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History of National Nurses Week

Brooke Phillips, CWCMS
Editor | Shield HealthCare
04/26/23  2:42 PM PST
history of national nurses week and national nurses month

Thank You, Nurses!

Each May, we recognize both Nurse Appreciation Week (May 6 – 12) and National Nurses Month. With more than 4 million registered nurses in the U.S. across a wide spectrum of specialties, the impact nurses make on healthcare is unparalleled.

Nurses of all specialties bring vast knowledge and expertise to every healthcare setting. Serving patients and communities throughout the continuum of life, nurses are some of our most cherished healthcare workers, making a profound difference in patient care and comfort. They also make a difference through influencing and shaping health policy decisions that ensure all people have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare coverage.

On behalf of all we serve, Shield HealthCare thanks all nurses for their invaluable contributions to patient wellbeing.

When is National Nurses Week?

National Nurses Week was first officially declared by President Richard Nixon in 1974, during the week of Feb. 10-16. The permanent dates of May 6-12 were first observed in 1993 by the American Nurses Association (ANA). National Nurses Week traditionally begins with National Nurses Day on May 6, and culminates on May 12, the birthdate of Florence Nightingale. Thanks to Florence Nightingale’s strict hygiene practices while caring for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, she is considered one of the founders of modern nursing. Among her innovations were holding health care teams accountable for the quality of patient care, implementing sanitary conditions such as handwashing and bathing, and emphasizing the need for compassionate, patient-centered care.

History of National Nurses Week

In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower suggesting a proclamation of “Nurse Day” in October of the following year. The proclamation was never made.

In 1954, Representative Frances P. Bolton sponsored a bill for National Nurse Week. The year of the observance marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea, and National Nurse Week was observed from October 11 – 16. A bill for a National Nurse Week was later introduced in the 1955 Congress, but no action was taken.

In 1972, a resolution was once again presented by the House of Representatives for the President to proclaim “National Registered Nurse Day.” It did not occur.

In January 1974, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed that May 12 would be “International Nurse Day.”  Since 1965, the ICN has celebrated “International Nurse Day.” May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale.

In February 1974, President Nixon issued a proclamation declaring National Nurse Week from February 10-16.

In 1978, New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declared May 6 as “Nurses Day.”

In 1981, the American Nurses Association (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.”

In February 1982, 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.”

On March 25, 1982, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation proclaiming “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982.

In 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.

In 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.

In 1996, the ANA established “National RN Recognition Day” on May 6, 1996, to honor the nation’s registered nurses for their tireless commitment 365 days a year.

In 1997, the ANA Board of Directors, at the request of the National Student Nurses Association, designated May 8 as National Student Nurses Day.

In 2020, the ANA expanded recognition of National Nurses Week to the entire month of May.

For more information, visit nursingworld.org.

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