Nursing is a career based on care. Nurses help people when they need it the most, easing their pain and helping to restore them to health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of nurses to individuals, communities, and society was demonstrated on a daily basis as these frontline workers put their own health at risk to treat patients under the most trying of circumstances.

For all they sacrifice, nurses deserve more appreciation than we can express. In the second week of May, National Nurses Week gives communities, employers, and individuals the opportunity to thank nurses and the nursing profession for all that they do.

Week is celebrated each year from May 6 to May 12 to honor nurses and the vital role they play in ensuring our health and prosperity. This brief history of the nursing profession and National Nurses Week highlights the many different ways that nursing organizations, the health care industry, and communities across the U.S. commemorate the occasion.

History of Nursing and National Nurses Week

The word “nurse” is derived from the Latin nutire, which means “to nurture” or “suckle.” The term was first applied to wet nurses. By the late 16th century, it referred to an individual who cared for the sick.

  • The roots of the nursing profession date back to the first hospitals, which were built throughout the Roman Empire beginning in A.D. 300. Nurses were recruited to provide medical care working alongside doctors.
  • Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Catholic Church provided medical services throughout Europe. In the 10th and 11th centuries, nurses expanded the type of medical care provided in hospitals that were part of monasteries and other religious sites.
  • The religious upheaval in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries led to a decline in nursing as a profession as monasteries in many parts of Europe closed.
  • Florence Nightingale’s treatment of soldiers injured in the Crimean War in the 1850s ushered in the modern era of nursing. Among her innovations were holding health care teams accountable for the quality of patient care; implementing sanitary conditions such as handwashing and bathing; and emphasizing the need for compassionate, patient-centered care.

Perhaps Nightingale’s greatest single contribution to the nursing profession was setting an example as a leader in enforcing standards in nursing practice and education. She was one of the first proponents of evidence-based care and understood the powerful role nurses play in promoting quality care for patients and workplace safety for nurses.

Other important contributors to the development of the nursing profession in the 19th and early 20th centuries include:

  • Dorothea Dix: served as superintendent of Army nurses during the Civil War. Earlier, she brought attention to the plight of mentally ill prisoners and worked to improve living conditions for people with mental illness.
  • Clara Barton: called the “Angel of the Battlefield” for her work as a nurse during the Civil War treating soldiers on both sides of the conflict. After the war, Barton met with Henry Dunant, who founded the International Red Cross in 1863, and championed the establishment of the American Red Cross in 1881.
  • Linda Richards: often referred to as the first trained nurse in the U.S., having graduated from the New England Hospital for Women and Children’s inaugural nursing program in 1873. Her many efforts to improve patient care included maintaining a record of each patient’s care via a chart kept at the patient’s bedside.
  • Mary Eliza Mahoney: born in Boston in 1845 to parents of freed slaves who had moved from North Carolina. Mahoney was educated at one of the first integrated schools in the U.S. and began working for the New England Hospital for Women and Children while still in her teens. She graduated from the hospital’s rigorous professional graduate school of nursing in 1879 and dedicated the rest of her career to public health efforts for underserved communities.

History of National Nurses Week

The contributions of nurses are now celebrated in countries around the world, but official recognition for the nursing profession was a long time coming. The American Nurses Association (ANA) was founded in 1896 and grew rapidly in the first decades of the 20th century. ANA lobbied for the establishment of an eight-hour workday for nurses in 1934 and championed other causes in support of the nursing profession and public health.

In January 1974, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) first announced that May 12 would be celebrated as International Nurse Day. The date was chosen because it’s the anniversary of Nightingale’s birth in 1820.

  • In October, 1953, Dorothy Sutherland, who served as secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, first requested an official recognition of nurses and the nursing profession. Sutherland proposed proclaiming a Nurse Day.
  • The following year, Congresswoman Frances P. Bolton sponsored a bill designating October 11 to October 16 National Nurses Week to mark the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s work during the Crimean War.
  • In 1974, President Richard Nixon issued a proclamation that named a week in February as National Nurse Week.
  • In 1978, Governor Brendan Byrne of New Jersey proclaimed that May 6 would be Nurse Day in the state.
  • In 1981, ANA and other nursing organizations lobbied for the creation of a National Recognition Day for Nurses, and the following year, May 6 was designated as such by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress.
  • In 1990, ANA expanded the celebration of the profession by designating May 6 to May 12, 1991, as National Nurses Week. The dates were made permanent in 1994, and in 1996, ANA began celebrating May 6th as National RN Recognition Day.

When Is National Nurses Week?

National Nurses Week runs from May 6 to May 12 of each year to honor the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, whose heroic efforts to treat soldiers injured during the Crimean War established the first standards of nursing care.

National Academy of Medicine’s Report on the Future of Nursing

National Nurses Week in 2021 coincided with the release of the National Academy of Medicine’s report titled The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Health Equity. The report presents a framework for addressing the challenges that the nursing profession faces in this decade:

  • The increasing nurse shortage and growing demand for nurse services require utilizing the talents of nurses to the full extent of their training and knowledge.
  • Nursing payment models must adjust to close pay gaps for health care that addresses social disparities and social determinants of health.
  • Nurse education program coursework and experiential learning should emphasize health equity and actions that improve treatment and preventive care available to underserved communities.
  • Careers in public health and community nursing require greater promotion, especially the vital role of school nurses as the link between health care services, educational services, and community outreach.
  • Nurses will need to take more leadership roles and accept more responsibility in new fields and settings, including speaking on social issues that impact community health.
  • The devastating impact of COVID-19 on the nursing profession highlights the need to prepare for future emergencies by making the health infrastructure more resilient. Health care entities must communicate with each other more effectively and coordinate operations more closely.
  • The safety and well-being of nurses require the removal of work hazards and minimizing work-related stress. It should be easy for nurses to access mental health services when necessary.

National Nurses Week Events     

Groups around the world celebrate nurses with events held on and around the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale. The ANA recognized National Nurses Day, National Nurses Week, and National Nurses Month. In addition to honoring nurses, the ANA plans activities and provides resources based on themes such as self care and professional development.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) recognizes International Nurses Day. The theme for ICN’s International Nurses Day 2022[2]  is “Nursing the World Back to Health.” Activities will focus on the influence nurses can have on the future of health care.[3]

Resources for National Nurses Week 2022

  • National Nurses Day, May 6, 2022, National Today — A brief history of National Nurses Day including events and celebrations of National Nurses Week in the U.S. and countries around the world.
  • Associations and Organizations, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments — An extensive list of nonprofit groups that provide services to nurses and health care organizations including community health organizations and nursing associations across the U.S.
  • Meaningful Recognition to Celebrate Nurses, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses — Nurses are more likely to appreciate and enjoy the recognition they receive for their work when it’s individualized and made personal.

The results of a study asking nurses how they prefer to be supported.

When asked what was most important for their well-being, nurses focused on having their work recognized, improving channels of communication, and having greater accessibility to support resources. These are the support initiatives that nurses deemed most important, according to McKinsey & Company. More appropriate recognition: 68%. Enhanced communication: 67%. More work breaks: 64%. Monitoring nurse distress and proactive outreach: 62%. Easier access to support resources: 60%. Seeking help made easier and more acceptable: 59%. Greater access to mental health resources: 54%. Encouraging personal connections between nurses: 50%.

Nurse Appreciation Week

National Nurses Week gives the public and the health care industry an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the work and careers of nurses in all areas of the profession as those that will soon join their ranks. For example, May 8 is designated as National Student Nurses Day, the Wednesday that falls within National Nurses Week (May 10 in 2022) is celebrated as National School Nurse Day, and May 12 is International Nurses Day.

Organizations take many different approaches to thanking nurses for their dedication to treating the sick and protecting the health of individuals and families in their communities.

  • Crocs, maker of shoes that are popular with nurses, launched its Free Pair for Healthcare program in 2020 and continued it in 2021. The program provides 10,000 free pairs of Crocs at Work shoes per day to frontline health care workers. In 2021, the company donated more than 910,000 pairs of shoes to “health care heroes on the frontline of COVID-19.”
  • In 2021, the Potbelly Sandwich Shop provided nurses with a free cookie and fountain drink when they ordered an entree during National Nurses Week. The company also delivered free batches of cookies to hospitals in cities across the country.
  • Outback Steakhouse restaurants offered nurses 10% off their entire check each day during National Nurses Week 2021. The discount is also available to teachers, doctors, other health care workers, police and firefighters, emergency responders, people currently serving in the military, and veterans.
  • Chipotle gave away 250,000 burritos during National Nurses Week 2021 to health care workers who verified their occupation on the company’s website. The site featured a Wall of Gratitude that offered the opportunity to write personal thank-you notes to express appreciation for nurses.

Social media campaigns, such as #NursesWeek2022, make it easy for people to express thanks to nurses via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Another popular way for individuals and organizations to show their gratitude to the nursing profession is by donating to nonprofit organizations that support nurses and other health care workers.

  • Children’s Environmental Health Network: sponsors programs that focus on Eco-Healthy Child Care, environmental justice for children’s health care, mitigating the effects of climate change on children’s health, and childhood cancer prevention.
  • Healthy Schools Network: offers environmental public health services to children at risk of or exposed to environmental hazards at school.It has created child-safe guidelines for purchasing cleaning products, as well as child-safe standards for the design, siting, and construction of schools.
  • Migrant Clinicians Network: Millions of workers and their families travel from place to place following jobs in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. MCN supports the clinicians who serve this migrant population by providing case management, technical assistance, and other support via Federally Qualified Health Centers and health care delivery sites..
  • Society for Public Health Education: an organization of health education professionals and students who work to raise awareness of the connection between behavioral science, health promotion, and the environment. The group helps prepare health educators for public health emergencies and for identifying and reducing risks to children’s health.
  • Trust for America’s Health: its ‘goal is to make the prevention of illness and injury a national priority by reporting on and recommending evidence-based health programs and policies. Among its initiatives are age-friendly public health services; health equity; and the Healthy Students, Promising Futures Learning Collaborative.

Resources for Nurse Appreciation Week

Nurses Week Ideas for 2022

Individuals and organizations have many options for expressing their gratitude to nurses during National Nurses Week 2022 from simple, heartfelt thank-you notes to elaborate celebrations replete with balloons and tinsel. During the COVID-19 pandemic,  the most practical way for us to demonstrate our appreciation for nurses is by taking precautions that public health officials recommend.

The typical tchotchke gifts of key chains and coffee mugs with witty nurse-related messages don’t truly convey the high regard held for nurses and the nursing profession. Instead, choose a thank-you method that communicates a deep and abiding gratitude for the important and dangerous work nurses take on every day.

  • Host a luncheon or other public celebration for nurses who’ve gone above the call of duty. Public recognition helps inspire nurses to recommit themselves to their profession.
  • Recognize the efforts of nurses by profiling them in newsletters and local media.
  • Businesses and community groups can sponsor a free blood pressure or cholesterol screening program to promote healthy lifestyles and early detection of potential health problems.
  • Health care administrators can show their appreciation to the nurses in their organization by soliciting their advice and opinions on their challenges and the best ways to address them.
  • Administrators can offer nurses gifts that can help advance their careers such as free continuing education opportunities or research grants.
  • Promote local, regional, and national awards that honor the exceptional work of individual nurses and nursing teams.

ANA’s National Awards Program promotes outstanding accomplishments and significant achievements in nursing and health care. The awards are bestowed in four categories:

  • The awards for Distinguished Practice in Nursing comprise the Distinguished Direct Patient Care Award, the Early Career Nurse Leader Award, the Foundations of Nursing Practice Award, and the Public Health Service Award.
  • The awards for Nurse Exemplars are awarded to nurses who demonstrate high standards of nursing ethics and nursing practice: the ANA Hall of Fame Award and the Leadership in Ethics Award.
  • The awards for Nursing Champions recognize those who promote and advocate for the nursing profession. The Advocacy Award is given to registered nurses (RNs), and the Champion of Nursing Award is given to extraordinary leaders or organizations outside the nursing profession.
  • The awards for Nursing Pioneers honor those with a commitment to social justice and equity in health care. The Luther Christman Award is given to men who make substantial contributions to the nursing profession, and the Mary Mahoney Award is given to a team of RNs or an individual RN who promotes nursing in minority communities.

Resources for Nurses Week Ideas for 2022        

Easy ways to let nurses know they’re valued.
Simple gestures often mean the most to the people in our lives who deserve thanks and recognition. Award ceremonies and appreciation banquets for nurses have their place, but kindness and gratitude can be expressed without the fanfare. These five quick-and-easy approaches from Onward Healthcare can make a nurse’s day. 1. Write a nurse a short and sweet thank-you note. 2. Publicize a nurse’s accomplishments on social media. 3. Give a nurse a “virtual hug” via text or email. 4. Ask a local politician to issue a proclamation recognizing a nurse’s work. 5. Suggest that a local school hold a “nurse’s day” education session.

Celebrating Nurses’ Dedication, Commitment, and Accomplishments

When times are toughest, nurses step up. Wherever people are suffering through illness, nurses are by their side, applying their skills, care, and compassion to ease patients’ pain and restore them to health. In our darkest times as individuals, communities, and societies, nurses come to the fore, taking on the toughest tasks without hesitation or complaint. Isn’t this unprecedented level of professional dedication to others deserving of our thanks?

There’s no better time than National Nurses Week to let nurses know how much we value their hard work, commitment, and sacrifice. Don’t let the opportunity pass without making an effort to express your gratitude for their dedication to our health and the health of our families and communities. Start planning today how you intend to show your appreciation in May 2022.


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