Op-Ed: Vital role of nurses must be stressed

NEW YORK (JTA) – From the accelerating debate over national insurance to the recent outbreak of swine flu, health and medical issues are at the top of the news and the center of America’s agenda. The flu scare not only highlights the importance of preventing illness, but also the urgent need for quality health-care professionals.

Though the potential for a pandemic is troubling, perhaps it’s a good thing that it coincides with National Nurses Week, which this year is observed May 6-12. National Nurses Week salutes the talented men and women who work on the front lines of patient care. We need them now more than ever.

I began my professional life as a nurse. I know from experience that nurses often are underappreciated, but that the care they give is time and again the most welcome to patients. Nurses are the ones who respond first to calls of pain, who comfort a distressed patient in the dead of night, and who develop lasting bonds with patients and their families.

So it may come as a surprise to casual readers — or a shock to those who are hospitalized — that there is a serious shortage of nurses in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we will be a million nurses short within seven years. How, in a time of national urgency, could this be?

Perhaps interest in the field is waning. Perhaps awareness of nursing’s pivotal role in medicine is lacking. Whatever the reason, as Americans and as Jews we must reaffirm the necessity of detail-oriented individual health care.

Nursing not only embodies American principles but Jewish ones as well. The profession encompasses three cherished Jewish values: pikuach nefesh, the saving of human life; bikur cholim, visiting the sick; and tikkun olam, repairing the world.

During National Nurses Week, let us all make a special effort to recognize and support the men and women serving in the nursing field. And let us use the week as an opportunity to encourage talented and caring young people to choose nursing as a career.

Hadassah built Israel’s medical care foundation, starting with the mission of two American Jewish nurses to Jerusalem in 1913. Today, true to our mission, we already are acting in response to the nursing crisis. We recently initiated the Campaign for Nursing’s Future, an effort comprised of several programs to encourage young men and women to choose a profession that desperately needs their talents.

Among the programs is a joint effort with Johnson & Johnson that sends Hadassah-member nurses to schools across the country. They speak to students about their experiences in nursing, the degree programs available and career options. The Campaign for Nursing’s Future has reached more than 6,000 students, and we estimate that an additional 1,000 will be reached each year the program continues.

I encourage other organizations to recognize the enormous challenge of the nursing shortage and join the efforts of Hadassah and others to address the issue. Organizations and individuals in positions of leadership should take the time during National Nurses Week to stress the centrality of nursing to health care.

Leaders, by the way, come in many forms, and those on the front line have a unique opportunity to help address this crisis. I hope parents will talk to their children, teachers to their students and clergy to their congregations, all with the same message — nursing is a righteous and valuable profession.

Whether you make the choice to enter the nursing field, teach others about its importance or simply thank a nurse for his or her hard work, please use National Nurses Week as a call to action. We can forgive ourselves for occasionally forgetting how crucial a role nurses play in taking care of us, but we’ll never forgive ourselves if they aren’t there when we need them knowing that we could have done something about it.

(Nancy Falchuk is the national president of Hadassah and a registered nurse.)

NEXT STORY