Nurses deserve more than empty thanks

For the last 30 years Canadians have dubbed the week surrounding May 10 as Nurses Week.

The week was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, considered to be the founder of modern nursing, who would have turned 201 yesterday.

Every May since 1991 the vast majority of Canadians have done pretty well the same thing each May. Businesses will make some sort of announcement saying they support nurses, maybe even offer a discount of some sort to those who wear the scrubs. Media outlets will put together a feature on the profession and the general public; save for maybe those with a nurse in the family, will largely go about their week, most completely unaware of its significance.

That’s not an attempt to try to guilt anyone. Truth be told every day, week or month is set aside to recognize one profession or another. Unless there’s a connection to an individual, it can be pretty easy for national so-and-so week to become white noise. (For reference just out of curiosity this scribe decided to seek out what day was dedicated to his profession and it’s already happened: May 3 was World Press Freedom Day.)

This Nurses Week however, whether we know a nurse personally or not, there’s simple steps we can all do to show our appreciation. Rather than an empty social media post, we can do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community and take small steps towards lessening the strain on an already overworked healthcare system. As much as we’ve all developed cabin fever over the last year and a bit, it no doubt beats having to work in a crowded ICU that is taking on patients from all across the province because there’s no room in their own region.

Fortunately we have brave men and women willing to do that. How many will still want to continue after this pandemic remains to be seen. The physical and mental toll on frontline healthcare workers is impossible to quantify, but a survey by the Nurses’ Association of Ontario attempted to take a stab at it. Of the 2,100 nurses they surveyed, 13 per cent of those aged 26 to 35 are considering finding a new line of work after the pandemic. That age group is of particular note because they represent those that are just starting out in career. Coupled with nurses who are nearing retirement age, the loss of those in their late 20s, early 30s could create a large gap in skilled labour for such a critical field.

Paid sick leave would be a great step towards alleviating some of the mental stress associated with the demanding position. So too would some simple consideration for those risking their lives to keep the community safe. Fortunately, the vast majority of people are doing their part. Unfortunately it’s those unwilling to think of others who are often the loudest voices.

And so for all those nurses, and anyone else on the frontlines, we must do more than offer half-hearted well wishes. For over 15 months now they’ve worked round the clock to fight the pandemic and while thank-you is a good start, it’s not enough. It’s time for politicians, and everyone in the community, to put meaning (and action) behind their words.

-Adam Prudhomme

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