At the end of the 19th century, “The Lady With the Lamp”— or as she is more widely known, Florence Nightingale — founded modern nursing. Thanks to her strict use of hand-washing and hygiene practices while caring for wounded soldiers in the Crimean War, Nightingale and her helpers reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% — ushering in nursing as we know it today. On May 6, we recognize the important role nurses play in our lives by celebrating National Nurses Day.
History of National Nurses Day
National Nurses Day is the first day of National Nursing Week, which concludes on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Yet the week was first observed in the US in October 1954 to mark the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s pioneering work in Crimea.
In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare sent a proposal to President Eisenhower asking him to proclaim a “Nurse Day” in October of the following year to coincide with the anniversary. Although the President didn’t act, the celebration was observed thanks to a bill sponsored by Representative Frances P. Bolton, and the following year a new bill was introduced to Congress lobbying for official recognition of the celebration.
Twenty years later, in February of 1974, President Nixon proclaimed a National Nurse Week to be celebrated annually in May. Over the next eight years, various nursing organizations including the American Nurses Association (ANA) rallied to support calls for a “National Recognition Day for Nurses” on May 6, which was eventually proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1982.
With over 3 million working nurses in the US today, nurses make up the highest percentage of the US healthcare workforce. Although you might not imagine it, nurses are more likely to sustain a back injury on a shift than construction workers, and they walk an average of 5 kilometers per shift, as caring for others’ health is such an active job!
If you think nurses are only found in hospitals, then think again! The majority of registered nurses (59%) practice elsewhere, such as a nursing home or on home visits. They work across communities to keep people worldwide happy and healthy, and National Nurses Day is the perfect opportunity to show your appreciation for their important work!
National Nurses Day timeline
- May 6, 1982
A Day to Remember
The first official celebration of National Nurses Day takes place in the United States.
Nursing arrives Stateside
The Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing is set up in New York, becoming the first school in the United States founded on Nightingale’s principles.
- October, 1853
Britain’s Secret Weapon
The Crimean War begins, where Florence Nightingale would create the blueprint for modern day nursing.
- 268 B.C.E
The First Hospitals
Buddhist Indian ruler Ashoka ordered hospitals to be built along the routes of travelers.
National Nurses Day FAQs
Is National Nurses Day a public holiday?
National Nurses Day is a regular working day for everyone, so if you need to see a nurse you needn’t worry about disrupting their holiday – just make sure to show your appreciation if so!
How long does it take to become a Registered Nurse?
All Registered Nurses (RNs) in the USA have completed either a four-year degree in nursing, or (if they have obtained a degree in another subject first) they have completed a one- to three- year program to focus their understanding of the profession.
How can I celebrate if I’m a nurse?
Give yourself a pat on the back and bask in the knowledge that the rest of the country is thinking of you today. You’re doing an incredible job!
National Nurses Day Activities
Thank the Nurses in Your Life
Nursing is known for being a "behind-the-scenes" profession. A simple "thank you for all you do" could make a nurse's day by showing that you notice their hard work. With more than 3 million registered nurses in the USA, chances are there is at least one nurse out there who would be thrilled to be the object of your gratitude.
Give the Gift of Caffeine
Nurses often work long, thankless shifts — standing on their feet for 12 or more hours a day. For a nurse on the run, there's nothing better than a boost of caffeine in the middle of a shift. Head over to your local clinic or hospital with copious amounts of coffee in tow, and tell the receptionist you're there to honor the nurses for National Nurses Day.
Learn About the Woman Responsible for It All
We've all heard the name Florence Nightingale. But do you know what made her famous? In honor of National Nurses Day, educate yourself about this groundbreaking woman who paved the way for modern nursing. Read an article — or better yet, watch a documentary — about "The Lady with the Lamp." Bonus points if you can recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge afterwards!
5 Facts About Florence Nightingale
She knew six languages
Florence was fluent in English, French, German and Italian, with good knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek too.
She trained America’s first nurse
Linda Richards attended Bellevue Training School before traveling to London to train under Nightingale at her School of Nursing.
She was named after her birthplace
Just like her older sister, Parthenope, Nightingale’s parents christened Florence with the name of the Italian town she was born in.
Her parents objected to nursing
Back then, it was considered a professional for the lower classes, and was linked to prostitution, so Mom and Dad took some convincing.
She owned a stuffed owl
Nightingale rescued her beloved owl from a group of youths playing in the street, and had her feathery friend stuffed when it died.
Why We Love National Nurses Day
Nurses Are the Backbone of Medical Care
Doctors may diagnose us, prescribe our medicines, and perform our surgeries, but without nurses, their jobs would be impossible. Nurses are on the front lines everyday—administering shots, performing physical exams, nursing wounds, and in many cases, caring for dying patients when the doctor is away. Nurses are there for us during our most vulnerable moments.
Nurses Are Repeatedly Ranked the Most Trusted Profession
Chances are, nurses know more about you than anyone else in your life. They know your weight (and keep it a secret!), they've seen you naked, and they know all your vitals. But you can trust them. According to polls, more than 80% of Americans think nurses have either "high" or "very high" ethical standards.
Even When They're Not Working, They're Nursing Friends and Family
If you're lucky enough to have a nurse in the family, you never have to worry about your health. Even when they're off the clock, nurses are always ready to give medical advice, administer medication, and fix us right up when something is wrong—even if that happens to be in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner.