Nurses deserve our appreciation and celebration all year long – full stop! But May 6-12 is officially National Nurses Week, giving us all an extra nudge to remember these selfless caregivers who keep our health care system running. The goal of the week is to recognize the service, dedication and sacrifice that nurses make every day. Hospitals and other health care organizations celebrate their teams, nurses may be featured on the news, businesses may provide gifts or discounts to local nurses, and former patients pay homage to the professionals who helped them through difficult medical moments of their lives.
The American Nurses Association (ANA), which has been supporting the nursing profession since 1896, is focusing on four areas of recognition to honor nurses throughout the entire month of May: self-care, recognition, professional development, and community engagement. Before we look at those, however, let’s first explore how National Nurses Week came about.
The “Lady with the Lamp”
The inspiration for National Nurses Week began with the founder of modern nursing – Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). Known as “The Lady with the Lamp,” she was commissioned during the Crimean War to care for the sea of wounded and diseased, even through the night when she made rounds with her lamp. Nightingale is credited with many institutional changes within the nursing profession because of what she encountered in Crimea, many of which she outlined in her Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army, an 830-page report that analyzed her experience and proposed reforms for military hospitals.
Of primary note was Nightingale’s work in the area of sanitation. In Crimea, thousands of British soldiers were dying, not from wounds sustained in battle, but from diseases spread through poor sanitation. She set forth cleanliness standards that were eventually adopted by hospitals worldwide. She also put patient services in place that facilitated care and recovery, such as a hospital kitchen for feeding patients and providing special dietary needs, a resident laundry to ensure clean linens, and even a classroom and library for patient education and stimulation.
With the help of Queen Victoria, she later created a Royal Commission into the health of the army, where she shared complex data through a new visual format, a polar area diagram, that demonstrated the significant fall in the death rate after sanitary measures were implemented. She became a statistician in her own right and was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.
Though Nightingale was bedridden from Crimean fever from the time she was 38, she continued to play a significant role in nursing. She established the St. Thomas’ Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses; became an authority and advocate of health care reform; interviewed politicians and welcomed distinguished visitors from her bed; and served as a consultant during the American Civil War regarding the management of field hospitals. In 1859, she published Notes on Hospitals, which focused on how to properly run civilian hospitals, which greatly influenced the quality of care in both the 19th and 20th centuries.
Because Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, the date became the rallying point around which National Nurses Week was promoted.
History of National Nurses Week
National Nurses Week took several decades to finally be recognized by U.S. legislators. As early as the 1950s, efforts were made to enact a Nurse Day (1953), a National Nurses Week to commemorate Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimean War (1954), and a National Registered Nurse Day (1972). Though affirmed, these proposals were either never proclaimed or remained inactive, leaving nurses without the recognition they deserved.
It was on the international stage that their recognition was finally achieved. In December of 1973, the International Council of Nurses proclaimed May 12, the date of Florence Nightingale’s birth, as International Nurse Day. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1974, the U.S. established its own National Nurses Week, though it did not take on any tangible form of implementation.
Finally, in 1981, legislators, lobbying nurses and the ANA were successful in getting May 6 designated as National Recognition Day for Nurses (or National Nurses Day). Then, in 1990, the ANA petitioned to have that day extended to a week-long acknowledgement of the contributions of nurses throughout the United States. Though the petition was granted, it wasn’t until 1993, following another petition, that May 6 through 12 was added to the calendar as National Nurses Week1.
In more recent history, nursing students were included in the celebrations by adding National Student Nurses Day in 1998. In an effort to acknowledge the future generation of nurses, May 8 in now set aside to recognize these up-and-coming caregivers. Then in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ANA was successful in having National Nurses Week extended to an entire month of recognition, as it remains today.
And so, this month marks the 30th anniversary of the official designation of National Nurses Week, with celebrations extending throughout the entire month.
How to Celebrate National Nurses Week
As noted earlier, the ANA is focusing on nurses’ self-care, recognition, professional development, and community engagement throughout the month of May, with one area highlighted each week2. This is a way for nurses to also celebrate themselves and for those in the community to support them.
- Self-care is encouraged among nurses during the first week of May because of the innate tendency to neglect their own health while caring for others. Providing guidance and opportunities for stress management, fitness, healthy diets, mental health, and recreation helps nurses put the focus back on taking care of themselves so they can better care for their patients.
- During the second week, those within the medical community, as well as the general public, are encouraged to recognize the nurses in their area, or those they know personally, by thanking them in some way. This is sometimes done formally by a hospital, medical facility or department, such as through awards; by the general population through notes, phone calls, gifts, or social media posts to thank a special nurse; or by local businesses who honor nurses with giveaways or special discounts.
- The third week of May is devoted to professional development. For nurse employers, this can mean acknowledging nurses’ pursuit of additional training and providing extra time to study. For nurses themselves, this is a good time to enroll in continuing education courses, like those offered free of charge by Ottawa University as a way of giving back to the nursing community. Beyond fulfilling continuing education requirements, nurses might also consider enhancing their careers by working towards a specialty certification or enrolling in a degree program. Ottawa University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and offers a new BSN Pre-licensure program at its Kansas City campus; an online RN-to-BSN program; and an online MSN program.
- The last week of May is dedicated to community engagement. The ANA encourages nurses to become volunteers and advocates at the local or state level by serving as members or on the boards of health organizations. Those who support nurses can engage by educating themselves on the roles nurses play in informing and guiding health policies3.
OU Honors Nursing Excellence
Not only is Ottawa University dedicated to providing state-of-the-art nursing training through its degree programs and offering a number of free continuing education credits, it also gives back to the community by honoring nurses through the OUtstanding Nurse Award. This award is presented twice a year to a nurse who is nominated and selected for their exceptional contributions in the nursing profession. It includes a cash grant, along with recognition at the nurse’s workplace. OU also offers encouragement and nursing information through a regular nursing blog that addresses current topics in the nursing world. We invite you to learn more about OU’s commitment to nurses here.
Thank a Nurse Today
Don’t let another day pass without recognizing the nurses in your life in some way. It just may be the fuel they need to keep going. And if you are interested in joining the ranks of these everyday heroes by becoming a nurse yourself, contact us today to explore the nursing program that’s right for you!