I often hear nursing staff, when asked ‘Why do you do that job?”, answer very modestly that they want to give something back to society or make a difference to people. Or, quite simply, that they love it.
As the Chair of the RCN’s West Midlands Board, I feel privileged to observe how these very motivations inspired the wonderful care that helped and protected so many patients, their families and colleagues so much during a most extraordinary and challenging 2020.
If, this time last year, anyone needed reminding of the fundamental importance of nursing, the World Health Organisation’s designation of 2020 as the first-ever International Year of the Nurse and Midwife was surely going to reinforce it.
What better way to mark the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth than a global appreciation of nurses and nursing, of the skill, empathy and compassion that are the hallmarks of what we do, and of how critical it is that there should always be enough of us?
And, yet, as welcome as the WHO affirmation was last year, it’s the work that nurses were doing – and continue to do – at the forefront of the response to the distressing, life-changing COVID-19 pandemic that best showcases our incalculable value to society.
Amid that recognition, and the appreciation expressed by the public, many of us mourned. Losing friends, family members or colleagues is devastating and no one should underestimate the even greater emotional strain this can place on staff on top of the responsibility of nursing very poorly patients in a pandemic.
When your shift has the potential to be so physically and mentally overwhelming, it can be hard to remove yourself from the pressure cooker of that situation and bring to mind the reason or reasons you choose to nurse.
When I tell people about my job, about what being a nurse means to me, how it makes me feel and my love of this career, I also think of the thousands of others I am humbled to represent in our region.
Needless to say, 2021 is already proving to be another very difficult year, with COVID-19 infection rates, hospital admissions and deaths tragically rising once again. Let’s hope that the lockdown restrictions and mass vaccination programme will see the threat of the virus recede and, ideally, eliminated as the year goes on.
In the meantime, please take care and look after yourself. Whatever has inspired you to nurse or to love nursing, make no mistake: your professionalism, your dedication and your courage have never been more evident and essential.