Celebrating Nurses and Front-line Workers: A New Kind of Hero

Since 1974, National Nurses Week has kicked off every May 6 and ended on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. We take this time every year to recognize the many contributions of nurses and to honor the sacrifices they make to keep our communities healthy and well.

Amid a global pandemic unlike any we’ve seen in this lifetime, there have been countless stories of nurses and other front-line healthcare workers going to extraordinary lengths to fulfill their calling. Here, Steven E. Brown, LFACHE—who retired from his position of president/CEO of Mount Nittany Health in 2016—shares his view of these essential workers.

Over the course of 41 years in healthcare management, 32 of those years in CEO positions, I’ve worked at hospitals during a number of different disasters. I was a department director at a nearby hospital during the Three Mile Island accident, and I was CEO of a large Virginia hospital close to the Pentagon on 9/11, just to name a few.  Coupled with countless other emergent and urgent situations that occurred seemingly every week, I thought I’d seen just about everything. But then the COVID-19 pandemic came along, and I realized I was seeing something entirely different.

My intention is not to write about any of the clinical unknowns, material shortages or social issues these unprecedented events have revealed. Instead, I’d like to recognize a new kind of hero. We all grew up with heroes, whether they were cowboys, movie stars or maybe a favorite teacher. Then 9/11 happened, and we as a society recognized a new kind of hero, our first responders. Our police force, fire fighters and EMS workers were finally recognized as the heroes they are for putting their lives on the line for us every day during one emergency or another. And now, we see the rise of yet another kind of hero in all those nurses, doctors, technicians, aides, support staff and everyone else in a hospital or healthcare system today.

These people are heroes not just because of their chosen profession, but because of the commitment, loyalty, responsibility, duty and honor with which they approach their jobs.  We’ve all heard stories about nurses who choose to sleep in their cars between shifts for fear of taking the disease home to their families. When asked why, their response is always the same: “It’s my duty and my responsibility to care for these sick people who need my help.”

There are thousands of these stories—different, yet all similar. After 9/11, we all recognized a new brand of hero in our first responders. Well, I would like to recognize another brand of hero in our medical front line. These are people who are putting themselves in harm’s way to help others and save lives. As a retired healthcare executive, I know I’m a little biased, but these heroes give me great hope and reassurance that together, we’ll get through this and come out even stronger than before. Thank you, front-line workers. And may God bless you!

For insights into how to take care of your front-line workers, check out the Journal of Healthcare Management’s “Caring for the Caregivers” series. With personal protective equipment shortages being such a pressing issue currently, learn what kinds of improvised PPE are best to keep employees safe. And be sure to share with your nurses the many special discounts and offers they are eligible for during Nurses Week to show your appreciation.

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