National Nurses Week: Where It Came From and Where It Could Go

May 12th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

Today is the last day of National Nurses Week, which began on May 6. The week ends fittingly on the birthday of the mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. The theme for National Nurses Week 2011 is "Nurses Trusted to Care."

Getting national recognition for nurses did not come easy. In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, sent a proposal to President Eisenhower to proclaim a "Nurse Day" in October of the following year. The proclamation was never made. In 1954, 1955 and 1972 similar proposals were put before Congress and still no national recognition for nurses was passed.

In January 1974 the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed that May 12 would be "International Nurse Day." Since 1965, the ICN has celebrated "International Nurse Day. Finally, in February 1974, President Richard M. Nixon designated a National Nurse Week, and issued a proclamation.

In February, 1982, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6, as "National Nurses Day." The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as "National Recognition Day for Nurses." President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25, proclaiming "National Recognition Day for Nurses" to be May 6, 1982.

In 1990 the ANA Board of Directors expanded the recognition of nurses to a week-long celebration, declaring May 6 – 12, 1991, as National Nurses Week.

Florence Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment, in 1860, of her nursing school at St. Thomas Hospital in London. It was the first secular nursing school in the world.

Her most famous nursing contributions came during the Crimean War, which became her central focus when reports filtered back to Britain about the horrific conditions for the wounded. Nightingale arrived early in November 1854 in Scutari (modern-day Uskudar, Istanbul) along with 38 nurses she had trained.

They found wounded soldiers poorly cared for by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected, and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

During the war, Florence Nightingale gained the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp", deriving from a phrase in a report in The Times:

"She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds."

Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing, which was published in 1859. A 136-page book, it served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools.

Nightingale wrote "Every day sanitary knowledge, or the knowledge of nursing, or in other words, of how to put the constitution in such a state as that it will have no disease, or that it can recover from disease, takes a higher place. It is recognized as the knowledge which every one ought to have-distinct from medical knowledge, which only a profession can have".

Florence Nightingale's lasting contribution has been her role in founding the modern nursing profession. She set an example of compassion, commitment to patient care, and diligent and thoughtful hospital administration.

National Nurses Week may be meant to recognize nurses for the work they do throughout the community, from hospitals, to schools, to public health clinics and to thank them for doing their jobs. It could mean more. National Nurses Week is an excellent opportunity, once a year to tell the world what nurses do, how varied and rewarding a career in nursing can be and to recruit new people in to one of the world's finest professions.

Nurses are diverse in culture, in education, in workplaces and in expertise. Nurses are teachers and lawyers and caregivers and writers and hundred other things in between. Use Nurses Week to say thank you to a nurse nearby and consider joining up.


Florence Nightingale Pledge:

"I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession, and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.


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