Celebrating the International Year of the Nurse

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Nurses Week is May 6-12, 2020

By Judy Geiger, Vice President of Patient Care Services

2020 is the International Year of the Nurse. It was deemed so by the World Health Organization because it is the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday (May 12, 1820). I have been looking forward to the Nurses Week celebration ever since the proclamation was made. I love nurses and nursing!

Judy Geiger, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Astoria, Oregon

Judy Geiger, RN, Vice President of Patient Care Services

In February, I asked our PNCC to help plan a big celebration for the CMH nursing staff to commemorate the International Year of the Nurse. Then, along came this strange thing called COVID-19, rearing its ugly head. 

Suddenly, gatherings of more than 25 people weren’t allowed; a new term, social distancing, became part our our vocabulary; lay people began talking about PPE; and all efforts at the hospital went into preparing for the worst global pandemic since the influenza in 1918. That resulted in no more big Nurses Week celebration in May for CMH. I took a little time to mourn the loss, but then Florence’s positive influence took over. She would have been proud of us nurses canceling a celebration to decrease the COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rate in our community.

Florence was an amazing woman. She was born into a wealthy family and could’ve led a carefree life. But she didn’t enjoy the traditional female role and its associated skills. She was very outspoken and would rather discuss philosophy and politics with her father than learn how to manage a household with her mother. Her parents didn’t want her to become a nurse, even though she felt it was a “divine calling.” In those days, nurses were usually unskilled, from poor backgrounds and often “associated with immoral behavior.” My, how far nurses have come from being in an unsuitable profession to annually being named the most respected one! 

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

Florence’s nursing school amounted to two weeks of training one year (1850) and three months in 1851. I have a feeling she never had to write a nursing care plan or look up the side effects of medications. Even with only having a small amount of training by our standards, she is most remembered for her work during the Crimean War. She was asked by a friend’s husband, who was the Secretary of War for England, to come and assist in the field hospital. When she arrived on scene, she was met with horrible conditions and not-so-thrilled medical personnel. Florence called it “the Kingdom of Hell.”

Florence was the original nurse Infection Preventionist. She helped dramatically improve the sanitation conditions for wounded soldiers. When she and her nurse corps arrived, soldiers were dying more often from infection than their actual wounds. By implementing basic sanitary practices, she helped decrease the mortality rate from 40% to 2% within six months. I can’t imagine what that experience must have been like, and there was no PPE!

Florence didn’t just accomplish the tasks of nursing. She also understood the art of nursing and how much caring for patients affected their outcomes. She spent her evenings visiting the healing soldiers, offering them comfort and earning the nickname, “Lady with the Lamp.”

So, when we think back on the International Year of the Nurse, we should remember what a great original role model we had in Florence Nightingale. When we celebrate our profession sometime later in the year, we will have more to celebrate than Florence’s 200th birthday. We will celebrate surviving a global pandemic. We will celebrate our resilience as nurses and human beings for all the changes we have endured this year. We will celebrate being the most respected profession. This will be known as the perfect year to be The Year of the Nurse!

“Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift — there is nothing small about it.” – Florence Nightingale