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Kicking Off Nurses Week 2023: The History of National Nurses Week


Nurses’ Week 2023 is right around the corner, so let’s look back at the history of this great tradition.

It started in 1994 and runs annually from May 6 to May 12 (Florence Nightingale’s birthday). Here is a brief history of this week-long celebration, including some of the most important days associated with it:


A proposal to proclaim one of the days in October as a “Nurse Day” was sent to President Eisenhower by Dorothy Sutherland, an employee at the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Unfortunately, President Eisenhower never made this proclamation.


Again, nearly 20 years later, a proposal to proclaim a “National Registered Nurse Day” was made to the president by the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the proclamation was never made.


May 12 was designated “International Nurse Day” by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) in January. One month later, President Nixon established “National Nurse Week” in an effort to recognize the contributions made by American nurses to society and the nursing profession.


The governor of New Jersey established “Nurses Day” on May 6. Eventually, this date was listed in Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events, which helped encourage others to support a nurse-specific recognition event.


Thanks to congressman Manual Lujan and nurses throughout New Mexico, a resolution was initiated to establish May 6, 1982 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.” The ANA and various other nursing organizations rallied to support this resolution.


The efforts initiated in 1981 finally paid off when, in February, the ANA Board of Directors formally recognized May 6, 1982 as “National Nurses Day.” The joint resolution initiated by congressman Manual Lujan to establish May 6, 1982 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses” passed, and President Reagan signed the official proclamation on March 25.


This is the year the ANA Board of Directors declared that the recognition of nurses would be expanded from a single day to a week starting in 1991. National Nurses Week, as we know it today, was first celebrated in 1991 from May 6 to May 12.


While National Nurses Week was celebrated for the first time in 1991, it wasn’t until 1993 that the ANA Board of Directors elected to make this week-long recognition an annual event starting in 1994.


On May 6, 1996, the first official “National RN Recognition Day” was established by the ANA in efforts to show RNs support for their hard work and commitment to the nursing profession.


Following the first “National RN Recognition Day,” the National Student Nurses Association pushed for the ANA to designate May 8 as “National Student Nurses Day,” which was celebrated for the first time on May 8, 1997.

National RN Recognition Day (May 6)

This year, throughout National Nurses Week, the ANA has elected to honor the contributions that nurses make in creating a culture of collaboration and safety in healthcare. If you know a nurse who has made a major impact on safety or collaboration in their workplace, be sure to give them the recognition they deserve. If you have personally made contributions to safety or collaboration in the healthcare field, our hats are off to you!

National Student Nurses Day (May 8)

On May 8, take a moment to recognize a few of the hard-working student nurses you know for National Student Nurses Day! Completing endless assignments, exams, and clinical days, student nurses work hard to ensure they are able to have a positive impact on their patients and the nursing field in the future. Giving student nurses a little extra encouragement during National Nurses Week is a great way to keep them motivated, especially the ones who are currently enrolled in summer courses!

National School Nurse Day

School nurses will also receive some special attention this week. Since 2003, the Wednesday within National Nurses Week has been National School Nurse Day. It will fall on May 11 this year, just one day before the week-long celebration ends. With school nurses heavily involved in addressing the physical and mental-health needs of the nation’s children, honoring their efforts with a special day is certainly appropriate.

Do you or your colleagues plan on doing anything special during National Nurses Week? If so, let us know how you will celebrate the nursing profession by leaving a comment below.


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