National Nurses Day is celebrated annually on May 6 to raise awareness of the important role nurses play in society. It marks the beginning of National Nurses Week, which ends on May 12, the birthday of Florence Nightingale. National Nurses day is not a nationally recognized holiday.
To more fully understand this significant day and week, we need to take a trip back in time and learn about a woman named Florence Nightingale and how she plays into this important day and week long celebration dedicated to honoring our nurses.
Frances was born on May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy to Frances and William Nightingale. Florence Nightingale was the younger of two children. Her affluent British family belonged to elite social circles.
Florence was reportedly awkward in social situations and avoided being the center of attention whenever possible. Florence was active in philanthropy and ministering to the ill and poor people from a very young age. When she turned 16 years old, it became clear to her that nursing was her true calling and believed it to be her divine purpose in life.
When told about her ambitions to become a nurse, her parents were not pleased and actually forbade her to pursue nursing. In 1844, she enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth, Germany.
Sometime in the early 1850’s, she returned to London, England where she was hired on at Middlesex Hospital to care for ailing governesses. Her work performance so impressed her employer that Florence was promoted to superintendent within a year of being hired.
Grappling with the Cholera outbreak and the unsanitary conditions proved a challenging workplace environment. She then made it her mission to improve the hygiene practices which significantly lowered the death rate at the hospital. This hard work took a tremendous toll on her health. Having barely recovered from working the Cholera outbreak, the Crimean war broke out in 1853. The British Empire went to war against the Russian Empire for control of the Ottoman Empire.
Due to the poor reputation of nurses, the British war office avoided hiring any. But, after the Battle of Alma, England was in such an uproar over the neglect of their ill and injured soldiers, who not only lacked sufficient medical attention due to hospitals being overly understaffed, but also languished in appalling unsanitary and inhumane conditions led to the British Secretary of War, in 1854, to write a letter to Florence Nightingale asking her to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the sick and fallen soldiers in Crimea.
She formed an initial corps of 34 nurses from a variety of religious orders and sailed with them to Crimea just a few days later. Forewarned of the horrid conditions there, nothing could have prepared Nightingale and her nurses for what they saw when they arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople. The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and the hospital building itself. Patients laid on their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hospital hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried everywhere. The most basic supplies, such as bandages and soap, grew increasingly scarce as the number of ill and wounded steadily increased. Even water needed to be rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.
Nightingale quickly set to work procuring hundreds of scrub brushes and asked the least infirm patients to scrub the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient. The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her “the Lady with the Lamp.” Others simply called her “the Angel of the Crimea.” Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.
Based on her observations in the Crimea War, Nightingale wrote, “Notes on Matters Affecting the Health”, and “Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army”, an 830-page report analyzing her experience and proposing reform measures for other military hospitals operating under poor conditions. The book would spark a total restructuring of the War Office’s administrative department, including the establishment of the Royal Commission for the Health of the Army in 1857.
Returning to her childhood home of Lea Hurst after the war in 1856, she was met with a hero’s welcome, which the ever so humble Nightingale did her best to avoid. The Queen rewarded Nightingale’s work by presenting her with an engraved brooch that came to be known as the “Nightingale Jewel” and by awarding her a prize of $250,000 from the British government.
Using her prize money, Nightingale funded the establishment of St. Thomas Hospital and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.
It was then that she truly became a public figure of Admiration. So it is with Florence Nightingale that nursing and the recognition of nurses for their courageous efforts began.
“A Brief History of National Nurses Week”
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.
1954 National Nurse Week was observed from October 11 – 16. The year of the observance marked the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission to Crimea. Representative Frances P. Bolton sponsored the bill for a nurse week. Apparently, a bill for a National Nurse Week was introduced in the 1955 Congress, but no action was taken. Congress discontinued its practice of joint resolutions for national weeks of various kinds.
1972- Again a resolution was presented by the House of Representatives for the President to proclaim “National Registered Nurse Day.” It did not occur.
1974- In January of that year, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) proclaimed that May 12 would be “International Nurse Day.” (May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale). Since 1965, the ICN has celebrated “International Nurse Day.”
1974- In February of that year, a week was designated by the White House as National Nurse Week, and President Nixon issued a proclamation.
1978- New Jersey Governor Brendon Byrne declared May 6 as “Nurses Day.” Edward Scanlan, of Red Bank, N.J., took up the cause to perpetuate the recognition of nurses in his state. Mr. Scanlan had this date listed in Chase’s Calendar of Annual Events. He promoted the celebration on his own.
1981- ANA, along with various nursing organizations, rallied to support a resolution initiated by nurses in New Mexico, through their Congressman, Manuel Lujan, to have May 6, 1982, established as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
1982- In February, the ANA Board of Directors formally acknowledged May 6, 1982 as “National Nurses Day.” The action affirmed a joint resolution of the United States Congress designating May 6 as “National Recognition Day for Nurses.”
1982- President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation on March 25, proclaiming “National Recognition Day for Nurses” to be May 6, 1982.
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.
1993- The ANA Board of Directors designated May 6 – 12 as permanent dates to observe National Nurses Week in 1994 and in all subsequent years.
1996- The ANA initiated “National RN Recognition Day” on May 6, 1996, to honor the nation’s indispensable registered nurses for their tireless commitment 365 days a year. The ANA encourages its state and territorial nurses associations and other organizations to acknowledge May 6, 1996 as “National RN Recognition Day.”
1997- The ANA Board of Directors, at the request of the National Student Nurses Association, designated May 8 as National Student Nurses Day.
As of 1998, May 8 was designated as National Student Nurses Day, to be celebrated annually. And as of 2003, National School Nurse Day is celebrated on the Wednesday within National Nurses Week (May 6-12) each year.
Here are some typical gifts that are commonly given on Nurses day: Soup mugs, Vanity bags, Lunch cooler bags, foot care products, insulated travel coffee mugs, insulated food containers, umbrellas, assorted tote bags, throw blankets, gift sets of nutritional food snacks, portable cosmetics set w/mirror, and much more. Anything that makes their life a little easier, pampers them or just lets them know that they are appreciated.
Some celebration ideas can be anything from an awards breakfast, luncheon or dinner, or even on-site massages at medical facilities.Another great idea is a “Candlelight walk” on the hospital grounds where doctors, nursing students, and former patients can give “Thank You’s” to the nurses who made a difference and impact in their lives. Some facilities even get involved by renting a banquet hall with live music and food, with prominent people in attendance such as politicians, local Television celebrities, e.t.c. Another celebration idea is to hold a “walk-a-thon” to raise money for a local charity that the nurses can select.
Sadly, some medical facilities do very little, or anything at all, to recognize their nurses during these celebrations. How do you celebrate the holidays? Is your facility a hero, or a zero, in their celebrations? We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences if you would leave a comment below.
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