Don't Forget To Thank A Nurse Today

Young boy sitting on hospital bed with nurse
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The job of a nurse is as emotionally fraught as it is crucial to the healthcare system.

"I've been bitten, scratched, punched, and called every name under the sun plus some very inventive ones," said Kristi Djuric, a former registered nurse from Westford, Massachusetts.

The 53-year-old was a trauma and critical care nurse at her hospital's emergency room until 2009 when she was suddenly diagnosed with dermatomyositis, a rare autoimmune disorder that eventually rendered her unable to walk. Once the caregiver, Djuric is now on the receiving end of the healthcare system. The experience has given her a deeper insight into the patient-provider relationship.

"While you're the most vital person to [patients], you're not their favorite person," she told AOL Jobs. "You have to understand, you're interacting with people at the worst time of their lives. They're sick or they may think they're going to die."

As the frontline troops of hospitals and other healthcare institutions, nurses are the care providers that patients and their families interact with the most. There are over 2.7 million nurses employed in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – four times as many as there are physicians and surgeons. Nurses spend much more time than doctors with their charges, doing routine checks, changing bedpans, bringing food and drinks, answering questions, and providing emotional support to patients and their families.

The job can take a heavy toll on one's psyche. A recent study found that nurses can suffer from the "emotional labor" of having to show compassion and empathy at all times.

"It's a very tough job. Nurses are very dedicated to their patients, and sometimes they get overlooked," said Brian Short, founder of the online nursing community

Wikipedia Commons(This is a nephrostomy tube, in case you were curious.)
registered nurse himself, Short started the website in 1996 to give his colleagues a professional forum to swap tales and tricks. Posts featured on the site range from topics of general appeal, like "how do you deal with rude patients?" to specialized queries about handling double-j nephrostomy tubes and administering insulin glargine injections. It's also a place frustrated nurses come to vent.

User dudette10 writes:

I had one patient tonight who "reminded" me that he was inappropriate the night before, and I had told him to knock it off (not in those words). He was trying to make a joke of it, calling ME inappropriate as I was changing his gown and sheets that he had urinated all over. I've never gotten that (internally) angry at a patient before.

Although they can be underappreciated or even scorned at times, nurses are very much in demand. Experts predict that a looming doctor shortage will be made worse by an aging baby boomer population and the influx of newly insured Americans benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Industry leaders hope advanced nurses will help fill the cracks. The employment of registered nurses is predicted to grow 19 percent by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The projected growth for nurse practitioners, who have a post-graduate education or higher, is an even brighter 30 percent.

There is also the looming mass exodus of aged nurses, many of whom held onto their jobs after the recession instead of retiring, to look forward to. Their inevitable exit will free up more than a million openings across the country over the next six years, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

"We're seeing more advertising dollars being spent on recruiting than in the last few years," said Short. "I definitely see the trend shifting upward." This is great news for current and recently graduated nursing students, and highlights nursing as an excellent career path in a still-shaky job market.

Besides job stability and great pay – the average nurse makes over $65,000 and the best-paid 10 percent make almost $95,000 – nursing professionals take home the knowledge that although their work is thankless at times, it can have a lasting impact on their patients and their families.

"You don't realize at the time and [your patients] don't always tell you but you can change their lives forever," Djuric said.

Her tone wavered as she recalled a letter she received from a woman who was a young girl when Djuric cared for her sick father before he passed away many years ago. The letter thanked Djuric for tending to her father and for inspiring her to become a pediatric critical care nurse. After reading the letter aloud to the other nurses on staff with her, she was confronted by another young nurse, Jill, who seemed more affected by the note than anyone, even Djuric.

"She said, 'You know, Kristi, you're the whole reason I became a nurse, too.' She had never told me!" Djuric said incredulously. Jill was six years old when her father passed away at the hospital where Djuric was on duty. "I only talked to her for four or five minutes that day, but I set her whole life path. That's when I realized how quickly and intimately we touch people."

Today is Nurse Appreciation Day. Take a moment to thank a nurse for their services to you or a loved one by writing a letter, making a phone call or with a shout out using the #thankanurse hashtag on Twitter. A simple "thank you" can go a long way.
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