On April 3rd, oncology nurses across Canada took to the streets and hospital lobbies in honor of national Oncology Nursing Day (OND). First established in 2004 by the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology/ Association canadienne des infirmières en oncologie (CANO/ACIO) to complement Cancer Month, OND has grown into an event worthy of political recognition and widespread media attention. This year, eight provinces and fifteen cities issued official government proclamations recognizing oncology nurses. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq issued letters to mark the day and in the House of Commons, MP Greg Rickford of Kenora, Ontario rose to thank oncology nurses for their work and to call on further support for research, healthcare, and nursing education.
As exciting as these government recognitions were, they were not the most important part of the celebrations. Through the coordinated efforts of CANO/ACIO and its provincial chapters, events across the country brought direct recognition to nursing contributions. Local chapters held education days or sponsored dinners for oncology nurses. Volunteers delivered coffee, chocolates, or pastries to embattled oncology nurses working on the frontline. Stories about oncology nursing work were posted on the OND website, and several exceptional oncology nurses were honored with awards for outstanding work by their colleagues. Over one thousand viewers shared Tweets and Facebook postings in support of OND and oncology nursing.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of the 2012 celebration, however, was the introduction of the OND Flash Mob. Thinking long and hard about how to garner enthusiasm among nurses, recognize the support of patients and families, and interest the public media, the national OND Committee decided to promote local Flash Mobs to be held in public spaces at noon (in all times zones) on April 3rd.. We decided on the theme song “Firework” by Katy Perry because it portrays a positive and supportive outlook. We arranged for professional choreography, made it available through our member website, and encouraged nurses, patients, friends, and family members across Canada to get practicing in anticipation of the big moment. We encouraged participants to wear costumes embracing both nursing (scrubs) and CANO/ACIO colours (orange and burgundy). And on that day, almost twenty Flash Mobs were released on an unsuspecting public in celebration of the day. These videos taken at each of these and posted on our You Tube site capture the essence of local support for a great cause and communicate a feeling of joy and camaraderie that so often seems elusive in the modern nursing environment.
Here in Vancouver, the Flash Mob was held in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery during a cold and windy downpour. It was cheered on by an enthusiastic group of supporters (as well as food cart vendors, movie production staff that happened to be trying to film on-site, and unsuspecting passers-by). There was singing, dancing, cheers, hugs, and an incredible sense of nursing unity that I haven’t felt in quite a while. That afternoon we all loved nursing.
We all realize that nurses across the board are discouraged and desperately searching for affirmative outlets. A shifting economy and increased workload demands, coupled with changing notions of the role and responsibility of nurses, has created an environment where the only thing getting many nurses through the day is a personal sense of caring for their patients. We know that nurses need to recharge their batteries and rekindle the flame. Doing something exciting and outrageous was a tremendous way to signal that desire and to collaborate in making a statement about our desire to stay strong and committed. Oncology nurses felt blessed to have one another, and to be able to organize together within a proactive professional organization like CANO/ACIO.
My participation in this year’s OND confirmed for me the tremendous need we all have for a place where the real value — and values — of nursing are celebrated and embraced. Not only do we need and deserve to celebrate ourselves, but we also need a chance to showcase our value within public and political realms. By allowing our work to be acknowledged in public spaces – dancing together with nurses, patients, families and supports cheering us on – we brought attention to our passion for the work that we do. It is my hope that nurses in other contexts of practice find ways to come together in celebration, pride and hope, to be acknowledged in the way they too deserve.
Jennifer Stephens, BSN, MA, RN, OCN, is an oncology nurse working at the VGH Bone & Marrow Transplant Unit. She is also a PhD student at UBC, and holds the position of Director-at-Larger for Communications as well as the national Co-Chair for the Oncology Nursing Day Committee for the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology / Association canadienne des infirmières en oncologie (CANO/ACIO). In that capacity, she coordinated the Vancouver OND 2012 Flash Mob. Jennifer wants to say thank you to all of the amazing nurses, friends, family, and supporters who came out across Canada for OND. She particularly want to thank Sharon Paulse of The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) for her ongoing support of oncology nurses, her fellow OND committee chairs (Sean, Ana, Cornelie, and Corsita), her local OND Flash Mob video team (Michael, Redza, Zalifah, and Nabihan), and all of the oncology nurses who risked their dignity to showcase oncology nursing in public. She hopes that, as ARNBC evolves, all BC nurses will have opportunities to be appropriately outrageous in their passion for their profession!