Special Time for Nurses at a Critical Period in Medical History

By Nancy Cardillo

The World Health Organization has declared 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife in a nod to the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing (also known as the “Lady With The Lamp”).

Wednesday, May 6 is National Nurses Day and kicks off National Nursing Week, which culminates on May 12, Nightingale’s actual birthday.

Commemorative events and activities recognizing the important role nurses play in our lives are (now, tentatively) scheduled all over the world throughout the year under the overall theme as designated by the International Council of Nurses of “Nurses: A Voice to Lead — Nursing the World to Health.”

Perfect timing.

With the advent of the novel coronavirus crisis, health care workers have been thrust into the spotlight as they work desperately and diligently to care for those afflicted with the virus — as well as other health crises — all the while risking their own health and possibly the health of their family members. This group includes the more than 3.8 million registered nurses who represent not only the largest segment of the health care profession, but also one of the largest segments of the nation’s workforce as a whole.

Nurses are an integral part of the health care system as they encompass the promotion of health, prevention of illness and care of those who are physically or mentally ill or disabled. As part of patients’ interdisciplinary teams, nurses are there 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and are the continuous link or lifeline – the “eyes and ears” – between patients and physicians, ensuring patients get the best care possible.

“Nurses are the point of entry for patients, and the closest to the bedside, wearing multiple hats to ensure patient care is met,” says Shari McDonald, an RN and vice president and chief nursing officer at Mercy Hospital of Buffalo. “We collaborate with providers on a care plan and act as advocates for the patient to ensure the plan of care is met, not just while a patient is in the hospital, but after discharge as well.”

The men and women who are licensed practical nurses and RNs perform an array of duties in a variety of settings. In hospitals, they’re involved in critical and acute care in specialized areas such as the emergency room, intensive care unit, maternity and cardiovascular floors. Depending on their degree level, nurses can also work in community-based clinics, patient-centered medical homes, home care services, private practices, schools and with vulnerable populations, such as the homeless.

“Nursing isn’t a job, it’s a profession and a calling,” says McDonald. “It’s extremely important and hard work done by very dedicated, caring people. It’s a difficult profession, but the reward comes when you see the difference you’ve made in the delivery of care to a patient and see them improve.”

Just how vital are nurses?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nursing is among the top occupations in terms of job growth, with a projected need for an additional 203,700 new RNs each year through 2026.

Shortage looming

However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing says the nation is projected to experience a shortage of RNs that is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows. Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing schools are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care, given the national move toward health care reform.

Denise Dunford is the assistant dean and interim director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice and Nursing Education Programs at the Patricia H. Garman School of Nursing at D’Youville College in Buffalo, where approximately one third of the school’s 3,000-student population are nursing students.

Last year, the school was awarded a $401,000 Health Resources and Services Administration grant to address the nursing shortage. “We’re using that money to enroll students in our master’s and doctoral programs to address the shortage and graduate students who are then fully qualified to work in a variety of positions in multiple industries,” she said.

Dunford says D’Youville’s graduate nursing programs have an employment rate of 97 percent. “Before they even have their license, one-third of our graduates have job offers, the need is that great,” she says.

What does it take to become a nurse?

“First and foremost is the ability to possess a sense of service to others,” says Dunford. “Kindness, compassion, intelligence, flexibility, innovation and the ability to be a good listener are also attributes of a good nurse.

“Nurses provide a much-needed service for people ‘from womb to tomb’ as we say,” says Dunford. “There’s nothing more rewarding than helping someone achieve optimal health at any life stage.”

D’Youville offers several nursing degrees at various levels.

“The higher your degree, the more chance for advancement and the more opportunities available,” says Dunford, who says the average cost for a master’s-level degree at D’Youville is around $40,000. “For that price you’ll get upward mobility in terms of nursing management and outlets available to you throughout your career.”

Dunford added that nurses qualify for loan forgiveness plans at state and national levels.

McDonald says nurses in Western New York are a bit above the national average when it comes to compensation and benefits. There is also a huge need — particularly now — and there are a variety of available jobs.

Both McDonald and Dunford agree that while the technological capabilities in medicine have improved greatly over the years, the one thing that has never changed is the connection between nurses and their patients, particularly in times of crisis, such as we are experiencing now.