If ever there were a time to appreciate nurses — their hard work, dedication and perseverance — it would be Nurses Week 2021, which kicks off today. 

This time last year nurses were being summoned from across the country to work around the clock trying to help save lives where the novel coronavirus presented the greatest risks. Throughout the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in 2020, the 200th anniversary celebration of Florence Nightingale, nurses sacrificed daily, enduring shortages of critical equipment like personal protective gear. 

A shortage of nurses existed before COVID-19 ravaged the nation and diminished the numbers in their ranks. A database compiled by the Guardian and Kaiser Health News shows 32% of the 3,607 U.S. health care workers who died due to COVID-19 were nurses. 

About 30% of the health care workers surveyed during a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll considered leaving their posts during the first year of the global pandemic. More than half of them said they were burned out, and about 60% said pandemic-related stress harmed their mental health.

Some nurses told pollsters they felt betrayed by their neighbors, who praised their heroic efforts but refused to wear masks or exercise basic pandemic precautions. Others were disillusioned by a health care system controlled by insurance, pharmaceutical and private equity companies more concerned about the bottom line than staffing and equipment needs. 

Studies show up to 1 million nurses in the United States could retire by 2030, putting additional stress on a system pushed to the limits by the pandemic and public response. Americans asked a lot from its nurses during the past year — they delivered.

Make sure to recognize the efforts of nurses today, during the coming week and beyond. Those being educated and trained today also need to know their work will be appreciated for years to come. 

Nurses deserve our support during times of crisis and as that crisis begins to subside. 

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