing so much. I doubt you would find a nurse at the bedside for the recognition, but nurses have solidified their place in the hearts of the world’s citizens this year.
This year looks very different, but nurses don’t. Recognized or not, nurses have been and will continue to provide compassionate care to patients, and Florence would approve. But some pampering would be okay, too.
About the author. As a programmatic advisor for the Vizient/AACN Nurse Residency Program, Meg Ingram supports organizations in transitioning new graduate nurses to the profession of nursing as well as overseeing the program’s curriculum. Prior to joining Vizient, she was a nurse residency program coordinator and is passionate about creating a supportive, collaborative program in which new graduates can learn and engage to improve patient outcomes, bedside nursing leadership and evidence-based care.