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. 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.
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.
Fun 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