Appreciate a nurse and your gratitude could go beyond making their day — it could alleviate burnout and lead to better healthcare outcomes for patients.
Sheila St. Cyr, M.S., R.N., NPD-BC
President, Association for Nursing Professional Development (ANPD)
“It’s my job to contribute to a happy and healthy healthcare environment for nurses, but anyone can join a nurse’s support system.”
Nurses are the backbone of healthcare. Yet staffing shortages, evolving clinician roles, and other pandemic-related challenges have strained their ability to provide life-saving patient care. On top of a very demanding profession, nurses are human beings, with the same personal and family obligations we all have. These competing demands create a recipe for burnout.
For the 21st year in a row, nursing has been identified as the most trusted profession, but despite this trust, only half of U.S. nurses feel the general public appreciates the importance of their work. We have all experienced a situation where completing a task or finding joy in our work was difficult because we felt unappreciated and undervalued. Having a support system of cheerleaders around motivates us to be our best.
As a nursing professional development (NPD) practitioner, a specialty of nursing practice sometimes known as a nurse educator, I am proud to be one of those cheerleaders. My role is to guide nurses through clinical training with knowledge, skill, and encouragement. I contribute to a nurse’s ethical practice development by building confidence through engagement and feedback. I’ve seen firsthand how appreciation, mentoring, and respect can help nurses beat burnout.
It’s my job to contribute to a happy and healthy healthcare environment for nurses, but anyone can join a nurse’s support system. Doing so can even enhance patient outcomes for yourself and your loved ones.
As an oncology nurse in my early career, caring for my patients was at times like caring for a family member. Consider sending a thank you card, dropping by the unit to say “hello,” or calling the unit to update your nurse on a patient’s life — these gestures can bring a sense of home and family to the facility.
Nurses understand that individuals visiting a hospital or medical facility are under stress, but it still can throw a nurse off balance to be treated poorly. Due to job-related stressors, nurses are at risk for death by suicide, mental health challenges, and substance use disorders (SUDs). It may sound simple, but showing basic human kindness — even just a smile, or a “please” or “thank you” — can reduce these risks and help nurses stay healthy.
Educating yourself on these topics is essential for building empathy and kindness toward anyone experiencing a mentally or emotionally tough time. Throughout my career, I witnessed several colleagues who suffered from SUDs, and one nurse’s life ended due to this disorder. I wish I had known at that time about the signs and symptoms of SUDs so I could have had the opportunity to help. These experiences inspired me to learn how to support nurses in crisis, and I encourage everyone to learn about these disorders and how to get help for someone experiencing one. Being available to talk could help save a life — it just takes a little courage.
Ask questions — and listen
Do you have a friend or family member who is a nurse? Have time for a conversation with a nurse at a medical facility? Take the time to learn what their job entails and what being a nurse means to them. Ask them about the differences between their work and what is on television, and aim to understand what triggers their stress and what defines a happy day in their work life.
Opening the door to conversations like these will help the nurse feel listened to and appreciated. You might just be amazed at their answers, and these conversations will deepen your understanding of nursing.
Don’t just ask your nursing friend or family member to let you know if they need anything — that can place the burden of asking back on the loved one. Instead, provide concrete ideas of how you can help. Offer to cook dinner one night or come over to prep healthy snacks for them to have throughout the week. If you sense they have had a bad day at work, maybe they need a bit of their favorite chocolate or potato chips delivered to their door. Or perhaps your friend would prefer you volunteer to let out the dog or babysit for a night.
Keep in mind that if you meet a nurse and want to help, you can do so through some of the ideas on the list, but realize nurses usually can’t accept gifts or services while at work.
Now more than ever, nurses face challenges that threaten their well-being and ability to provide quality care. By offering these invaluable professionals meaningful support, we can cheer them on and become their backbone, fostering a better work environment that reduces burnout and improves health outcomes for all.