Whether providing compassionate bedside care or assisting in vital medical procedures, nurses are consistently on the front lines. From welcoming new babies into the world to providing long-term care for the elderly, these essential health care professionals are often intimately involved in the well-being of both their patients and their families. 

In the U.S. alone there are over 3.8 million registered nurses. Each year National Nurses Week celebrates the contributions of these dedicated individuals from May 6 to May 12, the birthday of the iconic British nurse Florence Nightingale. 

Florence Nightingale’s Story 

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 and named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy. Feeling called to care for others, she defied the expectations of her upper-class English family and Victorian society by deciding to enter the field of nursing. 

In August of 1853 Nightingale became superintendent of a care facility for women in London. After the Crimean War broke out later that year, she led a team of 38 volunteer nurses to aide injured British soldiers who were suffering from a lack of medical supplies, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding and little individual care. 

Recognizing the importance of cleanliness and personal patient care, Nightingale continued to work to improve hospital conditions after the war as well. In 1860 she founded the St. Thomas’ Hospital Nightingale Training School, laying the foundation for the future of the nursing profession. 

Origins of National Nurses Week 

The U.S. celebrated National Nurses Week for the first time in October 1954 to mark the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s Crimea mission. However, this week-long recognition was a one-time occurrence. 

In 1974 President Nixon announced another National Nurse Week celebration for just that year, and President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation designating May 6, 1982, as National Nurses Day. In 1993, the American Nurses Association officially designated May 6 to 12 as permanent dates to celebrate National Nurses Week each year.