Healthcare practitioners, heroes, healers—whatever you want to call them, nurses are humans we, quite literally, could not live without. Taking a whole week out of the year to show them just how much we appreciate them seems like the least we can do, right? That’s the impetus for Nurses Week, an annual celebration of nurses that takes place in May to show appreciation for nurses all around the world.
Keep reading to find out all about Nurses Week, how it came to be, and how best to celebrate the nurses in your life (and if you’re a nurse practitioner, get some ideas on how to celebrate yourself).
The History of Nurses Week: A Timeline of Important Dates
Though the initial proposals to acknowledge nurses were drafted in 1953, it wasn’t until 1993 that the dates for the National Nurse week were firmly established. That’s well over one hundred years since the formal birth of nursing.1
Here’s a look back at how the wheels to calendarize this week were first set in motion, as well as the hurdles that were jumped along the way:
- 1953 – The first proposal requesting national recognition for International Nurses Day was drafted by Dorothy Sutherland from the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Sutherland presented the proposal to President Eisenhower, initially hoping that the president would proclaim the first National Nursing Week in October of that year. The proposal was never passed.
- 1974 – Just over twenty years after the first request was made, the House of Representatives presented a resolution to President Nixon calling for a National Registered Nurses Day. It was, again, unsuccessful.
- 1981 – John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30th. After the bullet narrowly missed his heart, President Reagan’s life was saved by the surgeons and nurses at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. What does this have to do with Nurses Week? Let’s go and jump forward in time a bit to find out.
- 1982 – Some believe that the care that President Reagan received after the assassination attempt inspired him—more than any other president that came before him—to honor nurses officially. On March 25th, President Reagan proclaimed May 6th as National Recognition Day for Nurses.
- 1990 – The American Nurses Association extended National Recognition Day for Nurses to a week-long celebration.
- 1993 – Permanent dates (May 6th through May 12th) were set to celebrate National Nurses Week from 1994 onward.
After seeing how long it took for Nurses Week to make it onto the calendar, it only makes us appreciate how vital it is to recognize the nurses of the world even more.
While you’re adding Nurses Week to your calendar, you add a few more celebrations to the month of May, including:
- May 8th – National Student Nurses Day
- May 12th – National School Nurses Day
Thanking the First Nurse: Florence Nightingale
This week has additional significance in the history of nursing: it’s the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. A social reformer, activist, statistician, wartime nurse, and founder of modern nursing, Nightingale pioneered the holistic approach to healthcare that nurses still embody to this day.
Born in Florence, Italy, and raised in southern and central England, Nightingale took an early liking to mathematics and language. As she grew older, Florence believed that she was being called by God to enter a profession centered around caretaking and serving humankind by reducing its suffering.
Persistence in this belief eventually led her to the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany—despite her family’s general disapproval—for training. It wasn’t until 1853, at the height of the Crimean War, that Nightingale firmly established a name for herself in the healthcare industry.
Florence earned the nickname “Lady with the Lamp” as she cared for her patients throughout the night. Not only was she a skilled healthcare provider, Nightingale realized that healing went beyond the body. She would speak to wounded soldiers at length, asking them about their families, homes, hopes, and dreams. As she cared for wounded soldiers, she demanded organized standards of care and was instrumental in reducing the mortality rate of her patients to just two percent. She went on to found the first nursing school in the world, Nightingale School for Nurses, in London in 1860.
How Can You Celebrate Nurses Week?
Now that you’ve taken a look into the past, let’s shift to the present and discuss a few of the best ways to show gratitude to nurses during Nurses Week. Every day nurses are asked to calculate the unpredictable and to care for others’ loved ones as if they were their own.
At its core, Nurses Week is simply about noticing this extraordinary work and recognizing nurses in whatever way you can. In fact, a week just doesn’t seem like enough time to celebrate. This is why as of 2020, the entire month of May is now dedicated to celebrating the invaluable contributions made by nursing professionals.
Divided into four pillars, each week of the month focuses on a different area of care.
- Self-Care (May 1-7) – Nurses dedicate their lives to taking care of others, but how often do they make time to care for themselves? This first week is designated for just that. Whether it’s a guilt-free pampering session or simply checking in with their mental health, nurses this week are reminded to make themselves a priority for a change.
- Recognition (May 8-14) – Do you have a friend or family member who is a nurse? Can you think of a particular nurse who provided you or a loved one with exceptional care? This week is an opportune time to reach out and let them know how much what they do means to you.
