Let's Honor Our History and Ourselves this Nurses Week

This year's Nurses Week, we honor the noble profession of nursing not only in the United States, but across the world. This week, like every week, more than 20 million nurses will be practicing the time-honored nurses' values of caring, compassion, community, and courage.

We also honor those nurses who have gone before us and on whose shoulders we stand on today. Every war front, every contagious disease outbreak, nurses have been and are on the frontlines, often unacknowledged and unsung.

We honor remarkable nurses who struggled to preserve the art of nursing and laid the foundation for modern nursing and the social advocacy role of nurses. Nurses like Lavinia Dock, Lillian Wald, Mary Seacole, Dorothea Dix, Mary Eliza Mahoney, Harriet Tubman, Mary Breckenridge, and countless others who, like nurses today, recognized that we do not practice nursing in a social, economic, or political vacuum. This recognition led to their effective activism in the political and social arenas, benefiting the whole of society through the measures and programs they were able to institute.

NNU as an organization continues this tradition in our successes in fighting for protections for our patients and ourselves. Successes through legislation, such as, safe staffing ratios, workplace violence prevention and safe patient handling programs. Success through collective bargaining provisions advocating safe working conditions, such as infectious disease protections and support for RNs volunteering with RNRN to respond to disaster sites, whereby hospitals may sponsor nurses to participate in education, training, and/or deployment through the RNRN program including wages, benefits, PTO accrual, and seniority in the same manner as if the Nurse were working in the hospital.

We honor individual nurses practicing today, like Josephine Finda Sellu, deputy nurse matron at a government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where 15 nurses died nursing patients with Ebola. Despite the loss of many of her staff, Josephine never lost courage, and continued to return to the hospital day after day to care for her community.

In a global world, we are closer than ever to our fellow nurses and facing the same challenges. It was not just in West Africa that nurses took care of patients with Ebola. Our colleagues Nina Pham and Amber Vinson in Texas were exposed to Ebola when their employer failed to provide safeguards for them. This led to a global day of action with our sister organization, Global Nurses United, during which more than 100,000 RNs took part across the world to bring attention to poor protections for healthcare workers asked to care for Ebola patients. Nurses also took strike action A centerpiece of the actions was a two-day strike by 18,000 RNs and nurse practitioners at 66 Kaiser Permanente hospitals demanding that the HMO giant put in place proper safety protocols and training with optimal personal protective equipment. These concerted actions led to California officials establishing landmark mandatory Ebola guidelines that should be a model for federal and state action for all U.S. hospitals.

We also honor the nurse whose birthday inspired the birth of Nurses Week, Florence Nightingale, known as the “Lady with the Lamp” by the general public. Florence saw herself as much more than the “Lady with the Lamp,” however. She viewed herself as a serious, effective social activist. Despite not being able to vote, she was thoroughly engaged in the political process of her time. She realized she had to enter the political arena to effect solutions to the many health problems she witnessed. As they are today, many of the disease processes and illnesses of her time were the result of social inequities, imbalance of power, and blatant disregard for the welfare of a large portion of society.

Today, National Nurses United RNs are carrying on the proud tradition of helping improve the health and lives of our patients, our families and our communities by advocating for social reform -- Medicare for all, environmental justice, union organizing and labor rights, Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street and free higher education.

Let's honor our history and ourselves this Nurses Week!