Each year, we honor America’s nurses during National Nurses’ Week (May 6 through 12). This year’s theme, “Nurses: Making a Difference Every Day,” celebrates the critical role nurses play in the lives of patients and in the nursing community.
As part of the celebration, I could share with you heart-warming stories of nurses who touch the lives of patients, families, students, and communities every day. But you know the stories: They are your stories. The difficult part is to celebrate these stories—and appreciate our contributions to patient care—365 days a year. When was the last time someone “made your day” by recognizing a specific accomplishment, your expert skills, or your professionalism?
We know that recognition for a job well done is a top motivator. And in the midst of our current nursing shortage, appropriate recognition can mean staff retention. But what is appropriate? Today, we have about 3 million American nurses and thus a wide range of personalities, expectations, and ages.
For nurses, the best recognition is personal. A nurse wants to know she or he has been singled out and received a personalized message. Peers, bosses, teammates, patients, and families can all provide recognition that trumps the large-scale events some organizations put on to acknowledge the efforts of their nurses.
I’m not suggesting that nurses don’t appreciate a free lunch or a guest lecture—or for that matter, a newspaper thank-you ad, a seated massage, or flowers. But most of all, nurses want recognition with a personal touch, recognition that notes their professionalism, dedication, tireless work, and accomplishments. Random acts of recognition—such as saying “Thanks,” or “Great job,” or “Gee, that must have been difficult,” or “Wow, congratulations on that grant or article,” or “Fantastic lobbying,” or “I am so glad you are my colleague,” or “You really made a difference”—leave indelible marks on heart, mind, and soul.
Nurses often stay in their jobs or with a particular employer because they enjoy the relationships with co-workers. Cultivating the habit of giving deserved praise to one another and working in an environment where peer-to-peer recognition is the norm can be powerful. After all, the most meaningful praise comes from our peers—whether it’s an appreciative word or a peer-nominated award. Recognizing the efforts and accomplishments of team members is a great pick-me-up that costs nothing, yet pays dividends.
Acknowledging someone’s actions publicly or telling someone’s boss of an exemplary performance is sure to please. Timing is important, too. Recognition should come as soon as possible after someone has given selflessly, gone above and beyond the call of duty, or made a difference for you or someone else. One more thought: Remember, everyone responds to recognition, so don’t forget to recognize those who are good at recognizing others—make sure they receive a thank-you, too.
Praise from a boss, no matter how high up the food chain, really counts. Hearing from your supervisor that you have done well, receiving your supervisor’s undivided attention when you have a concern, or having your supervisor understand you as an individual demonstrates that you are valued and has a positive impact on your level of engagement and job satisfaction.
Patients and families provide nurses with significant recognition by expressing their thanks verbally and physically with hugs, handshakes, or pats on the back. Of course, the ultimate confirmation of excellent nursing care comes when patients recover from serious conditions.
Given the intensity of the work and human experience, nurses need to know they are appreciated. We all want positive feedback and recognition. As colleagues, we can take the simple step of acknowledging and affirming each other. So go ahead, make someone’s day.
Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, FAAN, CNAA-BC