National Nurses Day

National Nurses Day: Why it Matters and How to Get Involved

National Nurses Day, landing on May 6th every year, paves the way for a week of appreciation for some of the most critical figures in healthcare – our nurses. It's a time to echo our gratitude for their immeasurable impact on our health and well-being.

National Nurses Day is a time to recognize and celebrate their relentless dedication and commitment, especially at the frontlines of care — a role thrust into sharper focus with the COVID-19 pandemic.

This date, steeped in history, gives weight to a week that does more than celebrate; it educates. The seven days of National Nurse Week have far-reaching importance, serving as a platform to increase understanding and rally support for nursing.

Alongside giving nurses the recognition they deserve, National Nurses Day and the following week also expose the multitude of roles within nursing. Similarly, they highlight the hurdles nurses face in their daily roles. This awareness fuels a call to action for the public, healthcare organizations, and policymakers to invest in improving these conditions, ultimately reinforcing the backbone of our healthcare system.

Read on as we explore this observance, why it matters, and how to get involved. 

Featured in: May - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.

National Nurses Day History and Background

Nurse taking blood pressure
Photo by Carlos Magno on Unsplash

National Nurses Day has an intriguing history. Picture it; it's 1953, and Dorothy Sutherland of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare passionately proposes the idea of a "Nurse Day." Her aim? To commemorate the centenary of Florence Nightingale's mission to Crimea. Despite her efforts, the proposal is brushed aside by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a setback but not the end of the story.

Later, in the 1970s, the idea came back into the frame. The White House, under President Richard Nixon, designates an entire week to honor nurses. Yet, it wasn't until 1982 that the day we now know as National Recognition Day for Nurses was born (Originally known as National RN Recognition Day, RN for Registered Nurses). President Ronald Reagan took the initiative, setting May 6 as a day for giving credit where it's due - to our hardworking nurses.

The celebrations didn't stop there. In 1990, the American Nurses Association (ANA) integrated May 6 into a week-long celebration and observance, National Nurses Week, appropriately ending on Florence Nightingale's birthday - A beautiful tribute to the woman who pioneered modern nursing. This last day of nurses' week is also International Nurses Day, and the permanent dates enhance planning of this established recognition event. 

Let's not forget about the future of nursing. In 1997, National Student Nurses Day was initiated by the ANA on May 8, highlighting those embarking on this honorable career path. 2003 marked another milestone, including National School Nurse Day, celebrated on the Wednesday of National Nurses Week.

Finally, in recent times, 2020 marked a year dedicated to nurses. The World Health Organization (WHO) fittingly dubbed it the "Year of the Nurse and Midwife," a global tribute and a nod to the bi-centennial of Nightingale's birth. 

The Cause and Its Challenges

Nurse at computer
Photo by Irwan @blogcious on Unsplash

National Nurses Day casts a warm, deserving light on the nursing field, a tribute to the tireless nurses worldwide. They're more than just caregivers - they educate, counsel, and advocate. However, it's a path strewn with challenges that they must overcome daily.

Consider the ceaseless ticking of the clock and the relentless demands of long working hours. Nurses often clock in for extended shifts, a constant race against exhaustion and emotional burnout. 

The challenge doesn't stop there. Many health institutions grapple with a high patient-to-nurse ratio, a recipe for escalating stress and surging workloads among nurses2. However, this imbalance doesn't just weigh on the nurses' shoulders – it can also impact patient care and safety.

But the greatest mountain to climb might well be the lack of appreciation and recognition. 

Nurses, the very lifeblood of the healthcare system, often see their significant contributions overlooked and their work undervalued. It cuts deep, driving morale into the ground and stirring discontent. 

From a recent report by the American Nurses Association, we learn that over half of registered nurses have contemplated leaving the field due to such issues - a sobering fact that amplifies the call for change. Let's face it; nurses deserve better working conditions, improved benefits, and above all, due recognition for their commitment and service.

