11/05/2016 12:48 BST | Updated 11/05/2017 06:12 BST

The Power of a Thank You Can Transcend Place or Time

Thank you. It's a universal phrase, used for countless reasons from passing the salt, to providing support in a time of crisis. And it means different things to different people. But as a nurse let me tell you, one small thank you can go a long way.

That's why the theme for this year's annual Nurses' Day is #thankanurse. As a global profession, we work incredibly hard often under serious pressures, and it's amazing to hear how much our work is appreciated by our patients.

I chose to be a military nurse, I chose to challenge myself and my nursing skills in remote austere locations. 'You choose your trade' is the military way of saying 'get on with it'. When soldiers were doing their duty for their country, I felt I should be there for support during the inevitable injuries of conflict. It didn't mean I wasn't scared. Being prepared for the unprepared is harder than you'd expect.

It was unfeasibly hot. Despite being on perpetual stand-by for a potential medical incident it still carried the inevitable degree of surprise. The noise, the dust, the shouting, the momentary disorientation before the words 'medic' cut through everything and I was needed, right at that second, to go and be the best I could be.

Knowing the people you are treating makes your job all the more challenging. Passing the time in the queue for lunch; squeezing onto the end of a bench for a meeting; jumping in a vehicle for a lift. Confined in one place with the same people for months on end means you know faces, names, personalities and you interact with them daily.

You develop a hard shell as a nurse to protect yourself from feeling too much and seeing too much - people think you are tough. It doesn't mean you don't care, but you have to be ready for the next incident at any given moment.

But that shell is not unbreakable.

One day, a letter arrived for me from an unknown sender. Letters are gold dust during conflict. They have the power to transport you to places of safety and faces of loved ones. They are a source of escapism, burning a hole in your pocket as you wait for a moment to yourself to greedily rip it open and devour the words of another life.

Unprepared, I tore off the perforations of the mystery envelope whilst waiting to go out on patrol with a group of soldiers. To my surprise, it was a thank you letter from a soldier I had treated. He told me how his recovery was progressing and what he was doing at home. And he thanked me for being kind whilst I was treating him. He said it meant so much to him when he was in pain and scared.

And in front of a load of infantry soldiers, I cried.

My hard nurse shell can protect me from the awful sights of injury and from my emotions when I am doing my job, but it couldn't protect me from the kindness of a patient's words. Thanks to that letter, I felt like I had chosen my trade, performed it well and done it with compassion.

The power of a thank you can transcend place or time. As the RCN reaches its centenary year, it's remarkable to think how many messages of thanks have spurred nurses on throughout these 100 years. So if a nurse has really touched your life, nursing you back to health or supporting a family member, please take the time this Nurses' Day to let them know. It could make all the difference.

International Nurses' Day takes place on Thursday 12 May. To share your thanks visit the RCN website or head to Twitter using the hashtag #thankanurse.