Are you feeling like expressing some appreciation for the health care professionals in your world? It makes perfect sense. After all, they combine some pretty remarkable qualities. First, there’s expertise built on years of education and hands-on training. Then there’s deep empathy that extends beyond physical and mental health to caring for the whole person. And, of course, it also takes real courage to make decisions and take action in critical situations that would overwhelm most of us.
When you or a family member are under the care of a health pro who can do all that, you can’t help but notice and feel grateful. It might be a doctor, nurse, EMT, therapist, or other provider. Whatever their specific role, the level of care they give calls for genuine appreciation.
We asked hardworking health care professionals about the expressions of appreciation that have meant the most to them. And we’ve rounded up the tips and ideas that came up over and over again.
This post is part of our Caring and Creating during Tough Times series.
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Simply hearing “thank you” can really make their day.
“Literally any thanks are always appreciated. Just words of thank you are sufficient. (I love thank-yous of candy though.)” —Aaron M.
“I like immediate feedback when patients and their families are happy with their health care visits with me. When parents say something like, ‘You’re one of the first people who has truly listened to us’ or ‘Now we understand, we’re so glad to have direction,’ that really makes me happy.” —Kristen W.
“People don’t realize how physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging nursing really is. When you do get that patient that is truly grateful for all you did for them, it makes it all worth it.” —Lynn C.
The short-term nature of many health care interactions can make it challenging to send a written thank-you. That makes them all the more meaningful when they do come.
“I really enjoy a personal thank-you note, even if it is on a scrap of paper.” —Charlie B.
“Notes from the patients themselves are pretty great—personal messages about how our care made a difference for them.” —Kristin T.
“I like written letters. That may be due to my previous journalism experience and love of the written word, but now that writing is even more rare, it seems like a true show of appreciation when someone takes time to do that.” —Kristen W.
“With my job, I get a lot of handmade cards from kids. Drawings of me or of them getting better and being happy. Those are the best. One of my favorites was a thank-you from a five-year-old for taking care of his brand-new baby sis. So sweet.” —John C.
If you’re not sure what to write in a thank-you note, this article on messages of appreciation has message examples and tips to get you started.
The nice thing about a written message of appreciation is that it can encourage a nurse or doctor in the moment when they receive it…and for years to come.
“What always meant the most to me were thank-you cards. I still have one that a longtime patient’s family gave me after their passing. The reason it meant so much was that it made me realize how much of an impact we have on our patients. That patient thought enough of me to mention me to his family. Very humbling experience.” —Lynn C.
“I love when I get handwritten notes from my patients or their loved ones. It’s something that I can keep. I honestly take a copy for my manager and keep the original for myself. When I have hard times, I always go back to these notes to remind myself that I can make a difference.” —Sara H.
“Personal thank-you notes—handwritten or lengthy typed ones. I have kept those. Means a lot.” —Sara S.
In fact, sometimes it makes more sense to send appreciation well after a health crisis, during a time of wellness. Having time to reflect can add warmth and focus to your gratitude.
“As a pediatrician, my favorite thank-yous are when I get pictures of the family/kiddos, showing their growth and joy outside of the clinic.” —Aaron M.
“I sutured a young man’s face after his friend’s dog bit him. He sent me a nice card with a picture after his sutures came out.” —Charlie B.
“My favorite form of appreciation that I’ve received from patients have been hand-written notes that they’ve sent to the unit after they’ve discharged home. It’s good to know I meant enough to them that they took time to write and send it even after they got home.” —Ashley R.
The long, focused shifts that many health care professionals work make snacks or meals an especially welcome form of appreciation.
“We definitely love food. That’s always a plus because we’re here 24 hours. It’s nice to receive a meal you weren’t planning on, and for people to know we’re here all day is cool.” —Aaron B.
“I will say, in general, all nurses like food—and don’t forget the night shift. A lot of times, families will leave it in the day before they leave, and by the time night shift gets there it’s not there anymore. Sometimes patients are nice enough to bring two of something and label one for night shift, one for day shift.” —Jessica W.
“Food is nice. Donuts and burritos are preferable. :D” —Ryan S.
Keep in mind that many hospitals and medical practices place limits on gifts that staff members are allowed to accept, so keep individual gifts small in terms of monetary value.
“I got a plaque from a client that says, ‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’ She said she got it because it sounded like me. This was meaningful because as a therapist I work so hard choosing my words. I use these words to help people see their world differently, one filled with hope and possibility. It helps fill me up and gives me faith that I’m doing a good job when they see my words out in their worlds.” —Katrina S.
“I had a patient that I took care of for many years who became kind of like family. He was the first person I called when I passed my nursing boards. And he got me a very pretty lanyard because he wanted me to have something beautiful to display my RN badge.” —Jessica W.
When we pour out extra appreciation for our health care professionals, it makes them feel even better about doing what they do.
“I have stressed the importance of doing everything a family should do to stay safe and well. I will end most encounters with ‘please stay safe.’ Only in this time have I noticed families hope the same for me. Which always brings me hope.” —Aaron M.
“I’ve had family call at 8:00 to cheer and thank me, and my grandma sent me a handwritten thank-you with some cash. I keep forgetting that patients can’t see me smiling under my masks. I made a comment about it to a patient and he said, ‘I can hear your smile in your voice.’ It just made me feel like we made a connection in that moment, despite enhanced isolation and PPE.” —Aimee B.
Keep in mind that effusive labels feel awkward and uncomfortable to many health care professionals. They’d rather be noticed and appreciated as regular, everyday people working hard on behalf of those they care for.
“I enjoy personal feedback from patients, but I find the public adulation of health care workers as ‘heroes’ or ‘angels’ extremely uncomfortable. I don’t work with anyone who thinks of themselves that way.” —Ryan S.
“I became a hospice nurse to care for people. It’s that simple. Not a hero or angel—but if someone wants me to be an angel as they are confused and near the end of life, I’ll be that for them. I’ll always remember one of my patients waking up and looking at me wide-eyed and saying very clearly, ‘Are you an angel?’ I said, ‘You bet.’” —Tracy R.
“I’m not crazy about the term ‘hero’ to describe healthcare workers. I think what’s notable about nurses in particular is that we are hired to look out for you…in the little ways and the big ways. Nurses help you to the bathroom when you’re too weak, notice if you haven’t eaten all day, hold your hand during scary procedures, consult social work when they learn your housing situation is tenuous, speak up for you, tell you about resources in your community that might help you. I guess I’d prefer appreciation that recognizes that in order to be a good nurse, you have to put your humanity into it. Which can be really taxing sometimes.” —Carolyn P.
Seeing patients get better and return to the lives they love is usually the best thanks a health care professional can receive. Still, it’s nice to get the occasional verbal, written, or delicious expression of gratitude, too. When you give or send one, you’re doing your part to take care of the dedicated pros who take care of all of us.