5 Reasons National Nurses Day Matters

Nurse and patient
Photo by CDC on Unsplash
  • Picture over 4 million registered nurses across America, the unsung healthcare heroes. They're the backbone of our health system, providing everything from inoculations to critical care. Imagine the vast number of lives they touch daily, and you'll understand the magnitude of their contribution.
  • Nursing isn't just a job; it's a calling with a growing echo. The forecast for 2026 predicts a 15% upswing in the number of nursing roles. Why? A greater focus on preventive care, rising chronic conditions, and the healthcare demands of the aging baby-boom generation.
  • The day in the life of a nurse? It's far from a 9 to 5 gig. These professionals pull long hours, undertake grueling physical work, and shoulder the emotional weight of patient care. This heavy-duty routine can lead to high burnout rates, affecting nurses and patients and the effectiveness of healthcare institutions.
  • However, despite the growing demand, there's a severe nursing shortage in many parts of the world, including the U.S. Factors like an aging population, nurses heading for retirement, and a bottleneck in educational institutions are creating a perfect storm, challenging our ability to provide quality care.
  • Lastly, let's put a spotlight on the impact nurses make. Their contribution goes far beyond attending to patients or administering medication. Research shows a direct link between experienced nurses, higher staffing levels, and improved patient outcomes. Reduced mortality rates, for instance, are just one metric. Nurses are the difference-makers, influencing not just individual health but the well-being of entire communities.

Efforts and Initiatives

Nurses are the heart and soul of healthcare, and this week is all about them. From webinars to recognition ceremonies, the American Nurses Association (ANA) is in full swing to spotlight nurses' contributions, sparking conversations and cultivating improvements.

Non-profits are stepping up too. The DAISY Foundation has the DAISY Award. It's an international gesture of gratitude, recognizing nurses for their compassionate care. 

On another front, the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future is reshaping how we see the nursing profession. They're stirring up interest in nursing careers, supporting nurse educators, and launching strategies to hold on to the nursing staff we already have. 

How to Get Involved and Support Nurses This May

Nurses "clapping for carers" during the COVID-19 pandemic in London
Nurses "clapping for carers" during the COVID-19 pandemic in London. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

To show solidarity, mark your calendar for local events organized by hospitals or health institutions. These functions celebrate our nurses and offer a peek into their challenging world1. Jump in, engage attendees, and thank these healthcare superheroes for their unwavering dedication.

Ever considered supporting the nursing cause financially? Donating to nursing organizations is a practical way to help. 

If contributing money isn't within reach, remember volunteering isn’t measured in dollars. Many organizations crave volunteers, from coordinating events to providing administrative assistance. Your time, skillset, and dedication can be a priceless addition.

Think your social media accounts are just for fun? They can be a powerful tool for raising awareness and positioning National Nurses Week as noteworthy. Sharing facts about nursing or stories of nurses who've made an impact can spark inspiration and broaden the reach of the cause. 


Celebrating National Nurses Day is more than just a tip of the hat to a noble profession. It's our collective acknowledgment of the unsung heroes of health care. These individuals dedicate their lives to helping others, often going above and beyond the call of duty, particularly in times of global crises such as the recent pandemic.

Every stitch they sew, every wound they dress, and every comforting word they utter to a patient in distress demonstrate the value they deliver throughout our healthcare system. 

It's also our chance to advocate for improved working conditions for nurses, to demand their protection, and to stand up for their rights. There needs to be more than a simple word of thanks while appreciated. 

Let's roll up our sleeves and lend a hand to the nursing community, those who've never hesitated to roll up theirs when we needed them most. Because when we support our nurses, we're not just helping individuals; we're strengthening our entire healthcare system. 

National Nurses Day FAQs

1. What is National Nurses Day?

National Nurses Day is a day dedicated to celebrating and honoring the contributions and hard work of nurses all over the country.

2. When is National Nurses Day celebrated?

National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6th.

3. Why is National Nurses Day important?

National Nurses Day is important because it recognizes nurses' vital role in providing healthcare and their dedication to improving the well-being of individuals and communities.

4. How can I show my appreciation to nurses on National Nurses Day?

You can show your appreciation to nurses on National Nurses Day by sending them a thank-you note, sharing your gratitude on social media, or participating in local events honoring nurses.

5. Are there any specific ways to support nurses beyond National Nurses Day?

You can support nurses throughout the year by advocating for better working conditions, promoting their well-being, and acknowledging their contributions in healthcare settings. Additionally, supporting nursing organizations and initiatives can help improve the profession as a whole.

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Scott, P. A., Matthews, A., & Kirwan, M. (2014). What is nursing in the 21st century and what does the 21st century health system require of nursing? Nursing Philosophy, 15(1), 23-34.


Aiken, L. H., Clarke, S. P., Sloane, D. M., Sochalski, J., & Silber, J. H. (2002). Hospital nurse staffing and patient mortality, nurse burnout, and job dissatisfaction. JAMA, 288(16), 1987-1993.

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