The network was created by two Dover nurses to support their peers statewide.

Iconic nurse Florence Nightingale is a hashtag.

Some of her fellow nurses in the Small Wonder are using it. Dover nurses Gifty Boateng and Lauren Durk featured the hashtag “Love From Flo” on their Noble Nurses Network Facebook page.

That tag will likely ramp up on social media in the coming weeks because May 12 is Nightingale’s 200th birthday. The World Health Organization christened 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in her honor.

Since nurses are the backbone of the health care industry, Durk and Boateng created the Nightingale Nurses Ball to celebrate all of the nurses in the state.

The inaugural ball was slated to be May 8, capping National Nurses Week. But it has been postponed indefinitely.

“There has been a lot of research and attention, before the coronavirus outbreak, about nurse burnout and decreased resiliency, and the suicide rate among nurses on the rise,” Boateng said.

“The original plan was to have a Friday night out with a nice meal, music and entertainment to relax and share laughs, and to just enjoy a night designed to inspire and celebrate all nurses in the state of Delaware. The night will also provide great networking opportunities, if they wish, of course,” Durk said.

“We work hard and need to promote taking care of ourselves so we can provide the best care to our patients,” Durk added.

The ball is intended to be the first step in Boateng and Durk’s new Noble Nurses Network.

Boateng said they want to connect nurses from all over the state to build camaraderie through empowerment, education and other mindful and meaningful events outside of the workplace.

‘Destined’ to nurse

Karen Lee, 51, of Clayton, has been a nurse at Christiana Hospital for 21 years. 

Her journey in the medical field began when she was a teen, as a dietary clerk at Wilmington Hospital serving food to patients.

“Working in the hospital since I was 17, I knew I could contribute more at the bedside than in a clerical role, so I went back to school for nursing,” Lee said.

Being around the hospital environment excited her. “Once I became a nurse, I never looked back, because it’s what I was destined to do,” she said.

Julie LaFon, 59, of Townsend, works in Dover and has been a nurse for over 20 years. LaFon has had a passion for senior citizens since she was young.

“I always loved animals. When I was a little kid, I wanted to live on a farm. But I’ve always liked the elderly as well, I guess because I loved my grandparents,” the Townsend resident said.

“That got me interested in going to nursing school, thinking it was a good, steady job and nurses were always needed,” she added.

Colleague Boateng, a nurse for nearly 17 years, said her job is a calling. When she was 10, she was already helping her parents raise her four brothers, she explained.

Dealing with coronavirus 

Townsend resident LaFon said she’s used to and comfortable working safely around patients with infectious disease. But dealing with the coronavirus is different.

“Usually we know ahead of time who is infected and who isn’t. The case now with this thing is we don’t know who’s infected,” she said.

“So many patients go unrecognized because they have mild symptoms or they’re [recently] tested and they don’t know. So we don’t know, one way or another. We have that paranoia and we have to consider everybody,” LaFona said.

Durk, 33, who’s been in the field for 13 years, said coronavirus shouldn’t be taken lightly.

At the same time, the 33-year-old said while the visibility of diseases changes over the years, there is one constant: you’re exposed to these things and have to take every precaution possible.

“We provide care for people with infectious diseases on a daily basis. Things that you don’t think about, things that aren’t broadcast in the media, things that [can be contagious] if you aren’t maintaining safe hygiene and safety precautions,” Durk said.

Combating nurse suicide 

Suicides by male and female nurses have been higher than people who are not.

Female nurse suicide rates from 2005 to 2016 were significantly higher (10 per 100,000) than the general female population (7 per 100,000), according to researchers.

Male nurses (33 per 100,000) were higher than the general male population (27 per 100,000) for the same period.

That is according to research from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and UC San Diego Health, Department of Nursing and was published in the February edition of “WORLDviews on Evidence Based-Nursing.”

The World Health Organization reported one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, occurring at a rate of 13 per 100,000 people.

Durk said nurses have a high-pressure job that never stops.

“Those things weigh on you and not everyone has healthy coping skills or outlets, so it can build up quick. All nurses have a passion and drive about them, but we are human, too,” she said.

She’s optimistic the rate of nurse suicide will decrease in the future because mental health is being taken more seriously in society.

Boateng said that’s why the Noble Nurses Network is important, because it’s purposed to help take the edge off their peers with empowering, inspiring and memorable events such as the upcoming Nightingale Ball.

“When you engage people outside of the workplace, like having seminars, a retreat, community service project, and other events, it kind of helps out to relieve some of that stress or burnout,” Boateng said.