Submitted by Laura Young

Last winter, an elderly couple was five hours into a trip down I-95 when the unthinkable happened. The husband had a heart attack and died, leaving his wife alone and far from home. In her darkest hour, human kindness intervened.

“Our Emergency Care Center nurses stayed with her for five hours while her family traveled here. The nurses brought her meals, communicated with the family and held her hand as she sat with her husband,” Lisa Dickerson, assistant administrator at the Camden hospital of the Southeast Georgia Health System. “When I heard that, I thought, ‘This is what we do.’”

Judith Henson, vice-president of patient care services at the health system agrees.

“We see people at their best and worst. We get to be part of major life events — from birth to the end of life. And it’s our honor and privilege to see them through those times,” she said.

Nurses Week is observed from May 6-12, but the American Nurses Association declared all of 2020 the “Year of the Nurse” to honor the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. This recognition seems especially appropriate now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

If anything sums up nursing, Henson says it’s a Gallup poll, ranking nurses highest among 22 professions for honesty and ethics. Gallup, an American analytics and advisory company known for its public opinion polls conducted worldwide, reported in its poll for 18 consecutive years that nursing is the most trusted profession in the United States.

Many people may picture nurses at the bedside and in the ER, but some nurses are also educators or oversee patient safety and case management. Some work in informatics, using technology to improve patient outcomes. Still others are Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE).

Regardless of the many responsibilities, every nurse embraces one purpose. “Their primary role is to be a patient advocate, and to help ensure the health and safety of the patient,” Henson said. “They can’t be afraid to stand up for patients and be their voice.”

And they must do so in a fast-paced environment. “Nurses make critical decisions and prioritize every minute of every day. They’re intuitive, while being good listeners and communicators,” Dickerson says.

While quick thinking is key, the days are long. “Nurses complete the task at hand, whether bringing new life into the world, remaining in the or when a two-hour surgery takes four hours or staying with patients at the end of life. A 12-hour shift can easily turn into 14 hours,” Dickerson said.

“I’m proud of their flexibility during these challenging times dealing with this pandemic. We reassigned many of our nurses from surgery to the Emergency Care Center, ICU and the COVID-19 unit. Others volunteered to help with COVID testing at the Health Department and a long-term care facility. Many were offered big salaries to work elsewhere during this crisis but stayed to care for our community,” Henson said.

That commitment will remain long after Nurses’ Week.

“I hope they understand how integral they are to patient care and how much we appreciate them,” Henson said.

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