Osmosis News

Nurses Week: A Brief History

Osmosis Team
Published on May 7, 2020. Updated on May 6, 2021.

Join Osmosis in celebrating and supporting the hard-working nurses and nursing students in our hospitals, care homes, and clinics. From Osmosis to nurses everywhere: thank you for your service!

Each year we set aside a week to celebrate the unsung heroes of our hospitals, care homes, and clinics, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nurses Week has gained even greater significance—as has Year of the Nurse and Midwife, which the WHO extended from 2020 into 2021 in recognition of the hard work of Nurses in this challenging year. 

Nursing Week kicked off yesterday, May 6. May 8 is National Student Nurses Day in the US, and May 12 (Florence Nightingale's Birthday) has National School Nurse Day since 2003. 

Every nurse, in every setting, plays an important role in healthcare. Read on to learn about the history of Nurses Week, and how you can celebrate and honor a nurse this week.

What is the History of Nurses Week?

The first National Nurses Week was celebrated in October of 1954 to mark the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. The next year, a bill was introduced to Congress to make the celebration an annual one. That bill failed, as did another in 1972. In 1974, President Nixon issued a proclamation designating a week in February to commemorate nursing, but this idea fell by the wayside.

Despite these repeated attempts by nursing organizations and supporters around the country, the holiday did not become nationally recognized until President Reagan’s proclamation of National Nurses Day on May 6, 1982. In 1990, the American Nurses Association (ANA) expanded the celebration to be a week long, ending on May 12.

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Who was Florence Nightingale?

Florence Nightingale was a British woman who pioneered advancements in the field of nursing during the mid to late 19 century. Born to an upper-class family, she rejected the socially-mandated life as a wealthy wife in order to pursue her calling to treat the sick and injured. During the Crimean war, she led an expedition of nurses there to treat wounded soldiers. Her application of sanitary principles helped dramatically reduce the death rate there. 

After the war, Nightingale returned to England and founded the Nightingale Training School, now known as the Florence Nightingale School for Nursing and Midwifery. In 1883, Nightingale became the first recipient of the Royal Red Cross. She is widely considered to be the founder of modern nursing. 

How is Nurses Week Celebrated?

There are a variety of nursing and health organizations, each of which celebrate Nurses Week a little differently.

The ANA Enterprise, which is the umbrella organization that covers The American Nurses Association, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and the American Nurse Foundation, hosts events and a speaker series highlighting the contributions and leadership of nurses. 

Every year, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) marks May 12, the final day of Nurses Week, as International Nurses Day. They commemorate by producing new resources and research to support the nursing practice. The ICN has chosen the theme of A Voice to Lead: A Vision for Future Healthcare, focusing on change and innovation in the field, and how these will contribute to a better environment for nurses and their clients.

Many doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other nursing settings find their own creative ways to celebrate and thank the nurses who work there. There are many ways to join in!

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Ways to honor nurses during Nurses Week

While the pandemic has put a damper on our ability to host large-scale celebrations for Nurses Week, there are still plenty of ways to honor the nurses in our lives.

For school nurses

School nurses don’t just help kids with band-aids for their scrapes, but also administer daily medications and interventions for more serious troubles. They are there to care for our kids when we can’t be with them! Involve the school’s students in creating cards, gifts, and videos that show how much their nurses mean in their lives.

For your staff

If you run a medical office or clinic, there are many ways to mark this week. Find out what your nurses like and give personalized gifts. And a nice lunch for the staff to enjoy is always a good thing!

For home health nurses in your life

The nurses who come into our houses to care for homebound patients can become integral parts of our lives. If you can, seek out a special treat or gift that you know will return the favor and brighten their life. Take a moment to care for the person who helps care for your loved one.

Say thank you

Even if you don’t come into regular contact with nurses, you can still offer your support. Organize letter-writing campaigns to send thank you cards to nurses in your community. This personal connection goes a long way to making nurses feel appreciated. You can also easily send an Osmosis Spread Joy card!

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Gift cards for local restaurants

Many restaurants offer delivery and take-out; sending gift cards to nurses helps commemorate the holiday and support local businesses at the same time!

Discounts for nurses

Companies around the country offer freebies and discounts during Nurses Week—including Osmosis! We're running a Nurses Week Sale until May 12, during which you can save 50% on your Osmosis Prime membership.

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The Year of the Nurse and Midwife

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that 2020 would be the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Not only does 2020 mark the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, it is also the final year of Nursing Now. This international campaign, a project created by the WHO and the International Council of Nurses, has focused on developing the voice and leadership of nurses in institutions and policy-making bodies around the world.

In recognition of the work nurses around the world have been doing to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Year of the Nurse was extended into 2021.

Celebrate nurses this week—and beyond!

The importance of nurses cannot be overstated. The people who join this profession sign on to serve and care for people in many of life’s most difficult situations. Nurses are integral to safe and caring medical treatment every day. Now, during the time of a serious pandemic, we have seen nurses step up in ever more selfless and essential ways. From Osmosis to nurses everywhere: thank you for your service.


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