There are about 3 million registered nurses working throughout the United States, making them the largest component of our health care system. And for the next week, starting tomorrow, hospital leaders have an excuse to recognize the efforts of those key contributors on the front line of providing care.

Tuesday marks the start of National Nurses Week, running through May 12, which is both International Nurses Day and the birthday of modern nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale. Professional groups, such as the American Nurses Association, encourage hospitals and other institutions to use the week-long celebration as an opportunity to advocate for the profession and promote the value of nursing, whether by holding a reception, sponsoring a community event or hosting a press conference.

Martie Moore, R.N. — a former hospital CNO, who's worked in the profession for more than 20 years — believes that nurses are one of the most precious assets in the field, and the reason that patients come to hospitals, and leaders should treat them as such.

"Look at nursing as one of the greatest resources that you have, and I say that with a tad bit of emotion, because you're not going to have hospitals without nurses," says Moore, who now works as CNO of supply company Medline. "You have to look at this talent that's within the walls of your hospital and out in the community and listen to their voices. Sometimes those voices are hard, there's no doubt about it, but you've got to hear the messages that they're telling you about how to best care for these patients, and how we can do things differently."

As explored in H&HN's Generations in the Workplace series last year, an impending wave of retirement set to hit the hospital field will leave gaps in leadership, and nursing is no exception. The Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that over the next decade or so almost 1 million RNs, or one-third of the workforce, will reach retirement age.

Hospitals stand to lose some of their most seasoned professionals in the coming years, Moore notes. And hospitals leaders would be wise to start cultivating tomorrow's CNOs today.

"With retirements, it's not only about people; it's also about knowledge and expertise," she says. "Those are your most experienced nurses. Those are your nurses who intuitively know what to do for a patient, and don't need to look it up or ask questions. That knowledge base is leaving the practice of medicine and that, to me, is something that's really scary."

What's your hospital doing to celebrate National Nurses Week? Share your thoughts in the comment section, or feel free to reach out to me via email if you'd prefer to discuss the topic privately.