At the end of the 19th century, “The Lady With the Lamp” — or as she is more widely known, Florence Nightingale — founded modern nursing. Thanks to her strict use of hand-washing and hygiene practices while caring for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, Nightingale and her helpers reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% — ushering in nursing as we know it today. On May 6, we recognize the important role nurses play in our lives by celebrating National Nurses Day.
National Nurses Week begins each year on May 6th and ends on May 12th, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. These permanent dates enhance planning and position National Nurses Week as an established recognition event. As of 1998, May 8 was designated as National Student Nurses Day, to be celebrated annually. And as of 2003, National School Nurse Day is celebrated on the Wednesday within National Nurses Week (May 6-12) each year.
The nursing profession has been supported and promoted by the American Nurses Association (ANA) since 1896. Each of ANA’s state and territorial nurses associations promotes the nursing profession at the state and regional levels. Each conducts celebrations on these dates to recognize the contributions that nurses and nursing make to the community.
The ANA supports and encourages National Nurses Week recognition programs through the state and district nurses associations, other specialty nursing organizations, educational facilities, and independent health care companies and institutions.
A Brief History of National Nurses Week
- 1953 Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a “Nurse Day” in October of the following year. The proclamation was never made.
- 1954 National Nurse Week was observed from October 11 – 16. The year of the observance marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. Representative Frances P. Bolton sponsored the bill for a nurse week. Apparently, a bill for a National Nurse Week was introduced in the 1955 Congress, but no action was taken. Congress discontinued its practice of joint resolutions for national weeks of various kinds.
- 1972 Again a resolution was presented by the House of Representatives for the President to proclaim “National Registered Nurse Day.” It did not occur.
- 1974 In January of that year, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed that May 12 would be “International Nurse Day.” (May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale.) Since 1965, the ICN has celebrated “International Nurse Day.”
- 1974 In February of that year, a week was designated by the White House as National Nurse Week, and President Nixon issued a proclamation.
- 1978 New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declared May 6 as “Nurses Day.” Edward Scanlan, of Red Bank, N.J., took up the cause to perpetuate the recognition of nurses in his state. Mr. Scanlan had this date listed in Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events. He promoted the celebration on his own.
- 1981 ANA, along with various nursing organizations, rallied to support a resolution initiated by nurses in New Mexico, through their Congressman, Manuel Lujan, to have May 6, 1982, established as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
- 1982 In February, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6, 1982 as “National Nurses Day.” The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
- 1982 President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25, proclaiming “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982.
- 1990 The ANA Board of Directors expanded the recognition of nurses to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6 – 12, 1991, as National Nurses Week.
- 1993 The ANA Board of Directors designated May 6 – 12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.
- 1996 The ANA initiated “National RN Recognition Day” on May 6, 1996, to honor the nation’s indispensable registered nurses for their tireless commitment 365 days a year. The ANA encourages its state and territorial nurses associations and other organizations to acknowledge May 6, 1996 as “National RN Recognition Day.”
- 1997 The ANA Board of Directors, at the request of the National Student Nurses Association, designated May 8 as National Student Nurses Day.
History of National Nurses Day
- National Nurses Day is the first day of National Nursing Week, which concludes on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Yet the week was first observed in the US in October 1954 to mark the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s pioneering work in Crimea.
- In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower asking him to proclaim a “Nurse Day” in October of the following year to coincide with the anniversary. Although the President didn’t act, the celebration was observed thanks to a bill sponsored by Representative Frances P. Bolton, and the following year a new bill was introduced to Congress lobbying for official recognition of the celebration.
- Twenty years later, in February of 1974, President Nixon proclaimed a National Nurse Week to be celebrated annually in May. Over the next eight years, various nursing organizations including the American Nurses Association (ANA) rallied to support calls for a “National Recognition Day for Nurses” on May 6, which was eventually proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982.
- With over 3 million working nurses in the US today, nurses make up the highest percentage of the US healthcare workforce. Although you might not imagine it, nurses are more likely to sustain a back injury on a shift than construction workers, and they walk an average of 5 kilometers per shift, as caring for others’ health is such an active job!
- If you think nurses are only found in hospitals, then think again! The majority of registered nurses (59%) practice elsewhere, such as in a nursing home or on home visits. They work across communities to keep people worldwide happy and healthy, and National Nurses Day is the perfect opportunity to show your appreciation for their important work!
National Nurses Day Around the World
- Russia – International Day of the Doctor = One of the oldest and revered professions in the world is celebrated in Russia. – First Monday of October
Canada – FND Awareness Day – A day for raising awareness of Functional Neurological Disorder. – April 13
South Africa – Pregnancy Awareness Week – This observance aims to strengthen pregnancy education and stress important issues that promote a healthy pregnancy and safe motherhood. – February 10–16
Vietnam – Doctors’ Day – Celebrating doctors and their valuable services. – February 27
India – National Deworming Day – The day aims at eradicating intestinal worms also known as Soil-Transmitted Helminths (STH), among children in the age group of 1-19 years. – February 10
Traditions of the Day
Always playing a big role in hospitals, the nursing staff is loved and appreciated on National Nurses Day. The most common tradition for expressing gratitude to registered nurses is throwing them a party — inclusive of all shifts. The celebration is hosted by the medical faculty and staff, with some even having fun decorations and nurse-themed cookies and cupcakes.
Volunteers are also active today, putting themselves in a nurse’s shoes to truly appreciate their work. Nurses spend a lot of grueling hours at the hospital, so their stories and encounters are also brought into the spotlight and documented by social media bloggers and storytellers.
The hospital staff and patients generously give gifts and donations to nurses as a token of gratitude for all their hard work. On a larger level, management and leaders within the healthcare sector present nurses with awards and certificates as a symbol of recognition.
By the Numbers
- 300 A.D. – the earliest date of the first recorded mentions of nurses.
- 4–5 – the number of miles nurses walk in every shift.
- 50% – the percentage of nursing students among the total number of healthcare students.
- #4 – the ranking of nurse practitioners on a list of ‘25 best jobs of 2019.’
- 3 million – the number of nurses in the U.S. as of 2016.
- 19 million – the number of nurses in the world.
- 41% – the percentage of registered nurses working in hospitals.
- 10% – the percentage of male registered nurses in the total workforce.
- 3.24 million – the anticipated increase in the number of registered nurses by 2022.
- $35.24 – the median pay of a nurse per hour.
National Nurses Day Activities
Thank the nurses in your life’
Nursing is known for being a “behind-the-scenes” profession. A simple “thank you for all you do” could make a nurse’s day by showing that you notice their hard work. With more than 3 million registered nurses in the USA, chances are there is at least one nurse out there who would be thrilled to be the object of your gratitude.
Give the gift of caffeine
Nurses often work long, thankless shifts — standing on their feet for 12 or more hours a day. For a nurse on the run, there’s nothing better than a boost of caffeine in the middle of a shift. Head over to your local clinic or hospital with copious amounts of coffee in tow, and tell the receptionist you’re there to honor the nurses for National Nurses Day.
Learn about the woman responsible for it all
We’ve all heard the name Florence Nightingale. But do you know what made her famous? In honor of National Nurses Day, educate yourself about this groundbreaking woman who paved the way for modern nursing. Read an article — or better yet, watch a documentary — about “The Lady with the Lamp.” Bonus points if you can recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge afterward!
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IWeb TEFL Team