Meaningful Recognition to Celebrate Nurses

By Marian Altman, PhD, RN, CNS-BC, CCRN-K Apr 13, 2021

Added to Collection

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Week of the Nurse (WON).

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of Week of the Nurse (WON).

Is it just me or does anyone else sometimes have an aversion to a week of banners, breakfasts, cookie delivery or trinkets? I believe that nurses should be recognized and celebrated for all that we do. But, I also believe it should be ongoing, meaningful recognition – not an isolated celebration.

History of the Week of the Nurse

How did WON begin? Early efforts laid the groundwork, but we really didn’t begin celebrating WON until the mid-1970s. Below are some milestones that led to May 6-12 being designated as the WON.

  • 1953: Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a “Nurse Day” in October of the following year. The proclamation was never made, but an observation of the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean mission did occur.
  • 1954-1982: Multiple bills and resolutions were sponsored without action being taken.
  • 1982: In March, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation for “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6.
  • 1993: The ANA board of directors designated May 6-12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.
  • 2020/2021: The World Health Organization and American Nurses Association (ANA) designate this period as Year of the Nurse.
  • 2021: National Nurses Week was extended to Nurses Month in May to further recognize nurses for their contributions during the pandemic.

Meaningful Recognition

The AACN Healthy Work Environment standard Meaningful Recognition states that team members should be recognized for the value they bring to an organization, and there should be systems in place to recognize nurses in a way that is individualized and meaningful. The keywords in this definition are individualized and meaningful. Meaningful recognition is more than saying thank you to someone, patting them on the back, complimenting them or putting up a banner. It is also about acknowledging others’ contributions with feedback that is relevant to the work they do, equal to their contribution and expresses why their action or behavior made a difference. It is also delivered in a way that is meaningful to the recipient.

Whether you are celebrating Nurses Day, WON, Nurses Month or the Year of the Nurse, what can you do to make it truly meaningful and filled with recognition? I have a few ideas that organizations can implement:

  • Offer fun programs or projects that are meaningful for nurses, such as opportunities for continuing education or research grants instead of WON trinkets.
  • Develop processes such as clinical ladder programs, certification recognition and scholarships for conference attendance to recognize nurses’ value and also contribute to professional development.
  • Ensure that nurses receive recognition that is timely, individualized, crafted for each recipient and delivered in a manner that is meaningful to them.
  • Contribute to media that accurately highlights the role of nurses and our professional concerns.
  • Ensure that your organization has formal structures in place to recognize team members throughout the year, not just during WON. One such structure is the DAISY Foundation, which offers a path for patients and families to recognize nurses.
  • Promote local, regional and national award programs, and provide teams members with time to nominate their colleagues.

What can each of us do?

  • Meaningfully recognize our colleagues throughout the year – don’t wait for WON awards.
  • Consider implementing daily gratitude huddles where each person states what they were grateful for throughout the shift.
  • Take an active role in your organization’s recognition structures.
  • Complete nominations of your peers for local, state and national awards.
  • Recognize yourself for the compassionate, caring and excellent care you provide. Many companies offer freebies or discounts during WON and Nurses Month.
    • Nurse ID me – This site sends regular emails highlighting discounts for nurses. For example, I received a 40% discount on a pair of sunglasses.
    • ANA RN perks site lists offers just for nurses from a variety of companies.

Meaningful recognition is important, because every nurse wants to know that what they are doing matters.

How do you plan to recognize your colleagues?