How it all began: National Nurses’ Week

It’s that time of the year again. Yup, you’ve got that right, it’s National Nurses’ Week! Considered as the largest occupation in health care (According to the American Nurses Association, there are about 3.1 million nurses in the United States and 2.4 million of them are actively employed) and an integral part of hospitals and other healthcare facilities, we get to celebrate and honor our work and contributions as nurses in healthcare for a week every year starting May 6 up to May 12, which is also Florence Nightingale’s birthday, the British woman considered the founder of modern nursing.

However, while nurses have been recognized as an integral part of healthcare since Nightingale’s days, National Nurses Day is a new celebration. What else are there to know about this event? How did it all begin? Let’s find out.

  • Dorothy Sutherland of the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower in 1953 suggesting a Nurses Day in October to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. Eisenhower, however, did not act on the proposal.
  • The following year, Representative Frances P. Bolton sponsored a bill for National Nurse Week, which was observed from October 11-16, 1954 and marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea.
  • In 1955, an attempt was made to push a bill through Congress for National Nurse Week, but nothing came of it. Around that same time, Congress halted its practice of proclaiming national weeks.
  • New Jersey businessman Edwin Scanlan began promoting the idea of a Nurses Day in the early 1970s, after noting with admiration the excellent care provided by nurses at his hometown hospital, Riverview Medical Center.
  • In 1974, the International Council of Nurses proclaimed May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, “International Nurse Day.” That same year, President Nixon issued a proclamation designating a week in February as National Nurse Week.
  • Nurses got a boost of recognition in 1978, when New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declared May 6 to be “Nurses Day.”
  • That same year, Edward Scanlan of Red Bank, N.J. personally recognized the nurses in his state by having the date listed in Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events and by promoting the celebration.
  • In 1981, ANA and other nursing organizations backed a resolution started by New Mexico nurses to establish May 6, 1982 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
  • The American Nurses Association took up the cause in 1982 and formally recognized the date as “National Nurses Day.”The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.
  • In the same year (1982), President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation officially declaring May 6, “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
  • In 1991, the recognition of nurses was expanded into a week long celebration, National Nurses Week, May 6-12, 1992.
  • National Nurses’ Week was established in 1993 by the American Nursing Association to recognize and celebrate nursing professionals.
  • In 1996, the ANA recognized May 6 as “National RN Recognition Day” and encouraged other organizations also to observe the day. Two years later, ANA designated May 8 as National Student Nurses day.
  • Since 2003, National School Nurse Day has been celebrated each year on the Wednesday within National Nurses Week.


Being a nurse is not easy. Our job is very demanding and we work in a stressful environment. Nonetheless, those do not make our passion for helping others weaker. We may sometimes feel burnt out and exhausted and there may be people who fail to see and appreciate what we do, but our aim to provide the best and quality care to patients never falters. Hats off to all the hard working nurses out there. You deserve a pat on the back for all the sacrifices and efforts you make each day. Keep fighting and happy National Nurses Week!


Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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