School of Nursing

August 30, 2018

Honoring Nurses on Labor Day

For many people, Labor Day creates mental images of factory workers toiling on assembly lines, manufacturing things. Perhaps it’s time to revisit that image and expand it to include nurses working in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and research laboratories. And include in that vision, as well, those serving as educators, and as executives, managers, policy makers, and administrators of healthcare-related organizations.

There are about three million nurses in the U.S. They work in a wide range of places, doing a variety of healthcare-focused tasks. Nurses provide the vast majority of medical care a patient will receive while hospitalized. Hospital nurses are perhaps the most visible component of the nursing workforce, and they are an invaluable and often undervalued component of this country’s healthcare system.

Less visible and less known to the public are the many other capacities in which nurses labor. Today, an increasing number of nurses are obtaining advanced education, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (or DNP), that qualifies them to maintain independent healthcare practices. Without these nurses, many rural and underserved areas of our country would not have prompt access to primary care, and without such access many people’s health would be compromised.

Look at the upper rungs of many healthcare organizations and you will often find a nurse whose knowledge and experience is combined with business acumen. These nurse-managers and executives are having a significant impact on the way healthcare is delivered and administered. They bring to their jobs a unique perspective, and a strong willingness to be advocates on behalf of patients.

There is much discussion these days about “evidence-based medicine.” If you’ve ever wondered where that evidence comes from, think of thanking a nurse. Thousands of nurses across the country are doing research that is focused on improving the health of populations, and that research is being promptly translated into changes in medical practice and policy. Last year, UW School of Nursing researchers received more than $10 million in grants for a wide variety of research efforts.

Nurses are also educators, at every level. Nursing places an emphasis on sharing and transmitting information to patients. And as university educators, we are responsible for training the coming generations of nurses. The immensity of the task we face is reflected in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that project the need for more than one million nurses just to avoid having the current shortage become worse.

On Labor Day, I encourage you to take a moment to think about the entire spectrum of nursing and all that it means to your health and well-being.