Florence Nightingale and the History of Nurses Month

Everyone looks forward to the month of May because it’s an opportunity for the nursing profession to celebrate both its rich history and its bright future. In fact, the American Nurses Association has proudly proclaimed the entire month of May to be National Nurses Month.

Whether you are currently practicing as a nurse in the United States or in the process of making your way here, you can celebrate your profession along with millions of other nurses during National Nurses Month, and take a little time to consider how far professional nursing has come.

From Nightingale to Now

Nearly 200 years ago, a young woman from a wealthy family in England received a calling to care for the poor and the sick. Over her family’s objections, Florence Nightingale announced that she was pursuing a career in nursing. She attended nursing school in Germany and eventually went on to change the course of nursing history.

The “Lady with the Lamp” guided other nurses and cared for countless patients wounded in the Crimean War, her home country’s conflict with Russia. She authored what is widely considered the first nursing textbook, Notes on Nursing, in 1859. And her dogged focus on improving hospital care, including the implementation of hygiene practices to reduce infection and mortality, continues to influence nursing practice even today. She never stopped gathering data and analyzing how care could be improved.

Heralded as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale set the nursing profession on the right path. Nurses today continue to blaze new trails, in homage to their founder. Throughout the month of May, we celebrate both the history of the profession and the amazing accomplishments that are happening in nursing today.

For nurses from around the globe, there’s another special day to mark on your calendar: International Nurses Day, which occurs on May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

This year’s theme for International Nurses Day is Our Nurses, Our Future. According to the International Council of Nurses (ICN), this year’s campaign will focus on the future ahead for nurses as they address global health challenges and work to improve health for everyone.

National Nurses Month

Each year in May, National Nurses Month brings the opportunity to consider important aspects of your nursing career. As such, the month is divided into four weeks, each with its own special theme.• Self-Care: May 1-7
• Recognition: May 8-14
• Professional Development: May 15-21
• Community Engagement: May 22-31

In addition, many organizations celebrate National Nurses Week, which has been observed each year from May 6-12, even after this special week was expanded to an entire month in 2020. During this time, hospitals and healthcare organizations hold special events and bestow honors upon their hard-working nursing staff and leaders.

Within National Nurses Week are two additional celebrations:

• National School Nurse Day: the Wednesday during National Nurses Week
• National Student Nurses Day: May 8

How Nurses Week Got Started

National Nurses Week continues to be a favorite element of the month-long celebration.

According to the American Nurses Association, the very first Nurses Week was celebrated in 1954, the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. It was observed in October that year.

However, it took a while to get the event established. It didn’t take off right away. In 1974, the White House announced a week in February would be observed as National Nurse Week. Then, in February 1982, the ANA Board of Directors designated May 6 of that same year as National Nurses Day, affirming a joint resolution from the U.S. Congress that designated that date as National Recognition Day for Nurses.

The ANA’s board decided that one day wasn’t long enough to celebrate the nation’s nursing workforce, so in 1990, it expanded the celebration into a week-long event. May 6–12, 1991, became the very first National Nurses Week. In 1993, the board announced that May 6-12 would be the permanent observation of National Nurses Week, starting in 1994. And today, we have the week-long celebration to look forward to every year.

So, Happy Nurses Week, Nurses Month and International Nurses Day to our traveling nurses and all nurses who dedicate themselves to excellent patient care.O’Grady Peyton, a company of AMN Healthcare, is the leader in placing international nurses and allied health workers in job assignments in the United States of America.

Learn more about Nurses Week and Nurses Month with AMN Healthcare.