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The History of National Nurses Week: Over 60 Years in the Making

by Carson-Newman … on April 20, 2021
Two nurses wearing COVID masks in a hospital setting

This blog has been updated on March 22, 2023.

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National Nurses Week history spans decades, with many individuals and organizations involved in the success of this annual event. Nurses Week is a widespread celebration where we, as a society, honor the tremendous contributions that nurses make to countless lives.

Carson-Newman University thanks all nurses for the unwavering dedication and care you provide to your patients, especially in the face of the pandemic. Nurses, like you, have been shaped by a history of compassion and unfold a future of hope.



Since 1986, the American Nurses Association (ANA) has supported and advocated for the nursing profession. It has played a pivotal role in establishing National Nurses Week to honor nurses across the country.

Read on to learn more about Nurses Week history and this year's continued celebration of nurses.


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Male nurse in hospital setting

What is National Nurses Week?

National Nurses Week traditionally starts on May 6 and runs until May 12, ending on the birthday of the historical nursing icon, Florence Nightingale.

It serves to formally acknowledge the tireless commitment of nursing professionals 365 days a year. It's a time for individuals, employers, health care workers, and community leaders to recognize the vast contributions and positive impact of America's registered nurses. As of 2020, however, the week of recognition has expanded to a full month!

A nurse practitioner helping an elderly female patient walk

What is the History of Nurses Week and Nurses Month?

National Nurses Week history is over 60 years in the making:

1953: President Eisenhower received a proposal from Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, requesting that he declare a "Nurse Day" for October of the following year. Eisenhower declined the proclamation.

1954: Representative Frances P. Bolton - the first woman elected to Congress from Ohio - sponsored a bill for National Nurse Week. The dates proposed were for October 11-16 (marking the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's mission to Crimea).

1955: Congress discontinued its practice of officiating national weeks of various kinds. An attempt was made to push a bill for National Nurse Week, but it did not go through.

1972: Almost 20 years later, the bill was presented to the President by the House of Representatives to proclaim, "National Registered Nurse Day." The President did not move forward with the resolution.

1974: In January, the International Council of Nurses designated May 12 as "International Nurses Day." In February, President Nixon issued a proclamation that the White House would recognize a week in February as National Nurses Week.

1978: New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne recognized May 6 as "Nurses Day."

Close-up of a nurse in blue scrubs holding the hand of an elderly patient in a hospital bed

1981: Led by the ANA, multiple nursing organizations rallied to support a resolution put into motion by nurses in New Mexico. Congressman Manuel Lujan responded by establishing a "National Recognition Day for Nurses" on May 6, 1982.

1982: In February, the American Nurses Association (ANA) formally recognized May 6 as "National Nurses Day." On March 25, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation designating this date as the "National Recognition Day for Nurses."

1990: A significant year in Nurses Week history, nursing recognition expands to a week-long celebration. Initiated by the ANA Board of Directors, National Nurses Week is declared to run May 6-12, 1991.

1993: Permanent dates are secured for National Nurses Week. ANA designated May 6-12 as an annual week of observance starting the following year, moving forward.

1996: "National RN Recognition Day" officially occurs on May 6 to honor the dedication of registered nurses year-round.

1997: ANA and the National Student Nurses Association recognize May 8 as "National Student Nurses Day."

2020: ANA declares 2020 the Year of the Nurse to honor Florence Nightingale's 200th birthday. It also makes an extraordinary move in Nurses Week history, expanding the 2020 event into a month-long celebration. This coincides with the declaration of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse by ANA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and healthcare colleagues worldwide.

2021: ANA and WHO extend the Year of the Nurse into 2021 to recognize nurses' ongoing commitment to serve on the front lines of the pandemic.

Female Asian-American nurse practitioner in lab setting

You Make a Difference as a Nurse

Amid the global pandemic, it is more important than ever to honor the courageous and compassionate work of nurses. 

National Nurses Month will focus on supporting and recognizing nurses for their contributions during crises and routine daily care. Each week, ANA will be promoting a new theme and activities that celebrate nurses and bolster the profession:

  • May 1-7: Self-Care
  • May 8-14: Recognition
  • May 15-21: Professional Development
  • May 22-31: Community Engagement

Nurse in operating room wearing PPE

How Can I Participate?

There are many other ways to participate in National Nurses Month. As you celebrate Nurses Month, share your activities on social media using #ANANursesMonth.

Week 1: Self-Care (May 1–7)

Participate in healthy activities that will boost the emotional and physical well-being of yourself and others:

  • Sign up for an online seminar about critical topics affecting nurses, such as mental health awareness, stress management, the implementation of self-care, and workplace safety.
  • Join the ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Challenge to take on challenges that will improve your health and well-being.
  • Assess your self-care practices and make a plan to fill in any gaps related to physical activity, nutrition, rest, quality of life, and safety.
  • Look into resources geared toward dealing with nurses' experiences with COVID-19 from ANA's COVID-19 Resource Center.

Read our blog on self-care.

Week 2: Recognition (May 8-14)

Help raise awareness and understanding of the contributions of nurses by recognizing exemplary nurses in your community:

  • Recognize at least one nurse who excels, leads, and innovates.
  • Request that your mayor/governor issues a proclamation recognizing May 6th as National RN Recognition Day or May as Nurses Month in your town, city or state.
  • Share a letter or video with state legislators that educates them about the role and value of registered nurses.
  • Write an article or opinion piece about the contributions of nurses for your state or local newspaper.

Close-up of a nurse practitioner writing on a clipboard with a stethoscope in front of her

Week 3: Professional Development (May 15-21)

Explore how you can further excel in your nursing career and help others in theirs:

  • Take part in professional webinars that will enhance your skills in communication, listening, empathy, teamwork, problem-solving, or flexibility.
  • Share your nursing experience as a professional mentor or through videos or social media.
  • If you're ready to advance your nursing career as a nurse practitioner, explore Carson-Newman University's online FNP programs.

Read our blog on Leadership in Nursing.

Week 4: Community Engagement (May 22–31)

Educate your community on the invaluable contributions of nurses:

  • Those outside of the profession can pay tribute to a local nurse or all registered nurses for their service year-round.
  • Organize a virtual Nurses Month event to raise money for local organizations, promote blood donations, or help community members cope with stress and build resilience.
  • Contact an elected official to discuss health care issues affecting nurses and patients.

Smiling female nurse practitioner wearing glasses and a white lab coat

A Time to Appreciate

ANA's National Nurses Week history is worthy of a grand celebration, and so is the hard work of nurses nationwide.

The level of compassion and commitment required during a national health emergency – and routine patient care – is immeasurable. Praise for nurses is well-deserved.

If you're a nurse, take some time in May to recognize the positive differences you and your colleagues have made in the lives of others. Know that we, at Carson-Newman University, and the entire nation appreciate you.

If the extraordinary contributions of nurses have inspired you to take the next step in your nursing journey, Carson-Newman is available to help.

To invest in your nursing career as a Family Nurse Practitioner, contact us and explore an online Master of Science in Nursing–Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) degree or online Post-Master's FNP Certificate.


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