What Makes a Hero? A Reflection on 2020 as the Year of the Nurse

Nursing | Penny Neal, PhD, CPNP, PMHS| September 23, 2020

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EBSCO Nursing and Allied Health Section Editor Penny Neal reflects on The Year of the Nurse, healthcare heroes, the nursing profession and her own personal nurse hero.

The Year of the Nurse, as prophesized by Florence Nightingale 150 years ago, is unfolding before our eyes. What a year it has been for all! Nurses, as well as other health professionals, are being depicted as heroes. Images of nurses with superhero capes flood social media. So, we ask ourselves, what makes a hero? How can we live up to this stereotype day after day, sacrificing our time, talent, and energy to care for patients during a global pandemic? The answer, as I see it, is simply to do what we have always done.

Florence Nightingale stated, “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” These words still echo true today, as nurses across the globe toss off the cloak of fear that all humans are feeling in these uncertain times and go to work. The role of the nurse has not changed. The heart of the nurse has not changed. Everything around us has changed, yet nursing, as a discipline, remains today what it was 150 years ago — fearlessly and unselfishly caring for those in the direst of circumstances. Nursing combines the science of medicine with the art of caring, intuition, and service to provide holistic care to people during the most vulnerable hours of their lives.

How can we live up to this stereotype day after day, sacrificing our time, talent, and energy to care for patients during a global pandemic? The answer, as I see it, is simply to do what we have always done.

On a personal note, the Year of the Nurse will forever be remembered as the year I lost my own nurse hero. My mother, a retired critical care nurse and administrator for more than 30 years, succumbed to a long-lived fight with chronic illness. She was, in my memory, the epitome of the selfless nurse — leaving many holiday dinners to care for patients when her staff was unable to meet the needs on her unit. Her fellow nurses described her as “the smartest person in the room” and stated she was the “best nurse” they ever worked with. She was always willing to remove her administrative hat, put on some scrubs, and work side-by-side with the nurses on her floor.

In my humble opinion, this is what makes us “heroes” — the willingness to do whatever needs to be done, at any hour of the day, to care for those in need. In her memory and in memory of all the healthcare heroes whom we have lost this year, I proudly celebrate the Year of the Nurse.

In loving memory of Jill Perkey, CCRN

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Penny Neal, PhD, CPNP, PMHS
EBSCO Nursing and Allied Health Section Editor

Dr. Penny Neal is a pediatric nurse practitioner with more than 20 years of clinical experience. She is dually certified as a Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (PNP-PC) and a Pediatric Mental Health Specialist (PMHS). Penny received her MSN from the University of Tennessee and PhD in nursing from East Tennessee State University. She is a published researcher and has presented at the local, national and international levels. She serves as a Section Editor for EBSCO Health and oversees pediatric content.

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