Why We Celebrate Nurses Day (History of International Nurses Day)


Every year on May 12—the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth—people all around the globe commemorate International Nurses Day (IND) to recognise the contributions nurses contribute to society.

Florence Nightingale: Who is she?

The mother of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale was an English social reformer and statistician who lived from 12 May 1820 to 13 August 1910.

During the Crimean War, when she organised the care of injured troops, Nightingale rose to fame as a manager of nurses she had trained. She established a positive reputation for nursing and became a symbol of Victorian society, particularly when she visited injured troops at night as “The Lady with the Lamp.”

Recent observers have said that Nightingale’s contributions to the Crimean War were inflated by the media at the time, although detractors acknowledge that her later contributions to the professionalisation of nursing for women were of vital significance. Nightingale founded her nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860, laying the groundwork for modern professional nursing. Currently a part of King’s College London, it was the first secular nursing school in the world. The Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international honour a nurse can get, was established in her honour in celebration of her pioneering work in nursing. Every year on her birthday, International Nurses Day is observed all around the globe. She advocated for greater famine assistance in India, worked to eliminate laws that were too severe on women who engaged in prostitution, and expanded the permissible forms of female involvement in the labour, among other social changes.

Nightingale was a gifted and talented author. Many of the published works she produced throughout her lifetime focused on the dissemination of medical information. Some of her messages were written in straightforward English so that even individuals with limited literacy abilities could understand them. She was also a pioneer in the effective use of graphical representations of statistical data in infographics. Only after her passing has a significant portion of her literature, particularly her substantial work on religion and mysticism, been made public.


This day has been observed by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) since 1965.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked to declare a “Nurses’ Day” in 1953 by Dorothy Sutherland, a representative of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, but he declined.

Due to the fact that it marks the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, the creator of modern nursing, it was decided to observe the day on May 12 in January 1974. The International Nurses’ Day Kit is created and distributed annually by ICN.] Materials for education and public awareness are included in the package for use by nurses worldwide.

Since 1998, May 8 has been recognised as National Student Nurses Day.

ICN International Nurses Day themes include:

  • “Safe Motherhood” from 1988
  • 1989 – Health in Schools
  • Nurses and the Environment, 1990
  • Mental Health in 1991: Nurses in Action
  • The 1992 publication Healthy Aging
  • Quality, Costs, and Nursing in 1993
  • Healthy Families for a Healthy Nation, 1994
  • 1995: Nurses Lead the Way in Women’s Health
  • Better Health via Nursing Research, 1996
  • 1997: Young, Healthy People = A Better Future
  • Partnership for Community Health in 1998
  • 1999: Honoring Nursing’s Past and Securing the Future
  • 2000: Nurses are always there for you
  • United Against Violence, Nurses, Always There for You, 2001
  • Nursing Always There for You: Caring for Families, 2002
  • Nurses: Fighting AIDS stigma, working for everyone, 2003
  • Nurses: Working with the Poor; Against Poverty, 2004
  • 2005 – Nurses for Patients’ Safety: Targeting fake drugs and poor quality medications
  • Safe staffing saves lives in 2006
  • Positive practise settings in 2007: Better workplaces result in quality patient care
  • Delivering Quality, Serving Communities: Nurses Leading Primary Healthcare and Social Care, 2008
  • Nurses Leading Care Innovations in 2009: Delivering Quality, Serving Communities
  • 2010 – Nursing Leaders in Chronic Care: Delivering Quality, Serving Communities
  • Closing The Gap: Improving Access and Equity in 2011
  • Closing The Gap: From Evidence to Action, 2012
  • Closing The Gap: Millennium Development Goals, 2013
  • 2014’s Nurses: A Force for Change: An Essential Health Resource
  • 2015: Nurses as a Force for Change: Cost- and Care-Effective
  • 2016 – Nurses: A Force for Change: Increasing the Resilience of Health Systems
  • 2017: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals with Nurses as a Voice
  • Health is a Human Right in 2018 – Nurses: A Voice to Lead

Celebrations Internationally


At a ceremony in one of the state capital cities, the Australian Nurse of the Year is named. Additionally, additional nursing ceremonies are held throughout the week in all of the Australian states and territory.


5000 nurses gathered at Yichun, Jiangxi Province, East China in 2007. The Florence Nightingale Pledge is recited annually by nurses in Chinese hospitals.


Every year from May 6–12, Nurse Jobs Ireland, an Irish nurse recruiting service, launches a weeklong pro-bono campaign to honour nurses. With the hashtag #CelebrateNurses, this week-long festival highlights the fantastic job nurses perform on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. The public posts their gratitude and compliments on the Celebrate Nurses website, where they are compiled into an ebook that is distributed in hospitals around Ireland.

British Empire

Westminster Abbey in London has a liturgy every year. A symbolic light is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel at the Abbey and passed from one nurse to the next before being placed on the High Altar by the Dean during the Service. This represents the dissemination of nursing expertise from one nurse to another. On the Sunday after Florence Nightingale’s birthday, a ceremony is also conducted at St. Margaret’s Church in East Wellow, Hampshire, where she is laid to rest.

American and Canadian Holidays (National Nursing Week)

National Nursing Week is observed in the United States every year from May 6 to May 12. (the birthday of Florence Nightingale). Every year, the week that includes May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, marks National Nursing Week in Canada. In 1985, the Canadian Minister of Health established National Nursing Week.

The inaugural National Nurses Week was commemorated in the United States from October 11–16, 1954, to commemorate Florence Nightingale’s trip to the Crimea, which became 100 years old that year. Later, in 1974, President Nixon declared a “National Nurse Week.” The day of May 6th, currently known as National Nurses Day or National RN Recognition Day, was formally declared “National Recognition Day for Nurses” by President Reagan in 1982. The American Nurses Association (ANA) changed the day into what is now known as National Nurses Week, which is observed from May 6 to May 12.

National Student Nurses Day was established by the ANA in 1997 at the National Student Nurses Association’s request. National School Nurse Day was established by the ANA in 2003 to fall on a Wednesday during National Nurses Week. However, according to the National Association of School Nurses, National School Nurse Day has been observed since 1972.


On August 1st, Singapore commemorates Nurses Day. In the 1800s, a prosperous Singapore realised that it needed to improve healthcare and medical services for a burgeoning population. Although there were several hospitals, there weren’t enough nurses to help the physicians. As the only educated European women in Singapore who could take on this task, French nuns from the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus were trained as nurses to fill this demand. The establishment of nursing in Singapore began on August 1st, 1885, when these nuns started working as nurses at the General Hospital at the Sepoy Lines in the Outram neighbourhood.

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