What are the best ways to describe someone who makes a good nurse? It’s an interesting question and one that we seem to take for granted far too often. Words and phrases like caring, empathy, stamina, leadership, patience, patient advocate, attention to detail, critical thinking, problem solving, and yes, sense of humor, come to mind. Nurses make up the largest healthcare profession, yet oftentimes are the least appreciated. This needs to change, not soon, but now.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two plus years, basically every hospital in the Country has had issues with nurse shortages. Nurses continuously put their own lives on the line daily treating COVID patients. They have been face to face with COVID over and over again while the rest of us have done everything we can to avoid seeing anyone, whether infected with COVID or not. Many have seen death and sickness like they never imagined when they decided to go into nursing. They have risked their lives daily to help others in need

Finally, they seem to have made it out on the other side of COVID. Celebration, thanks, relief? Not exactly. Instead, they learn on national news that now if they make a mistake, they may end up serving time in jail. The nurses that didn’t leave the profession during or after the high points of COVID certainly have another reason to consider a different line of work. Those considering entering the nursing profession will think long and hard about whether they really want the type of stress where a mistake can possibly take away their freedom. I bet law school applications would come to a screeching halt if they told incoming students, “By the way, if you make a mistake you may go to jail!!”.

Nurses don’t get into nursing to get rich, they do it because they have a calling to help people. Do they make mistakes? Of course, just like every professional does, and they should be punished, but we also need to realize there is an appropriate way to do this. Criminal prosecution sends the wrong message. It not only impacts the already critical nursing shortage, but it also directly discourages the processes that have been improved over the last two decades to enhance patient safety.

Instead of moving into a very dangerous way of punishing healthcare providers, a more appropriate way to address the problem is to promote a culture of safety where errors can identify strategies to improve patient safety and build support and accountability for those endeavors. We join the many professional associations who have already shared positions for the support of culture of safety and quality processes instead of criminal punishment.

And we continue to say thank you to our healthcare professionals for what you have done and continue to do to promote safe, effective care during difficult times.