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Nursing week: Recognizing our front line workers

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun


Immunizations are updated, blood tests are processed, emergencies are managed, lives are saved, loved ones are cared for, comfort is given, strength is shared -- no one can argue that every citizen in every community is in some way indebted to a nurse.

From May 6 to 12, Nursing Week 2002 will give us an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the significant contributions of the profession. Barb Wahl, president of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), will be among the many voices of support and appreciation. "It's important that we acknowledge our nurses for the incredible job they're doing.

I will visit as many communities as I can this week, to say thank you in person," Wahl says.

Delivering on this goal means a busy itinerary for Wahl -- visit www.ona.org to follow some of the many scheduled activities.

An equally busy agenda can be explored at www.rnao.org, the Web site for the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO). Among other things, RNAO will be co-sponsoring a Career Fair May 8 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

"This event has a great roster of forward thinking and informative presentations and activities," says Sine MacKinnon, director of communications for RNAO.

Nursing Week activities will promote two important objectives. "We want to celebrate nursing. But any show of support must be substantiated by our strong commitment to protect and improve our health care system," Wahl says.

She cites the enormous burden nurses are shouldering in an environment of funding cuts and subsequent staff shortages.

"Though we deeply appreciate our nurses, we aren't simply organizing a cheerleading event," MacKinnon says. "We are also committed to critical issues like improving the funding formula, the working environment and the full time nursing ratio -- our career fair is about retention as well as recruitment, and the increased quality and safety of our health care system."

MacKinnon points to a recent Canadian survey that finds an RN's presence can mean the difference between life and death. "We have numbers that prove the need for more full-time nurses," she says.

Many of the activities surrounding Nursing Week -- including ONA's leafleting pickets and a march through downtown Toronto today -- focus on informing the public as well as the federal and provincial governments that nurses represent a critical voice in the debate regarding Medicare.

"Nurses are front line workers in health care -- first-hand exposure to the strengths of the system as well as to the shortcomings of its funding would benefit such a discussion," Wahl says.

Adds MacKinnon: "Nurses should be involved, not only in the delivery but also in the direction of our health care."

Regardless of its external challenges, nursing offers great personal and professional rewards.

"Nothing can really replicate the nurse-patient relationship -- nurses are passionate about their work -- about the welfare of their patients," MacKinnon says. "And nursing presents a feast of possibilities -- in long term care, home care, public health, research.

It's a career with tremendous opportunity and it's also very positive because it matters."



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