The Importance of Nurses: Celebrating National Nurses Month 2023


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Since 1974 the American Nurses Association (ANA) has annually celebrated nurses the week of May 6 – 12 as Nurses Week, ending on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12, and for the past 3 years chose to celebrate the entire month of May.  The 2023 focus is “Nurses make a Difference” to promote an understanding and appreciation for the contributions nurses make on all aspects of health care.  

It is significant to remember Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910) for her contributions to nursing.  She made a difference because of her data collection and social reform during the Crimean War (1853), and referred to as the founder of modern nursing and a nursing pioneer with hospital reform.  Florence was asked by The Secretary of War (1854) to organize a nursing corps to care for sick and wounded soldiers suffering from significant neglect and lack of medical attention. Florence did make a difference since females had not been allowed to care for the sick and injured soldiers when the war started.  She became known as “the lady with the lamp” because she cared for soldiers long hours and into the dark of night.  Her data collection was used to introduce good hygiene practices that reduced mortality rates and made government leaders aware of changes needed to improve military health.  These influences are seen today in hospital designs along with discovering hospitals themselves could affect the health and recovery of patients. Florence helped emancipate women while working towards social equality, and is remembered for her determination, confidence, compassion, and integrity as her beliefs and teachings continue to impact nurses today.  Nurses still recite the Nightingale Pledge at pinning, graduation and Nurse Honor Guard (NHG) ceremonies.  A famous Florence Nightingale quote is “No matter how difficult the days may get; don’t forget the reason you became a nurse.”

May 2023 National Nurses Month provides the opportunity to focus on the growing nursing shortage that began in 2012.  Although there was already a nursing shortage concern, things worsened during and after the Covid pandemic.  Data supports the Covid Epidemic was a game changer for Public Health and health care in general.  Covid impacted nurses (all healthcare personnel) with increased job stress compounded by Covid-related deaths of fellow nurses/healthcare personnel, family, and friends. All available nurses were working and had no nurses to relieve them at shift-change.  Nurses in the nurse-pool were already working and experienced retired nurses returned to work because of their compassion and dedication to patient care.  Nurses either volunteered or were mandated to work longer shifts working short staffed with inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE); inadequate rest/nutritional breaks and staffing; fear of Covid exposure for their families; physical/mental exhaustion; excessive exposure to death; constantly caring for dying patients without their families; high patient-nurse ratios; Covid “burn out” lead nurses to resign and leave nursing altogether, while others felt forced to retire if eligible.  These nurses made a difference.

A shortage of nursing faculty is another factor impacting the nursing shortage.  Per the American Association of Colleges of Nursing over 91,000 qualified nursing applicants for 2021-22 were turned away from baccalaureate nursing programs. It takes 2-4 years (per nursing program) for graduating/licensing/employing new nurses.  There is no quick fix for the nursing shortage without admitting and graduating more nursing students prepared to pass their state nursing boards to become employed nurses.  Nursing is no different from other occupations with the job growth rate at 6% through 2031. Changes need to occur over the next decade, along with more resources allocated to nursing programs across the US and more incentives to attract new nurses.  We need to be asking as well as understanding what to expect next and prioritize how to correct the nurse supply and demand issue.  Interim, healthcare must address the “staffing shortage gaps” that may have a significant financial impact on healthcare. We need to work together with efforts to stabilize the demands with an increased supply of nurses that will make a difference.  

Nurses make a difference not only at a patient’s bedside but also in responding to increased complexity in healthcare in all specialties/aspects of patient care.  Patients share they may not remember the name(s) of their doctor(s)/specialist(s) but they will always remember their nurse and the difference the nurse made in their life.  Nurses also fight for:  Americans access to high-quality affordable health care; safe nurse-to-patient care ratios; safety in the workplace; legislation on healthcare policy decisions; how to financially address the shortage and standards of care; and closely monitor research data specific to the national nurse shortage.  

