Why Does It Take a Pandemic to Recognize Nurses?

Over the past few weeks, as the coronavirus has whipped through the country, the press, policy makers and the public have finally recognized the value of the largest profession in healthcare.  Every media outlet reporting on the crisis now includes comments from nurses, reports on the risks nurses face as they care for patients, discussions of nursing shortages, and the complex work nurses do.  It’s about time.

My question is why has it taken this long.  And why aren’t policy makers and hospital administrators giving nurses what they need.  NOW!!!

For years, nurses have tried to explain their work to the public.  I have been honored to help with this work.  As I have written in my book Safety in Numbers, unions, like the California Nurses Association, have fought to get safe nurse to patient ratios.  Other unions, like the Massachusetts Nurses Association, have fought for the kind of safe staffing legislation, that if enacted in every state except for only one – California – would have encouraged safer nurse to patient ratios and ensured that there would be enough nurses to take care of patients in hospitals all over the country in a time of national emergency.  Hospital associations have derailed this kind of legislation whenever and wherever it has been proposed.

Nurses have asked for the lift equipment that would pay for itself and make their work safer.  Hospital associations have fought this wherever and whenever it has been proposed.  Now nurses are asking for personal protective equipment to make their work safe and hospital associations, legislators, governors, and the President are not supporting this request.

And so nurses are speaking out to the media about the risks of their work and what is the response of their employers? To issue disciplinary warnings, fire them, threaten them, silence them.

Well nurses are rejecting this and must be even more vocal in doing so.  And we the public must add our voices to support them.

Not only should nurses be recognized and their insights, concerns and demands solicited, honored, and effectively addressed, so should the needs of all other healthcare workers.  Nurses know that healthcare is delivered by a team and that it takes a literal village to care for a patient.  We need to listen to nurses and also to nursing assistants, to housekeepers, to dietary workers and transport workers and many others.  It takes a team to care for patients with COVID-19 and those team members need our help, support and action now!!!



Showing 6 comments
  • Linda Honan


  • Nancy DiMauro

    Suzanne, Bravo for this commentary. It is sad that hospital workers must work without at a minimum PPE. I’m a retired nurse and all this angers and saddens me. I read a post from a nurse who was questioning whether she should quit her job because as a single parent she was afraid she would bring the virus home because of lack of PPE where she works. No one should have to worry about making a decision like that!

    My only fear is that once this pandemic is over, things will go back to the status quo. I pray that it doesn’t and will continue to support nurses and other hospital workers in making sure it doesn’t.

  • Diana Newman

    Professional Nursing çan décidé patient assignment in nursing. We don’t need government telling us what to do.

  • Dirk Woods

    Love your work!

    Liars figure and figures lie for sure and societal appreciation isn’t measured only in dollars.
    However, an article in the SF paper years ago pegged average CA RN salary with 4 years of college at $90k and teachers at $51k, the same as LVNs with 2 years of training. Doctor pay if all hours of unpaid or underpaid training time are included in the lifetime hourly pay rate is lower than lifetime hourly for RNs.

    Before Covid in 2018 nurses were rated highest for 17 years for honesty and ethical standards, just above doctors, and well above teachers for 17 years in a row. Last time they weren’t was 9/11/01 when fireman were rated higher.

    Did we under-appreciate firemen before 9/11, grocery clerks before all of the Covid deaths, and many others? Absolutely! Have a large swathe of the public under appreciated RNs? Perhaps. Have those who have paid them, relied on them to do their jobs, or survive a critical illness?- not even close!

  • Dirk Woods

    Having said that, not listening to the concerns of people most highly rated for honesty and ethics in our society is lunacy.

  • Anne Kearney

    Thank you for this Suzanne! Your voice for the nursing profession has always been so strong. We need you now more than ever. I have long been concerned that we lose up to a third of nurses within 2 years of graduation. This is directly related to working conditions. We have highly educated, well skilled nurses who leave the profession in droves. This is not sustainable. Let’s recognize nurses for the essential life-saving work they do and give them the equipment and decision-making ability to do it.

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