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National Nurses Day

Not just a day – it is a week-long observance of the hard work done by a group of committed, selfless people. Nurses are found nearly anywhere most of us try to avoid; hospitals, shelters, clinics, school offices, Doctor’s offices, and the emergency room. Each of these individuals is willing to care for you without even knowing who you are, and that’s something special. Nurses are what make National Nurses Day worth celebrating for a whole week.

Out of the Hospital – Onto the Calendar

Sounds simple enough, set a day aside to recognize all those hardworking nurses, after all we have all needed a nurse at some point, and it’s easy to feel grateful. An official holiday should have been equally simple, right? Wrong – In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower for a “Nurse Day” to be proclaimed in October 1954.  The proclamation was never made. 

A year later, a National Nurse Week was observed from October 11 – 16. The date marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. Florence Nightingale is commonly recognized as the founder of modern nursing, so diagnosing this date for a nurses’ holiday was a no-brainer.

Hello, Nurse!

In 1972 – yes, it actually did take that long to move forward, a resolution was passed for President Nixon to proclaim a “National Registered Nurses Day.” However, this was going on at the same time as his historic visit to China, and the nurses fell by the wayside once again.  Everyone looked on in disbelief – we just want to agree on day for everyone to say “thank you” to our nurses – This shouldn’t be so hard!

In 1974, the International Council of Nurses proclaimed May 12th to be “International Nurses Day” – choosing this date because Florence Nightingale was born on May 12th.  Later that same year President Nixon finally issued a proclamation for a single National Nurses Week.  Whew – Almost there!

Revenge of the Nurse

Eight years passed with nurses receiving thanks and gifts on random days without that official holiday. “Just because” gifts are lovely, but a gift that comes with the salutation    of “Happy Nurses Day” was what America was really striving toward. Multiple states like New Jersey and New Mexico took a crack at getting a Nurses Day started, but lacked the charisma and authority to command the right kind of attention. Finally, in 1982, with star power and executive power in hand, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation declaring May 6th to be “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”

In 1990, the American Nurses Association – remembering how sweet it was to have a whole week for nurses – expanded Reagan’s holiday to May 6-12. After being on call for nearly 50 years, America finally had the National Nurses Week we have today.

In 1997, the American Nurses Association went one step further and designated May 8th as National Student Nurses Day.  And, as of 2003 National School Nurse Day is celebrated on Wednesday within National Nurses Week each year.

Nursing – The Most Trusted Profession

In 2012, Americans again voted nurses the most trusted profession in America for the 13th time in 14 years in the annual Gallup poll that ranks professions for their honesty and ethical standards.  Nurses’ honesty and ethics were rated “very high” or “high” by 85 percent of poll respondents.

The public’s high regard for the profession, coupled with nurses’ education and skills, makes them well positioned to help transform the health care system into one that places more emphasis on prevention, wellness, and coordination of care.

Now more than ever, RNs are positioned to assume leadership roles in health care, provide primary care services to meet increased demand, implement strategies to improve the quality of care, and play a key role in innovative, patient-centered care delivery models. The nursing profession plays an essential role in improving patient outcomes, increasing access, coordinating care, and reducing health care costs. That is why both the Affordable Care Act and the Institute of Medicine’s Future of Nursing report place nurses at the center of health care transformation in the United States.[1]


[1]  Nursing World (www.nursingworld.org) – National Nurses Week:  RNs as Leaders, 2013

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