Jessica Haas, RN, a school nurse in Texas, rushed to the aid of a mother who had collapsed outside a Dallas elementary school in November. The woman had gone into cardiac arrest, and Haas saved her life using an automated external defibrillator.
Although Haas’s act of heroism made news headlines, nurses don’t necessarily need to save lives in a dramatic fashion to be heroes. In many cases, nurses are caring for patients with compassion and clinical expertise when they unknowingly become heroes to the people around them, said Bonnie Barnes, FAAN, co-founder and president of the DAISY Foundation, an organization created to help patients and families thank nurses who have made a difference. “Families may go home from the hospital thinking about how their nurses made a tremendous impact on their lives,” Barnes said. “Yet when nurses are recognized as heroes, they often say they didn’t do something special. They were just doing their jobs.” The DAISY Foundation is one of many organizations throughout the country that honor nurses through recognition programs that celebrate nurses for a range of accomplishments — everything from disaster support to leadership in the community. Barnes and her husband Mark established the foundation in 1999 because they were deeply impressed by the nurses who cared for their adult son, who was suffering from an autoimmune disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. “When our son was in the hospital for eight weeks, we were able to see the impact nurses can make,” Barnes said. “Although their clinical skills were excellent, what really got our attention was how the care was delivered. The nurses treated our family with such kindness and sensitivity.” Their foundation partners with healthcare organizations that are interested in creating a DAISY Award recognition program. Each facility has the freedom to design the criteria for nomination, but criteria “fall under the big banner of compassionate care,” said Barnes. A hospital committee reviews nominations from patients, family members and colleagues, and surprise recipients on their units to present the award. Larger facilities may opt to present two or three awards per month, while smaller facilities may do fewer. More than 2,500 facilities participate in the program globally, and about 80,000 nurses have received a DAISY Award. For example, Susan Tuck, ADN, RN, who works in the ICU at Carilion Clinic in Virginia, recently received the award after she cared for a 29-year-old mother with terminal cancer. The patient had two small children and was on a ventilator. Tuck advocated for her patient, and when life support was withdrawn a week before Christmas, Tuck decided to buy presents from the gift shop for the mother’s children. She labeled them as if they came from their mother so they would have something from her to open on Christmas.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation demonstrated its high esteem of nurses by funding the Institute of Medicine’s landmark Future of Nursing Report in 2010, which called for nurses to play a fundamental role in transforming the healthcare system, said Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, RWJF’s senior adviser for nursing. The organization continues to build momentum to expand the role of nurses in various ways, including recognition programs such as the “Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing” award. The award has been given to 20 nurses for contributing in extraordinary ways to the lives and well-being of the people in their communities. “We know in this country there are things called social determinants that are the best indicators of health and well-being,” Hassmiller said. “Factors like education, socioeconomic status, neighborhood safety, access to healthcare services and social and civic engagement are all very important. Nurse heroes are those who know this is true and then act on this knowledge by getting involved to create change in their communities.” Diana Ruiz, DNP, RN, APHN-BC, was one of 10 nurses who won the award in 2014 based on her involvement in the Texas Team Action Coalition. Ruiz helped the team develop a training program to prepare nurses for service on boards of local agencies and organizations that promote health and wellness. Ruiz also helped to create the first community health department at Medical Center Health System in Odessa, Texas. The department’s 28 caregivers follow patients who are high-risk once they leave the hospital. “Health doesn’t end at the hospital exit,” Ruiz said. “We will call patients, visit their homes, go to appointments, and help them find resources to seek financial assistance and employment opportunities.” The nurses who received the award also are participating in a training program to learn presentation and leadership skills that can help them recruit other nurses to be active in promoting health in the community.
While Darlene Curley, MS, RN, CEO of the Jonas Family Fund, believes every nurse is a hero, she leads an organization that focuses its recognition on nurse leaders in academia, practice and research. The Jonas Nursing Leadership Award is given annually to nurses who demonstrate leadership and aim improve the healthcare system, and in 2016 this honor went to Mary Jane Blaustein, RNC, NP, an emeritus assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Blaustein was a psychiatric nurse practitioner and one of the few nurses to teach in the medical school when she started her career. She later founded the Morton K. and Jane Blaustein Foundation, which provides grants to nurses who are working to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for disadvantaged and vulnerable youth. The Jonas Family Fund also is encouraging nurses to pursue the goal of becoming a future hero by supporting Jonas Scholars (recipients of their graduate student scholarships) to a three-day leadership conference in Washington, D.C., every year. This year there are 450 Jonas Scholars. Whether nurses are researchers, educators, practitioners or students, taking time to recognize nurses’ acts of heroism is critical, Curley said. “Nursing is the backbone of the healthcare system, but nurses do not typically strive to be in the press or call attention to themselves,” Curley said. “When we shine the light on exemplary nurses, they become important role models for others.”