Celebrate National Nurses Week & Learn How We Got Here

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It’s National Nurses Week ladies and gents, and that means a week of recognition and appreciation in the media, and hopefully from your patients, coworkers, and families for all your hard work and dedication. Whether you’re a registered nurse (RN), nurse practitioner (NP), or licensed practical nurse (LPN); this week is for you.

National Nurses Week is celebrated every year, starting on May 6th and ending on May 12th. The week to celebrate you wasn’t chosen arbitrarily, but with intent. May 12th was the birthday of arguably the most famous nurse of all time, Florence Nightingale. 

Timeline for National Nurses Week

Here’s an overview of how we arrived at a week-long celebration of nurses. What hopefully strikes you is the common theme of persistence throughout the timeline. It has often been said that one of the most important soft skills of a nurse is their ability to advocate on the behalf of their patients. What you will see, is that the determination of nurses and others to advocate for themselves and their peers was the driving force for this very special week.

  • 1953 – President Eisenhower received a proposal from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s Dorothy Sutherland that urged him, unsuccessfully, to declare a “Nurse Day” in October of 1954.
  • 1954 – A bill sponsored by the first woman elected to Congress, Representative Frances P. Bolton, proposed to settle October 11th through October 16th as National Nurse Week. This week earmarked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission in Crimea.
  • 1955 – Again a bill was proposed to establish a National Nurse Week, unfortunately, it did not succeed. Moreover, Congress terminated its custom to authorize national themed weeks altogether.
  • 1972 – After almost two decades of relative silence on the idea, once again a bill was proposed, in the House of Representatives, to officiate a “National Registered Nurse Day”. There was, however, no forward movement for the resolution.
  • 1974 – At the very beginning of the year, the International Council of Nurses decreed May 12th would be celebrated as “International Nurses Day”.
  • 1974 – In February, President Nixon made issued a statement proclaiming the White House would observe a week in February as National Nurses Week.
  • 1978 – The Governor of New Jersey, Brendon Byrne, acknowledged a “Nurses Day” on May 6th.
  • 1981 – A group of nursing organizations including the American Nurses Association (ANA), lobbied in New Mexico to support the state’s resident nurses as they put a resolution into motion to establish a Nurses Day.
  • 1982 – The determined efforts in 1981 New Mexico bore fruit in 1982. In February, the ANA announced formally that May 6th would be observed as “National Nurses Day”. Not long after, on March 25th, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation that sanctioned May 6th as “National Recognition Day for Nurses”.
  • 1991 – The ANA Board of Directors extends the official nurse appreciation observance from one day to a week: May 6th through May 12th.
  • 1993 – The dates for Nurse Appreciation Week are set firmly, to occur annually.
  • 2020 – The ANA and the World Health Organization (WHO) proclaim the year 2020 to be the Year of the Nurse to celebrate the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale.
  • 2021 – The entire month of May is declared “National Nurses Month” by the ANA. The four weeks will be themed to highlight nurse contributions and needs as we endure the second year of COVID-19. 

May is National Nurses Month this Year (2021)

After having such an uphill battle to have a day and then a week specially recognized to appreciate nurses, a month seems almost unbelievable. And yet, the ANA has worked hard to put together themes for each of the four weeks. Here’s a rundown:

Week 1 – May 1-7 is all about self-care. That’s right nurses, a significant portion of your time and energy is spent caring for others, but do you remember to care for yourself? How is your mental health? How is the emotional health of your fellow nurses? This is frequently the type of care that nurses place on the back burner. Not this year though! Take stock of your emotions and mental health, and then look for ways you can care especially and specifically for yourself.

Week 2 – For May 8-14, the focus will be on recognition. Recognize your own efforts, and don’t forget to be an encouraging source for your fellow nurses as well!

Week 3 – May 15-21 will focus on your professional development. May 19th, the ANA is sponsoring a webinar, “Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, 4th Edition.” It’s free, so click on the link to get registered! 

Week 4 – May 22-29 will be the week for community engagement. If you’re active on social media, take some time to educate your community, and don’t forget to use the hashtags; #nursesweek #nurses #nurselife #nursehumor #nurseday and #nursesunite.

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Written by Miranda Booher, RN

Miranda is a 14-year registered nurse with a healthy background in travel nursing and digital marketing. She brings an interesting combination of stellar copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has an impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Bolivia, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her hanging out on the beach with her husband, three beautiful kids, and their pups,

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