I’m delighted to thank our nation’s nurses during National Nurses Week, which is celebrated each year beginning on May 6 and ending on May 12—Florence Nightingale’s birthday. If there’s ever been a time to recognize the amazing work that nurses do, it is now—against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has lasted for more than a year.
As we mark National Nurses Week, we’re reminded of nurses’ heroic, tireless work caring for COVID-19 patients and their families. In fact, the American Nurses Association Enterprise is joining the World Health Organization (WHO) and global colleagues in extending the Year of the Nurse and Midwife into 2021 because of the impact of the pandemic.
This year, National Nurses Week is also when the new National Academy of Medicine report, The Future of Nursing 2020–2030: Charting a Path to Health Equity, is set to be released. The report will detail the critical role nurses play in achieving the goal of health equity, as well as recommendations for supporting their efforts. There will be a National Academy of Medicine webinar on May 11 at 3:00 pm ET to discuss the report’s findings and recommendations. For more information and to register for the webinar, you can visit the National Academy of Medicine website.
The Future of Nursing 2020–2030 report’s focus aligns closely with my own research interests, including looking at community environments as a social determinant of health—the conditions in which people are born, live, work, play, and age. I realized the significance of people’s living conditions early in my career, while working as a home health care nurse. Spending time in patients’ homes and in different communities, I was struck by the tremendous differences in the environments of the patients in my caseload, both in terms of privilege and poverty. I was inspired to learn more about the health impact of social factors like segregation, wealth and poverty, community resources, and housing.
Social determinants of health are highly relevant for understanding COVID-19 disparities and the anticipated long-term health consequences of COVID-19. For example, washing your hands with soap and water is a key public health strategy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Yet, due to water shutoffs or a lack of complete plumbing, an estimated 2 to 15 million Americans have no running water in their home at any given time. The risk is highest in low-income communities and those of color. In fact, new research estimates that a nationwide moratorium on water shutoffs could have prevented almost half a million coronavirus infections and saved over 9,000 lives. And COVID-19 is just the latest condition to expose ongoing health inequities.
Examples like these make it even more clear that we need prevention and treatment strategies that—first and foremost—address and also work within the realities of people’s lives and living conditions. Nurses and nurse scientists have the opportunity to enhance health for all people through evidence-based strategies. We can use what we’ve witnessed and experienced this past year as a platform for boldly moving forward to achieve health equity. We know that going back to business as usual is not an option. And nurses’ holistic perspective; engagement across clinical and community settings; and cultivated knowledge of and trust with patients, families, and the public position us ideally to respond.
National Nurses Week, the Future of Nursing report, and the work that nurses do every day to support the health of each patient—and entire populations—in support of our nation’s goal of health for all inspire me in my role as NINR Director. I hope you all join me in honoring and supporting nurses, not only during National Nurses Week, but every day of the year.
Shannon N. Zenk, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN