History of Nurses Week

In 1974, President Gerald Ford declared EMS Week to celebrate the relatively new EMS profession and the health and safety contributions to the American people. This year the 46th annual EMS Week is May 21-27, 2017. Prior to that, in 1974 before Richard Nixon resigned his presidency, National Nurses Day and Week were established in the U.S.

Although there is always some controversy and grumbling about such a contrite event, it is important to honor those who do for us what so many cannot. The healthcare profession as a whole is something that is NOT for everyone. Dealing with matters that can lead to life and death situations means the professional must be serious about their education, their conduct “on and off the field” so to speak, and have a compassion and empathy for human beings. They also must be able to handle constantly challenging and changing situations that often involve blood, sputum, emesis, feces and urine and a whole host of other not so attractive matters.

So these special designated weeks offer the layperson an opportunity to take a moment to say Thank You and to give respect. They also bring a heightened awareness to the professions so that we may continue to recruit ideal candidates. Take pride and honor your colleagues. Learn more about Nurses Week May 6-12.

History of Nurses Week

Long before National Nurses Day and Week were officially proclaimed, many attempts were made to establish a day or a week to honor nurses. In the 1950’s there were several attempts to get the President and Congress to proclaim a special Nurses Day or Nurses Week.

This process began in 1953 when Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare proposed the idea of proclaiming Nurses Day in October of 1954 to then President Eisenhower. The 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission in the Crimean War was October 11-16, and this would have been a great recognition, however, it never came to pass.

In 1955, a bill was introduced in Congress to declare National Nurses Week observance, but the bill was never acted upon and the idea was discontinued until 1972 when a resolution was presented to the House of Representatives to declare National Registered Nurses Day, but again it went no further.

Finally, in 1974 then President Nixon issued a proclamation by the White House to recognize National Nurses Week. In the early 1980’s, Manuel Lujan, a Congressman from New Mexico introduced a s resolution supported by the New Mexico Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association (ANA), to proclaim May 6, 1982 as National Recognition Day for Registered Nurses. And in 1982, Congress indeed designated this and on March 25, 1982, President Reagan signed a proclamation declaring this to be.

In 1990, the ANA voted to expand the recognition to a whole week, and declared May 6-12, 1991 as the first National Nurses Week. In 1993, the dates of National Nurses Week were set permanently as May 6-12, regardless of the days of the week it begins and ends.

In 1996, the ANA made May 6 National RN Recognition Day. Today it’s known as National Nurses Day. In 1998, National Student Nurses day was designated as May 8. In 2003, National School Nurses Day was established to be celebrated on the Wednesday of Nurses Week. May 12 is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. It is also International Nurses Day and has been celebrated by the International Council of Nurses since 1965.

Each year, the ANA sets a theme suggestion for celebration of Nurses Week. This year the theme is “Nursing: The Balance of Mind, Body and Spirit.”


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image: Florence Nightingale and her Lamp (public domain)