Nurses Week Reflections…or Tales of Nocshift Neglect

Earlier this week I mentioned a venting session that would be forthcoming. I’ve come down off the ledge since then, but I still have some thoughts that I wanted to share regarding my workplace’s “celebration” of Nurses Week.

I have mixed feelings about Nurses Week to begin with (as usual, Suzanne Gordon has some wise things to say about what a “real” Nurses Week might look like). I’m glad that there is a week devoted to calling attention to the important work we do and the contributions we make. I’m glad it coincides with Florence Nightingale’s birthday so that it gives us a chance to reflect on where we came from and where we are headed.

On the other hand, the recognition can feel more like platitudes if you work somewhere that doesn’t afford nurses the respect we deserve on a daily basis. We still have a long way to go, and Nurses Week can feel like an excuse for abuse and ignorance the rest of the year. It almost feels as if we are being told “Well you get a WHOLE WEEK of gifts and meals, so quit yer whining the other 51 weeks of the year and get back to work.”

Maybe I’m overexaggerating…or maybe I’m not. You might even venture to call me ungrateful, and that’s your prerogative. But it’s hard to swallow the praise and pats on the back from people who normally may not give you the time of day. I’d much rather get a random thank you note from a patient or have a heartfelt conversation with a non-nursing colleague about what nursing means to health care. It feels more genuine.

I think part of my frustration stems from the fact that all these activities/gifts/meals don’t actually meet nurses where they are. For example, when our hospital’s calendar of events for the week was released, I was shocked and dismayed to see that NONE of the activities occurred during night shift. The only event that coincided with our schedules (and just barely) is a breakfast that starts at 6 am (right as our morning rounds are in full-swing) and concludes at 8:30. So if we’re lucky, those of us who are working that night will catch some lukewarm, brick-hard pancakes around 8 on our way out the door. Woohoo?

This surprised me because my workplace is normally very good at including night shift. Holiday meals always include a midnight serving, and the nighttime house supervisors are excellent at recognizing when the hospital is having a bad night and ordering in food, or going out of their way to tell our managers what a good job we did on a particularly crazy weekend. So when the schedule appeared and offered such limited opportunities for us to participate when we were awake and at work, I was genuinely saddened. And slightly pissed off.

I know that it takes time and effort to reach out to night shift staff. I know those midnight meals are not easy to orchestrate, and it’s a lot to ask of your non-clinical staff to stay late/overnight when that’s not their normal pattern. But if we are a place that offers 24-hour care, it’s disheartening that the caregivers who work “off hours” so often get the short end of the stick. (And don’t get me started on the people who say it’s “okay” because we get paid a differential…that’s a whole different post for a different day.)

Maybe it’s naive of me to be so disappointed. After all, I’m obviously not the biggest fan of Nurses Week to begin with. But if you’re going to recognize our profession, don’t forget the half of us who are awake at 2 am, caring for your loved ones. We could use some recognition too.

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