According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), there are nearly 3.1 million registered nurses in the United States, with 2.4 million of them actively employed. As the largest occupation in health care, nurses are integral to hospitals, clinics and other health care organizations around the nation.
Each year in the United States, nurses are honored during National Nurses Week. This celebration is held May 6-12 every year to honor the contributions nurses make to their communities and the field of health care. This article takes a look at the evolution and rich history of National Nurses Week.
How It All Began – The Early Years
What is known today as National Nurses Week was born out of an idea by Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1953, she asked President Eisenhower to proclaim a day in October as “Nurse Day.” Unfortunately, President Eisenhower never made the proclamation.
However, the following year, Representative Frances P. Bolton sponsored a bill for National Nurse Week, which was observed from October 11-16, 1954 and marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. In 1955, an attempt was made to push a bill through Congress for National Nurse Week, but nothing came of it. Around that same time, Congress halted its practice of proclaiming national weeks.
In 1972, another attempt to secure an official proclamation for recognition of nurses was presented to the House of Representatives. This time, the resolution was for “National Registered Nurse Day.” Yet again, the proclamation was not made.
Two years later, in 1974, the International Council of Nurses proclaimed May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, “International Nurse Day.” That same year, President Nixon issued a proclamation designating a week in February as National Nurse Week.
Nurses got a boost of recognition in 1978, when New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declared May 6 to be “Nurses Day.” That same year, Edward Scanlan of Red Bank, N.J. personally recognized the nurses in his state by having the date listed in Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events and by promoting the celebration.
Progress is Made
In 1981, ANA and other nursing organizations backed a resolution started by New Mexico nurses to establish May 6, 1982 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.” The following year, ANA formally recognized the date as “National Nurses Day.” The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.” Additionally, President Ronald Reagan signed a resolution on March 25 that proclaimed “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982.
In 1991, the recognition of nurses was expanded into a weeklong celebration, National Nurses Week, May 6-12, 1992. Three years later, ANA designated May 6-12 as the permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in the following years.
In 1996, the ANA recognized May 6 as “National RN Recognition Day” and encouraged other organizations also to observe the day. Two years later, ANA designated May 8 as National Student Nurses day. And since 2003, National School Nurse Day has been celebrated each year on the Wednesday within National Nurses Week.
While it wasn’t easy for nurses to achieve the recognition they deserve, today, National Nurses Week acknowledges the tireless work and dedication of the millions of nurses in the United States. Rasmussen College is proud to celebrate National Nurses Week May 6-12, 2012.