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Sat, Feb. 22

Nurses, the 'backbone of healthcare,' celebrated May 6-12

They work in hospitals, clinics, schools and businesses. You'll find them caring for people at Disneyland and on cruise ships. They serve in the military, work in public health jobs and even care for people in their homes. No matter where they work, the official celebration of nurses begins May 6, National Nurses Day, and continues through May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

How can we honor nurses for their contributions to healthcare? First, it's important to understand the significance of the nursing profession. The Arizona State Board of Nursing reports that our state has nearly 71,000 active registered nurses (RNs) and more than 11,000 active licensed practical nurses (LPNs). Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that with 2.6 million jobs, RNs are the largest healthcare occupation. You'll find 60 percent of these RNs caring for people in hospitals.

It's also eye-opening to consider the substantial role nurses play in healthcare delivery. Many consider nurses the backbone of the healthcare delivery system, as they are involved in most every phase of healthcare delivery. To many, the most significant role that nurses play in patient care may be invisible. For example, hospitalized patients may see nurses dispensing medications, monitoring symptoms, administering treatments and starting intravenous (IV) lines. These are all important activities. What they do not see is that RNs collect information from these and other sources, synthesize what they learn and develop meaningful and effective patient care plans.

Nurses also provide emotional support to patients and their family members during difficult times. They instruct patients and their families about post-treatment illness or injury management. RNs with advanced educational training may perform diagnostic tests and prescribe some medications. Some RNs promote public health by educating their communities about disease symptoms. They also organize health screenings, immunization clinics and blood drives.

The role of individual nurses depends on the work setting and the patient population served. In hospitals, nurses may work as "bedside nurses," who provide essential care for patients with a variety of illnesses and injuries. Other nurses specialize by:

• Setting or type of treatment: Consider the operating room where highly trained perioperative nurses work shoulder to shoulder with surgeons. Other settings where nurses specialize include emergency departments and intensive care.

• Health or condition: Diabetes nurse educators, for example, help people with this condition manage their health, by monitoring the status of individual patients and promoting diabetes prevention through community outreach.

• Organ or body system: Many nurses focus their work on specific human systems of interest to them. For example, cardiovascular nurses work with patients who have coronary heart disease and those who have had heart surgery. Dermatology nurses specialize in helping people with skin disorders. Orthopedic nurses care for patients suffering from muscular and skeletal problems.

• Population: Some nurses enjoy working with certain patient populations. There are geriatric nurses who care for older people and pediatric nurses who work with children.

The abilities of nurses are valued in myriad settings. However, the link that unites nurses in the mind of the public is aptly stated in this year's National Nurses Week theme: Nurses Trusted to Care.

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