What nurses really want during National Nurses Week

National Nurses Week is a time to show appreciation for nurses and recognize their crucial role in healthcare. This year's recognition week comes at a difficult time for them, and for many, free food or other small gifts may not be enough. 

The pandemic, coupled with severe hospital staffing shortages, has placed great strain on nurses. Many are frustrated, exhausted, burned out, or all of the above. 

This year's National Nurses Week also comes in the wake of RaDonda Vaught's criminal conviction for a fatal medical error, which has left many nurses concerned about making mistakes under increasingly challenging working conditions.

"The nursing profession is already extremely short-staffed, strained and facing immense pressure — an unfortunate multiyear trend that was further exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic," the American Nurses Association and Tennessee Nurses Association said March 25. "This ruling will have a long-lasting negative impact on the profession."

In light of these challenges, small gifts and freebies may seem trivial to many nurses. A Reddit message board for nurses is filled with examples of lackluster gifts the clinicians say they've received during past National Nurses Weeks, including business card holders, tote bags, cookies, cakes and packs of Extra gum, "because we're 'extra' special," one nurse wrote. 

Sixty-three percent of nurses say the typical way their employers show appreciation feels patronizing, according to a recent survey from connectRN. This year, the nursing agency has launched a campaign called "NursesWeakGifts," encouraging nurses to share a photo on social media of the most ridiculous Nurses Week gift they've received. 

"Nurses Week is a time to show nurses how much we appreciate them and remind employers out there to take a beat and think about a thoughtful way to acknowledge their hard work," connectRN CEO Ted Jeanloz said in a news release.

A February report from McKinsey found 32 percent of registered nurses are considering leaving their role. Insufficient staffing, insufficient pay, not feeling listened to or supported at work, and the emotional toll of the job were among the top reasons nurses say they intended to leave.

Nurses deserve all the appreciation and recognition in the world, and while small tokens of gratitude are a kind gesture, what nurses really want — work-life balance, better pay and working conditions and more support — will take more effort to achieve. 

"Real recognition is ensuring that nurses have safe work environments, competitive compensation, shared decision-making, full practice authority, continuous professional development and safe reporting structures without fear of retribution," American Nurses Association President Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, said in a statement to Becker's. "I urge leaders to heed the lessons learned from this pandemic and make the protection and support of their nursing workforce a top priority. Our nurses [are] well-deserving and worth the effort — we cannot afford to ignore them."

Editor's note: This article was updated May 5 at 4:30 p.m. CT.

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