It makes my blood boil when I hear a nurse say, "I'm just a nurse." Sure, I've heard some nurses say, "I'm a nurse," and I've heard many qualify their position by specifying, "I'm a critical care nurse" or "I'm a dialysis nurse." But all too often, especially when asked whether they work in a specialty area, I hear nurses say apologetically, "No, I'm just a regular nurse," or "I'm just a floor nurse."
Why isn't being a "regular" nurse enough? Such nurses make our health care system work. In fact, many of this country's health care institutions and organizations were founded by "regular" nurses who saw a need and acted.
"Regular" nurses have been at the forefront of many significant social movements, especially those concerned with improving the health and well-being of groups often neglected or ignored by society.
Think of Lillian Wald (1867–1940), whose efforts to serve the needs of poor immigrants resulted in the development of the fields of public health and school nursing and the founding of the Henry Street Settlement in 1983. This settlement, which provided health and hygiene education to the immigrant community, grew within a decade to include 20 nurses who offered a variety of social, recreational, and educational services. Or consider the Pine Street Inn's free nurse-run clinics, which were started in 1972 by Boston City Hospital nurses to serve the city's disadvantaged populations and did so for over 30 years; or Joy Ufema, a staff nurse who, in the mid-1970s, advocated open discussions about death and dying with terminally ill patients.
It's "regular" nurses who quietly and skillfully tend to patients and families in hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities, as well as in patients" homes and even on the streets (see "Street Nursing," July 2009). It's "regular" nurses who anticipate and meet needs that others may miss or dismiss. It's no surprise that nurses are early and able responders in emergencies and disaster relief efforts—coordinating resources and organizing the delivery of care and services is what we do every day in institutional, educational, and community settings.
Indeed, our cover this month shows two nurses providing care to a woman living in the Gaza Strip, the embattled strip of land that lies between Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. (For more photos and the background story, see "Home Nursing in Postwar Gaza.") Last month's cover showed a Canadian Red Cross volunteer nurse treating a child in the aftermath of Haiti's January earthquake.
Clinical editor Christine Moffa and I discussed whether we should put the Gaza photo on AJN's cover at all; we knew some readers might find back-to-back covers focusing on international events objectionable. (We get messages now and then reminding us that we're the AMERICAN Journal of Nursing.) But we decided that it was appropriate—both the April and May cover photos illustrate what nurses everywhere do: we find ways to provide care to people in need, wherever they are.
This cover is especially meaningful in May, when we observe both National Nurses Week (May 6–12) and International Nurses Day (May 12, Florence Nightingale's birthday). The recognition of nurses was first proposed in 1953 by Dorothy Sutherland, an official of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, who sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a "Nurse Day." But it wasn't until 1982 that President Reagan signed a proclamation to make May 6 the official "National Recognition Day for Nurses." In 1990, the American Nurses Association expanded the day to a week-long celebration.
Like many, I have mixed feelings about Nurses Week, although less so now that more organizations use it to honor achievement rather than to dole out free ice cream or token gifts. But we need to move beyond Nurses Week and recognize, on an ongoing basis, our achievements and those of our colleagues. In that spirit, and in honor of Nurses Week, you can access AJN's May issue online without charge from May 1 to May 15. Read and be impressed with nursing.