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What Is Nurses Week? Learn the History of National Nurses Week and How to Celebrate

Charmaine Robinson, MSN-Ed, BSN, RN
by
Updated May 11, 2023
    Nurses week is a time to honor, recognize, and appreciate nurses for all they do. Learn the history of National Nurses Week and explore ways to celebrate.
    Credit: Morsa Images / Getty Images
    • National Nurses Week, celebrated May 6 through 12 each year, is a time to recognize nurses’ contributions to society.
    • Historically, the American Nurses Association (ANA), legislators, local nurses, and health officials remained persistent in the fight to establish national recognition for nurses in the United States.
    • Nurses and non-nurses can celebrate National Nurses Week by supporting the self-care, recognition, professional development, and community engagement of nurses nationwide.

    Nurses Week is a time to honor, recognize, and appreciate nurses for all they do. Discover the history of National Nurses Week and ways to celebrate.

    The History of National Nurses Week

    National Nurses Week, celebrated annually May 6 through 12, was designated to recognize the contributions nurses make to communities. May 6 is National Nurses Day, and May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing.

    The historical effort to establish national recognition for nurses was a collective one that extended over the course of 40 years.

    The Struggle

    In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare proposed a Nurse Day to the White House, but the proclamation was never made.

    In 1954, a week in October was designated as National Nurses Week to mark the 100-year anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to help troops in the Crimean War. Two years later, a bill was proposed to make the week an annual celebration. But it remained inactive.

    In 1972, a proposal was made for a National Registered Nurse Day; it was not proclaimed.

    The Persistent Fight

    One month after the International Council of Nurses proclaimed May 12 as International Nurse Day in January 1974, the U.S. established its own National Nurses Week. Although a success, the push for nurse recognition didn’t stop there.

    From 1978 to 1981, legislators and lobbying nurses established May 6 as a day of recognition for nurses. In 1981, the ANA lobbied to make the day a nationally recognized one. A year later, May 6 was designated as National Recognition Day for Nurses.

    The Final Push

    In 1990, the ANA petitioned to extend National Recognition Day for Nurses to a week-long celebration. The petition was granted. After another petition in 1993, May 6 through 12 was designated permanently as National Nurses Week.

    Today, nurses are celebrated throughout the entire month of May for National Nurses Month. With the help of the ANA and trailblazers of the past, nurses are now nationally recognized for their efforts.

    Each year, National Nurses Week is celebrated to honor nurses present and past. This time is also used to highlight nurses’ personal and professional lives.

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    How NurseJournal Celebrates National Nurses Week

    Each year, the NurseJournal team celebrates National Nurses Week by sharing compelling stories from nurses around the nation.

    This year, our theme is “Celebrating the Power of Nursing Friendships.”

    The friendships developed as a nurse can last a lifetime. Nursing friendships can determine who you schedule your shift with or who you rely on to help turn patients, change diapers, and put in intravenous lines. They may also be the people you spend time with outside of work; they become bridesmaids, groomsmen, godparents, or even partners.

    Inspired by last year’s theme, “Nursing Defined,” this concept for Nurses Week 2023 explores the relationships nurses form throughout their careers and the influence of these friendships on nurses’ personal and professional lives.

    Explore the stories from groups and pairs of nurse friends we interviewed about the bonds they’ve formed in the workplace.

    How You Can Celebrate National Nurses Week

    The ANA highlights four focus areas for the entire month of May 2023 in honor of nurses: self-care, recognition, professional development, and community engagement. Whether you are a nurse, know a nurse, or simply want to support nurses, here are four ways to celebrate nurses during Nurses Week 2023 and throughout the year.

    Self-Care

    According to the ANA, nurses in the U.S. are less healthy than the average American. Self-care is about addressing your own health and wellness needs. Celebrate Nurses Week by supporting self-care for nurses.

    For nurses, you can engage in self-care by adopting a healthier diet, joining a gym, or managing your stress better. Nursing is a stressful job that can lead to nurse burnout. Journaling, participating in therapy, and taking mental health days can help you to cope with the stress.

    For nurse supporters, give nurses the time and space needed to take care of themselves. If you own or operate a health or wellness business, offer promotions and discounts for nurses.

    Recognition

    Feeling appreciated for what you do is a basic human desire. Celebrate Nurses Week by honoring and showing appreciation to nurses.

    For nurses, show appreciation to your peers and managers by sending them thank you cards or emails. A simple “Thank you for being a good nurse” can go a long way. You can also recommend your peers for awards and honors within your facility or in the community.

    For nurse supporters, let nurses know that you appreciate them. If you know any nurses personally, you can send them an appreciation text, phone call, online message, or gift.

    Even something as simple as “liking” or sharing a social media post that supports nurses is helpful.

    Professional Development

    Although nurses are required to get continuing education (CE) credits to maintain their licenses, professional development extends beyond the typical CE course. Celebrate Nurses Week by supporting self-study for nurses.

    For nurses, you can enroll in a self-learning course. Many professional nursing organizations offer courses in teamwork, ethics, leadership, and more. You can also get specialty certification or pursue an advanced degree.

    For nurse supporters, be understanding when the nurses in your life need time to study. If you do not know any nurses personally, you can still show support by donating to nursing schools or professional nursing organizations.

    Community Engagement

    There are many ways nurses can make a difference beyond the bedside. Celebrate Nurses Week by supporting community involvement for nurses.

    For nurses, you can get involved by serving as a member or board leader for health and nurse advocacy organizations (e.g., ANA). Through these organizations, you can join forces with other nurses and attend public council meetings (in person or virtually) at the local and state level.

    For nurse supporters, start by learning about the roles that nurses play in policy. The ANA’s advocacy page is a great educational resource. You can even attend city council meetings if desired. Search your city’s official website for meeting agendas, dates, and locations.

    Celebrate National Nurses Week 2023 by supporting the health and professional growth of nurses nationwide. When you support a nurse, you support an entire community. Let the celebrations begin.