Recognizing Your Nurses: How National Nurse Week Came to Be

There is an Administrative Professionals’ Day and even a Boss’s Day for people to recognize the hard work that these professionals put into their jobs. It only makes sense, then, that there is also a National Nurse Day to acknowledge all of the hard work that nurses put into their jobs. However, the field of nursing is so wide and varied that nurses do not only get one day of recognition – they get an entire week.

National Nurse Week is celebrated every year from May 6th to May 12th, the latter date of which coincides with the birthday of renowned nursing icon Florence Nightingale. The week was not always in existence, however. Recognition for nurses in the form a national proclaimed holiday has been in the works as early as 1953, according to the American Nurses Association. Dorothy Sutherland, a worker for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, sent President Eisenhower a proposal to deem a day in October as “Nurse Day.” This never passed, but nurses fighting for recognition across the nation did not give up. After all, with one of the fastest growing industries in the work force today and comprising of the biggest part of the health care sector, it was only a matter of time before national recognition became an annual occurrence.

Today, there are approximately 2.6 million registered nursing jobs, making nursing the largest health care occupation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of these nurses work in hospitals, practicing alongside health care professionals in emergency rooms, maternity wards, psychiatric units, and many other places. However, there are nursing jobs in various other settings as well, including physician offices, optometry practices, pediatric clinics, and women’s health care offices. All of these nurses have responsibilities that range from updating patient medical records to taking vital signs to diagnosing a condition and prescribing treatment. Nursing jobs are intensive and involved, and many nurses who work in this profession do so because they love to help others.

A breakthrough for national recognition of nurses came in 1974 when the International Council of Nurses officially proclaimed that May 12th would be “International Nurse Day.” Not long afterwards in 1982, President Ronal Reagan signed a proclamation for May 6th to be “National Recognition Day for Nurses.” Eight years later, the American Nurses Association expanded that day to cover an entire week, declaring that May 6th through 12th be known as National Nurses Week. It has been celebrated as such ever since.