- Professional Development (May 15-21) – The third week of May is all about continued education in the field of nursing. Nurses might consider signing up for an online course, a webinar, or another event to keep up-to-date and inspired by exchanging professional dialogue.
- Community Engagement (May 22-29) – Expanding the nursing community and raising awareness about what nurses do is the main focus of the fourth and final week of Nurses Month. Share information about an important cause on social media or, if you’re a nurse, consider mentoring someone who is considering entering the profession.
While these week-to-week celebrations are an amazing inspiration, you can also celebrate in other ways such as:
- A note expressing thanks – Whether it’s a handwritten card or a giant, multicolored poster, tell a nurse you know how much you appreciate what they do. You might already hold an extra amount of gratitude in your heart for the nurses in your life, but don’t underestimate the importance of putting those feelings into words and sharing them.
- School-based activities – Teachers looking to support Nurses Week might consider allowing some class time for students to draw or create a card for the school nurses or for another nurse they know.
- Business discounts – If you are a business owner, think about offering some sort of special discount or sale for Nurses Week. A free drink at your restaurant or a discounted hotel rate is a small token of gratitude that nurses will surely appreciate.
- Nursing hall of fame – If you employ nurses, organizing an awards ceremony at the workplace (or online) could be a way to highlight staff members and provide them with positive feedback for the work they do.
Host Healthcare Celebrates Nurses Week
As a travel nurse staffing company that prides itself on community and compassion, we deeply understand the value of nurses to our world and our health.
From raffles to appreciation posts about individual astounding travel nurses, we try to find a myriad of ways to show our love for the nursing community this time of year.
This year, we went all out with some exciting prizes chosen with our extraordinary nurses in mind, including:
- Stunning BÉIS travel bags perfect for the globe-trotting nurse
- An illuminating Lume Cube so our nurses can see themselves shine
- A month-supply of CORE Bars in delicious Peanut Butter Chocolate so our nurses can enjoy a little sweetness
- A year membership to Chuze Fitness for maximum wellness appreciation
- A skincare bundle from Sanitas for some much-deserved self-care
- And so much more!
We also want to give the gift of knowledge with a few amazing facts about this priceless profession:
- The first ever nursing school in the world was founded in India in 250 B.C.E.
- According to a Gallup poll, Americans have rated nursing as the most honest and ethical profession 18 years in a row.
- Walk Whitman served as a volunteer nurse in the Civil War for three years.
- Nurses get their steps in—in a single 12-hour shift, nurses walk between four and five miles on average.
Eager for more nursing facts? Check out our list of amazing facts about nursing.
Celebrate Nurses Week With Host Healthcare
Although it took several years to establish dates that formally recognize our fellow nurses, Nurses Week is a celebration that will be around for years to come. Host Healthcare is happy to join you in celebrating Nurses Week, but it also places value on acknowledging healthcare professionals every day.
That’s why Host Health care has been voted as one of Glassdoor’s Top 50 Best Places to Work 2021 and as the #1 Travel Healthcare Company by BluePipes. We care about helping you find opportunities, gaining valuable experience, and crafting your perfect career.
Apply here to join a team of traveling nurses.
Happy Nurses Week and happy traveling!
- “History of National Nurses Week | American Nurses Association.” ANA, www.nursingworld.org/education-events/national-nurses-week/history. Accessed 6 May 2021.
- “ANA Extends Nurses Week to a Month of Recognition to Honor Our Nation’s Nurse Heroes.” ANA, 4 May 2020, www.nursingworld.org/news/news-releases/2020/ana-extends-nurses-week-to-a-month-of-recognition-to-honor-our-nations-nurse-heroes.
- “Florence Nightingale: 10 Facts About the Founder of Modern Nursing | NurseJournal.Org.”
- NurseJournal, 30 Apr. 2021, www.nursejournal.org/articles/facts-about-florence-nightingale.
- Hetzler, Lynn. “14 Most Interesting Facts About Nursing || EveryNurse.Org.” Nursing Careers, Programs, & Jobs |
- EveryNurse.Org, 6 Aug. 2020, everynurse.org/blog/14-interesting-facts-nursing.
- “President Reagan Shot.” HISTORY, 29 Mar. 2021, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-reagan-shot.
- Selanders, Louise. “Florence Nightingale.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Jan. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Florence-Nightingale. Accessed 6 May 2021.