SASKATOON -- This week marks National Nursing Week, a time for people to draw attention to the contributions of nurses in Canada, especially in the past year when nurses have been pushed to limits.

The Canadian Nurses Association theme this year is #WeAnswerTheCall to showcase the many roles that nurses play in the healthcare system.

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses President Tracy Zambory says it’s the most important week of the year, calling nurses the “back bone” of the healthcare system.

“It has been heartbreaking, stressful, anxiety ridden times where it could have been easy to say 'you know we don’t wanna do this anymore’ but the nursing team has shown up,” Zambory told CTV News.

She says there’s multiple ways that nurses have stepped up to “answer the call” throughout the pandemic.

“We’re there for the contact tracing, we’re there for testing, now we’re there for vaccine rollout.

“We’ve had to be the people who held up the iPads for those most intimate moments when people are having to say goodbye to their loved ones.”

And while people are banging pots and pans to show their appreciation, one nurse says it wasn’t always this way.

“There’s really been a lot of changes over the last 50 years, and I guess the biggest change is the image of nursing and how much more nurses are respected, how much more educated we are,” says Arlene Kent-Wilkinson.

Arlene Kent-Wilkinson

Arlene Kent-Wilkinson (Submitted)

Kent-Wilkinson is an associate professor at U of S College of Nursing. She’s been a nurse for 50 years and made $2.80 an hour at the start of her career in 1971.

She says the minimum wage at the time was $1.50 to $1.75 an hour so she thought $2.80 was “OK."

Kent-Wilkinson has seen many changes over the years in the nursing profession such as more men and technological advancements.

“And we’re seeing far more people go into nursing now with COVID as well, the numbers are up across Canada with young people choosing nursing and medicine as a career.”

Zambory says registered nurses have a profound effect on the people of Saskatchewan “from the time they’re born to til the time they pass away.”

She says there are over 10,000 registered nurses in the province.

“Now more than ever it’s so important to recognize the unbelievable contribution that nursing has made to the health and welfare of people in the last 14 months,” Zambory said.

Zambory says the best way people can show their appreciation for nurses is to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible and to continue following the province’s public health orders.

“We really have to help take the pressure off the healthcare system, the intensive care rooms and making sure that people can stay healthy and the healthcare system gets a break. That’s how we can track registered nurses.”