Nurses Week: Honoring the Role of Nurses in Empowering Patients

Connie Feiler, RN, MSN, Healthwise Clinical Director of Patient Experience

Next Thursday, May 12, is Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Nightingale was born in 1820 and became the foundational philosopher for the nursing profession—she emphasized using the brain, heart, and hands to create healing environments. Nightingale is honored each year during National Nurses Week, which begins on May 6 and always ends on her birthday.


Over 200 years after she was born, Nightingale’s emphasis on the brain, heart, and hands in nursing still holds true today. I've been in nursing for 30 years, and a big reason is that nursing allows you to have a tangible impact and a connection with patients. Nurses also have endless career opportunities. At the bedside, nurses get a solid clinical foundation; once they’ve learned those skills, the world is open. Many remain as hands-on staff nurses throughout their careers because delivering front-line care is where their hearts are. Some go on to become educators, go into nursing informatics, or provide leadership in nursing management.

Regardless of what path nurses take, they still have a direct impact on the patient. My path led to patient education. I was the director of patient education at UPMC—the leading hospital system in Pittsburgh—for seven years. Even though I wasn’t teaching patients face-to-face, my work still directly affected patient care and improved care quality. It was very rewarding knowing our efforts to educate patients enabled them to stay safe and healthy once home.

My Path in Nursing

In my role as a patient education leader, I discovered that some of our education content was fragmented because it came from multiple patient education vendors and systems. This made taking care of patients more challenging. Patients were getting different, sometimes conflicting, information during different interactions at the bedside, at their doctor’s office, during community education classes, and from the home care nurses. I read an evaluation one day from a patient who took a prenatal class, and she said everywhere she went at the hospital, she was told something different about breastfeeding. One piece of education said to breastfeed every 2 hours, another said to breastfeed every 3 hours. A third piece of education said to wake your baby to breastfeed, while another said to let the baby sleep. The woman’s evaluation said, “I’ve decided to bottle-feed because you made breastfeeding too hard to understand and I lost confidence that I could do it correctly.”

This feedback was one of the mobilizing factors for change. At the time we had 11 different patient education vendors. Conflicting patient education was leading to some significant negative outcomes. Patients were confused, and in the case of the prenatal evaluation, we made the patient feel bad about herself. That evaluation and others like it helped me emphasize that as an organization, we needed consistent patient education to reinforce key teaching messages and give people confidence in managing their own care.

I will be forever grateful to the leadership team at UPMC who had the insight and drive to make this change. Once we consolidated all our patient education using one source of content provided by Healthwise, nurses saw great change. Previously, home care nurses would go to a patient’s home and find a bag stuffed with so many different brochures and handouts from the hospital that the patient didn’t know where to start. The home care nurse would have to start from square one to educate the patient. After we made every education touchpoint consistent, from the doctor’s office to community classes to coaching to home care, one home care nurse said, “Now when I go in a home, I know what information patients have. Across the whole hospital system, everyone is sharing the same information. Instead of starting over, we can reinforce what the patient has already learned and build on that foundation.”

This was so meaningful to me as a nurse. Even though I wasn’t at a patient’s bedside every day, I was creating positive change for both patients and other nurses through my work. Having that direct impact has been one of the highlights of my nursing career. It feels good to know you’ve made a difference in the lives of your patients and their caregivers.

The Unsung Heroes

Nurses are the unsung heroes of patient care and recovery. They’re the direct eyes and ears of what’s going on, and often the primary clinician who's there 24 hours a day. It’s a hard job, and you wonder sometimes, why do they keep doing it? It’s because we’re committed to taking care of our patients and advocating for them. No matter what a nurse’s role is—whether working directly with patients or in more of a support function—we all have an impact on the patient. That’s how I feel about nursing and being involved with patient education. You can work in nursing for over 30 years, but every patient still feels like your patient. What a blessing to have that kind of impact on people.

I've recently transitioned to a nursing leadership role at Healthwise, where I support many hospitals nationally in their goal to improve patient education. On behalf of Healthwise, we want to thank all the nurses who devote their lives to patients. All nurses, from the new graduate to the nursing leaders we become, create the healing environments Florence Nightingale envisioned by helping patients recover, learn, and live healthier lives. Thank you for all that you do!