History of National Nurses Week - 60 Years in the Making

National Nurses Week
National Nurses Week

Although nurses are appreciated year-round, National Nurses Week is a widespread event celebrating the tremendous effort and contributions that nurses make daily to countless lives in their communities. The American Nurses Association (ANA) has supported and advocated for the nursing profession since 1896. ANA has played a pivotal role in establishing an entire week to honor nurses across the country.

The journey to officiate Nurses Week has literally taken decades, and many individuals and organizations were involved in this annual event’s success. Luckily, nurses (and their advocates) are passionate enough to overcome challenges. Brush up on your National Nurses Week history below.

What is National Nurses Week?

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

What is the History of Nurses Week?

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 attempting to 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: The state of New Jersey continues to progress, inspired by New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne’s recognition of May 6 as “Nurses Day.”  

1981: Led by 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 "National Recognition Day for Nurses."

1990: Nursing recognition expands to a week-long celebration. Initiated by the ANA Board of Directors, National Nurses Week is declared to run on May 6-12, 1991.

1993: Permanent dates are secured for National Nurses Week. ANA designated May 6-12 as annual times 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.”

Thank Nurses graphic with stethoscope arranged into a heart shape

What is the Theme for Nurses Week 2019?

This year’s theme for National Nurses Week is “4 Million Reasons to Celebrate.” As the largest and most trusted group of health care professionals, more than four million registered nurses live and work in the United States. Nurses touch countless lives, providing care to patients in hospitals, skilled nursing homes or assisted living facilities, home health care centers, private practice, community health centers and other settings.

How Can I Celebrate?

  • Get excited! Spread the word about this annual celebration on social media using #NursesWeek as you post throughout the week. Be sure to give a shout out to any nursing students you know on Wednesday, May 8- or if you’re a student, celebrate yourself during #NationalStudentNurseDay

  • If permitted, design a banner and posters to display at your workplace. This helps spread awareness, encourages discussion, and lifts morale.

  • Seek support for the Commemorative Moment for Florence Nightingale from nursing organizations with whom you are affiliated.

  • Sponsor a special celebration or reception at a network meeting.

  • Participate in health fairs to promote the nursing profession and educate your community.

  • Host a fundraiser and donate the money raised to a local charity to care for others and continue to honor the nursing profession.

  • Pay tribute to a special nurse in your life and donate to a nursing organization.

  • Thank a nurse for enriching our lives and the world we live in.

A Time to Appreciate

National Nurses Week celebrates the historical progress of the nursing profession and hard work of nurses nationwide. The level of compassion and commitment required during patient care is immeasurable- and praise is well-deserved. If you’re a nurse, take some time this week to celebrate the positive impact you have on others. Support your colleagues and know that an entire nation appreciates you.

If you’re ready to take your career to the next level, Carson-Newman is available to support you. Contact us today to discuss our flexible online nursing programs.


American Holistic Nurses Association. National Nurses Week. Retrieved on April 19, 2019 at https://www.ahna.org/Events/National-Nurses-Week

American Nurses Association. About National Nurses Week. Retrieved on April 19, 2019 at https://pages.nursingworld.org/ana-2035_nnw19_phase2

American Nurses Association. National Nurses Week 2019: Talking points and key messages. Retrieved on April 19, 2019 at https://s3.amazonaws.com/nursing-network/production/files/52301/original/2019_NNW_Talking_Points.pdf?1548868994

American Organization of Nurse Executives. Nurses Week. Retrieved on April 19, 2019 at http://www.aone.org/about/nurses-week-history.shtml

National Day Calendar. National Student Nurse Day. Retrieved on April 21, 2019 at https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-student-nurse-day-may-8/