We celebrate nurses this week. They are the caregivers who are with patients and their families during some of their most important and vulnerable moments in life. That is why year after year, the American people rank registered nurses as the most honest and ethical professionals – ahead of physicians, pharmacists, high school teachers, police officers and clergy.
However, there is a lot about nursing that is not widely known or appreciated.
Nursing is an emotionally, physically and mentally demanding profession. Many of the approximately 4 million registered nurses who work across all settings of care encounter workplace demands, stressors and hazards every day that other professions don’t face.
They spend time standing, walking, bending, and lifting patients for extended periods each day. They are regularly in contact with potentially harmful and hazardous substances, drugs and diseases. And, they are expected to manage these hazards while maintaining a calming and compassionate demeanor.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2016, workplace hazards for RNs resulted in 19,790 nonfatal injuries and illnesses that required at least one day away from work. This makes for one of the highest injury and illness rates in the health care sector.
We need to appreciate nurses’ commitment to patients and work to minimize as much as possible the hazards they face every day. For example, we can improve workplace safety with enhanced medication administration systems, increased training in calming patients and their families during tense situations and the installation of in-bed scales to reduce the need to lift patients.
While nurses are best known for their role on the frontlines of care, nurses are increasingly moving into other roles:
- Contact center nurse. These nurses interact with patients through the phone or online, providing health advice and steering them to the most appropriate site of care. Nurses at the centers come from clinical backgrounds ranging from emergency care to pediatrics, which is helpful, given that the next patient calling or emailing could ask about anything from a child’s sore throat to their father’s congestive heart failure.
- Nurse navigator. These nurses work with patients across multiple sites of care, navigating them through the complex array of health services that are needed at each phase of care for diseases such as cancer. These nurses serve as advocates, interpreters, educators, and counselors for patients and their families, explaining technical terms and communicating with all members of the healthcare team on behalf of the patient.
- Nurse informaticist. This specialty integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, and knowledge in nursing practice. Using the vast data now available in healthcare, nurses in this emerging role manage initiatives to improve care through the application of technology and the data generated by technology.
I am inspired by what nurses are able to accomplish. I see it every day at HCA Healthcare, where our 94,000 nurses – more than any other organization in the country – care for patients in just about every role imaginable at 1,800 different facilities, from hospitals to urgent care centers to contact centers.
To all the nurses, no matter where you work or what role you play in providing care – thank you for what you do. Our nation owes you a debt of gratitude.