From assisting with life-threatening ER crises to delivering babies and caring for the elderly in their last moments, nurses perform some of the most difficult and heartbreaking tasks in the medical world. As workers who perform the most essential healthcare tasks, nurses serve as the first point of contact for most patients.
National Nurses Week honors their contributions and sacrifices and reminds us to thank the medical professionals who keep us healthy. It is celebrated between May 6, National Nurses Day, and May 12, the birthdate of celebrated nurse Florence Nightingale.
History of National Nurses Week
Once viewed as lowly doctors’ assistants, nurses are now recognized as highly specialized professionals with a wide range of skills. Today, becoming a nurse requires four years of study and extreme focus and dedication. This versatile career with dozens of specialties is a crucial link between patients and doctors.
The advent of modern nursing is credited to Florence Nightingale, who laid the foundation for professional nursing through her tireless work during and after the Crimean War. As a nursing manager on the frontlines, Nightingale introduced hygiene protocols and other measures that drastically reduced infections and deaths in battlefield hospitals.
Today, Nurses work in a wide range of specialties and settings, from school nurses who administer vaccines to highly specialized oncology nurses who assist in life-saving treatment decisions.
To acknowledge the contributions of nurses and call attention to their working conditions, the International Council of Nurses established May 12 as International Nurses Day in 1974. The celebration was extended to a week a few years later, and National Nurses Week was officially born in 1994. Sponsored and promoted by the American Nurses Association, the week-long event highlights the crucial contributions that nurses make to the community.
In the U.K., nurses celebrate with an annual ritual based on Florence Nightingale’s nighttime visits to injured soldiers, which earned her the nickname “Lady with the Lamp.” On May 12, a ceremonial lamp is passed along a line of nurses from the Nurses’ Chapel at Westminster Abbey to the abbey’s High Altar, symbolizing the passage of knowledge.
National Nurses Week timeline
- May 6-12, 1994
First National Nurses Week Celebrated
The American Nursing Association officially designates May 6-12 as National Nurses week.
First U.S. Nursing School Opens
The first independent nursing school in the U.S. opens at Yale and accepts women into the program, an unusual practice at the time.
First Modern Nursing Courses Offered
The Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia begins offering a six-month nursing program, considered the first state chartered nursing school in the U.S.
- 250 B.C.E.
First Recorded Nursing School
The first recorded nursing school was established in India in 250 B.C.E. Only men, deemed more “pure” than women were allowed to attend.
National Nurses Week FAQs
What is National Nurse Week?
National Nurses Week celebrates and acknowledges nurses and the hard work they put in to making their patients feel comfortable.
What week is National Nurses Week?
Every year, National Nurses Week begins on May 6 and ends on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday.
What does a nurse do?
Nurses are licensed healthcare professionals who perform a vast spectrum of tasks. They not only assist doctors during treatments and surgeries, but also perform vital tests, make care decisions, and educate patients about their health.
National Nurses Week Activities
Thank a nurse with a fresh meal or massage
Nurses work long hours with few breaks and deserve a treat. Send a nurse in your life a surprise meal or spa session to show your appreciation!
If you are eligible, donating blood is an easy way to help ensure our healthcare system has the resources it needs to save lives.
Write a thank-you note to the nurses you know
Write a heartfelt thank you note to a nurse (or several.) Let them know you see and appreciate their efforts.
5 Interesting Facts About Nursing
Nursing used to be all-male
In the Middle Ages, all-male religious orders cared for the sick and dying. Women began playing a larger role in religious hospitals in the 1600s.
Nurses walk a lot
On average, a nurse walks 4 to 5 miles on every 12-hour shift. That's a 5k every day!
People trust nurses
Nursing is consistently rated as one of the most trusted professions in public polls.
Half of foreign nurses are Filipino
Nurses from the Philippines make up 50% of all foreign nurses in the U.S.
Only 60% of nurses work in hospitals
Almost half of nurses work in other locations including schools, hospice facilities, and private homes.
Why We Love National Nurses Week
Nurses are essential
Nurses perform some of the most important daily tasks in healthcare, and National Nurses Week recognizes their tireless and often thankless work.
Nurses work hard
Most nurses work 12-hour shifts with few breaks, often taking on extra work when the need arises. Since healthcare is a 24/7/365 operation, nurses often find themselves working through holidays and important family events.
Nurses know patients best
Because they spend the most time with a patient, nurses have a comprehensive understanding of a patient's history, condition, and treatment.
National Nurses Week dates