Research cites nurses as the foundation for global healthcare and 50% of the worldwide healthcare workforce is nursing.  Studies cite we need 13 million nurses worldwide to slow down the shortage, an alarming number. The nurse shortage for 2030 may be worse because five million nurses are eligible and expected to retire, not including nurses lost to death.  The average age of a US nurse today is 52 with more than half of the nurses over age 50.  Data identified 1.2 million new nurses are needed by 2030, and 13% of newly licensed RNs change their job after only one year, and 37% of new RN’s want to change their job only after one year of nursing.  It is not all gloom and doom as nearly 200,000 nursing jobs are open each year with a nurse employment growth projected as 9% through 2030.  The clock is ticking.

The nurse shortage has caused some US hospitals to postpone elective outpatient surgeries and hospital admissions based on staffing/patients/bed availability.   Units have been forced to shut down due to the shortage.  Fewer nurses and hospital/rehab beds directly impact our health care.  The shortage forced some hospital nurses to leave hospital employment and sign contracts as travel or per diem nurses for better working conditions and salaries.  To address the loss of hospital nurses, healthcare relies on per diem and travel nurses (agencies) to fill nurse-to-patient staffing to offer safe patient care.  Some hospitals that need nurses are going outside of the United States (US) for nursing staff.  This adds additional cost to healthcare as hiring outside adds fees for nurse work Visas, housing, travel expenses, hospital orientation, an understanding of different languages/customs, education, and experience as beside hospital nurses. The number of contract nurses escalates the financial risk on healthcare, raising questions if it increases risk on patient lives.  

Becoming a nurse is a rewarding career choice if you “hear the call,”  a way of life and the backbone of our healthcare system.  Nursing jobs may not offer great hours/shifts, financial security, exceptional benefits, holidays, and weekends off, a matched retirement system or honor nurse’s experience/education seniority when changing positions/jobs.  However, it is a rewarding career and never dull, a career that you will not regret.  Nurses always have and always will make a difference as your patient advocate ensuring all patients receive consistent excellent quality care.  I read a brief article not long ago titled “Why Nursing.” It read like this: “A nurse is the one who opens the eyes of a newborn and gently closes the eyes of a dying person.  It is indeed a privilege to be the first and last to witness the beginning and end of a life.”   Nurses make a difference by stepping into people’s lives, and by special moments.  If interested in becoming a nurse, talk with nurses, check into nursing school requirements regardless of your age or status and make a difference by becoming a nurse.

Many nurses make a difference by volunteering with a Nurses Honor Guard (NHG), a group of retired/active nurses that pay tribute to deceased nurses with active NHG groups in IN and IL. The IN NHG Statewide group networks throughout IN to provide a NHG Tribute where there is no coverage.  Work is underway to develop an IL NHG Statewide group.  Julie Godby Murray, RN, is the Coordinator of the National Nurses Honor Guard Coalition, and responsible for organizing all NHG’s in the US to provide networking between states when contacted to honor a nurse where there is no established NHG group.  A NHG honors a deceased Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) whose service is within a reasonable distance with consideration of traveling distance, and pending volunteer availability, every attempt is made to honor the request.  Both active and retired nurses volunteer/travel together in response to a family’s request for a NHG presence/tribute (like a military service) for nurses who dedicated their lives to helping others.  A NHG: attends services wearing traditional white nurses’ uniform, cap and cape; stands guard at a nurses’ casket/cremains during visitation; shares A Nurses Prayer, The Nightingale Pledge, Significance of the Lamp and The Nightingale Tribute; and present a Nightingale lamp and rose to the family to signify the nurse’s devotion to their profession.  All nurses make a difference.

To request a NHG Tribute for a deceased nurse, arrange a NHG Tribute for yourself, or want to volunteer with one of our NHG groups, or request additional information please contact one of the following NHG Lead contacts:

Susan McCarty:; Mary Jane LaFond, email:; Marcia Hiles, email:;  Tammy Lewis email:; or Connie Williams:


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