How to Accept Recognition as a Nurse and Express Gratitude

Each year, the American Nurses Association (ANA) commemorates National Nurses Month in May to honor the varying roles of nurses and their unwavering commitment to patients, their communities and our healthcare systems. For 2022, the ANA has selected the tagline Nurses Make a Difference, with each week of the month-long nursing recognition focusing on the themes of self-care, recognition of fellow nurses, professional development and community engagement. To promote these themes, join us for a month-long TESU Blog series contributed by our nursing course mentors. Week 2 focuses on recognition by honoring the work of nurses who lead, excel and innovate in both our healthcare systems and communities.

I was just doing my job.

This phrase is the most common response I hear from nurses when they receive recognition for their work. As a bedside nurse, I too, was uncomfortable when patients, families, peers or colleagues offered recognition and thanks. I became a nurse to do exactly what I was doing, caring for people. In fact, as a labor and delivery nurse, I considered it an honor that people entrusted me during one of the most memorable experiences of their lives. What else would I do except give my best?

Lessons on Giving and Receiving Recognition

While receiving recognition was uncomfortable, I enjoyed opportunities to share appreciation with others. Taking a few moments to share appreciation with colleagues when I learned something new from them, or saw them demonstrate extraordinary skill and compassion, made their day better and helped build our team. I took these lessons with me when I moved into a leadership role, developing an environment that had one of the highest rates of retention at our organization. The focus on recognizing the positive prevented me from becoming weighed down with negativity that can come with the challenges of being a leader.

How I Learned to Accept Recognition

So, when and why did I learn to accept recognition with grace? The DAISY award program was my first nudge in this direction. The Barnes Family developed the DAISY Foundation after losing their beloved son and husband at the age of 33. Following the loss, they wanted to provide an opportunity for others to “express their gratitude for nurses who provide extraordinary compassionate care.” The stories shared by people who wanted to honor nurses for what they considered extraordinary, which nurses described as “just their job,” helped me realize the importance of allowing others to share recognition. I also learned that recognition could lead to change.

Going a Step Further

In 2017, I decided to pursue my Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) at Thomas Edison State University. My strongest passion in nursing has always been care of birthing individuals, and I chose a project with a goal of decreasing risk for opioid use disorders among individuals delivering by cesarean section. I was beyond excited to see a greater than 65 percent decrease in opioid use as a result of this Enhanced Recovery for Cesarean Delivery (ERAC) program. The results of this project led to awards from my organization, the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania, and others. While at one time I would have shied away from this recognition, instead I have embraced it. Recognition has helped open doors to speak, consult, disseminate this change and mentor other nurses who want to lead.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” I encourage you to share these moments by recognizing the nurses who have made a difference in your life. I also challenge you to embrace recognition shared by others and celebrate the impact of nursing.

Susan Utterback, DNP, MSIT, RN-BC

Written by Susan Utterback, DNP, MSIT, RN-BC

Susan Utterback, DNP, MSIT, RN-BC, is a mentor in the W. Cary Edwards School of Nursing and Health Professions with a focus on healthcare informatics and technology. With more than 30 years of experience as a nurse clinician, informaticist, educator and leader, she combines these passions as the director of Women's Services at a large community hospital. She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Gwynedd Mercy University, a master’s degree in instructional technology from Bloomsburg University and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from Thomas Edison State University.

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