Commentary: Celebrate National Nurses Week by protecting these COVID heroes

Nurses from Atlantic Health during the pandemic. Photo: Atlantic Health


By Linda Stamato

National Nurses Week is celebrated in the United States from May 6th to May 12th every year, concluding on International Nurses Day, May 12th, a day that links nurses all over the world.

The theme for 2020 is this:  Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health.   

Florence Nightingale, circa 1860.

May 12 is very special: It’s Florence Nightingale’s birthday.  She served during the Crimean War, caring for the wounded and those fighting infection from unsanitary conditions, and is considered the founder of modern nursing.

Following the war, she opened a nursing school, using funds she received from Queen Victoria for her work during the war.

Why not use this week to mobilize support for nurses by advocating, forcefully, for their safety and health, during our war against the pandemic?  To fight for their protection, as they care for us.

Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United, America’s largest nurses’ union, says her main concern is that health care employers were not and still are not prepared.

‘PLEASE STAY HOME FOR US.’ Chilton Medical Center nurses during the pandemic. Photo: Atlantic Health

In an interview with NPR in early May, Castillo said her organization had surveyed nurses working at hospitals across the country. They reported a troubling lack of personal protective equipment, starting in February.

Man gives thanks to emergency department at Morristown Medical Center. Photo by Paige Van Der Vliet, via Facebook.

Castillo said nurses are angry. She said they fear a second wave of COVID-19 patients will hit before hospitals are ready:

“Nurses are not afraid to care for our patients if we have the right protections…. But we’re not martyrs sacrificing our lives because our government and our employers didn’t do their jobs.”

And, now, the descendants of Florence Nightingale, our local nurses, are fighting on a battlefield of unrelenting disease.

They need more than our words of praise and gratitude; they need our help in securing for each and every nurse, in hospitals, in nursing homes, and in all the places nurses serve, the protections they need to remain safe and free of disease so that they can continue to do the critical work we need them to do.

Morristown Medical Center video:

The many nurses who serve today may not be enshrined in history books as Nightingale is. But they serve in her good shadow, as during this week, a new generation goes out to serve the needs of the sick, the wounded, the needy and the aging.

So, sure, clap hands, post signs, clank pots and pans, make noise for all to take note of our support for nurses. But, above all, advocate to keep our nurses safe from harm.

Linda Stamato is the Co-Director of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  She is a Faculty Fellow there as well.  Active in the Morristown community, she serves on the trustee board of the Morristown and Morris Township Library Foundation and is a commissioner on the Morristown Parking Authority.


Healthcare Heroes sign, Pine Street, Morristown, April 19, 2020.
ANOTHER PANDEMIC: Nurse wearing mask as protection against influenza, NARA 9.13.1918

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  1. So grateful for the nurses in our community and across the country. Now let’s add hazard pay to the clapping and cheering. Seriously, it is NOT okay for them to be working without proper protection for themselves and, by extension, their families and friends. T

  2. Linda Stamato has written a very thoughtful piece on nursing. And she has amplified the clarion call that nurses “need more than our words of praise and gratitude.” Yes, today is the day we honor the work of professional nurses in the United States. A tradition in the nursing profession since 1982; 2020 has highlighted the courageous and important work of my profession (I am a nurse as well as a psychotherapist). In past years, honoring the women and men of the nursing profession has been celebrated with cards, flowers and other congratulatory gestures. This year, those acts of kindness seem so small given the ravages of COVID-19 on nurses world-wide.

    Nurses are among the most trusted professionals. They represent a diverse group of practitioners, educators, researchers, and work in a wide range of settings from the traditional to the unique; caring for individuals throughout the lifespan. They are well prepared for these varied roles; college-educated, with many holding graduate and doctoral degrees. While the words ‘calling’, ‘angels’ or ‘heroes’ are often used to describe nurses, most of them would say they are simply doing their jobs. I would argue that their jobs are anything but simple. Thank you to my colleagues for all you do.

  3. Bravo to our nurses, so unbelievably dedicated, while working under the most stressful conditions. Hopefully, with more public awareness they will receive all the equipment, support and aid they need.