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The History and Meaning of National Nurses Week

National Nurses Week is a seven-day recognition and celebration of nurses that occurs every year, starting on May 6 and ending on May 12 – Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

The history of the week of honor for nurses does not date back to Nightingale’s era. In fact, Nightingale had been gone for the better part of a century before the dates were formalized.

While a movement to give nurses a day or week in their honor began in the early 1950s, it wasn’t until 1993 that the American Nurses Association (ANA) officially designated May 6-12 as the permanent dates for the week. Before that, the effort to establish a formal period of recognition for nurses underwent several permutations – including a 1974 proclamation by President Richard M. Mixon designating a week in February as National Nurse Week.

In 1954, a National Nurse Week observed the 100-year anniversary of Nightingale’s ground-breaking mission to provide medical care to participants in the Crimean War. Nightingale’s work in Crimea led to reforms in sanitary practices in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Following that first Nurse Week in 1954, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Congress by Rep. Frances P. Bolton that would have established a permanent National Nurse Week in 1955. The bill failed, and an attempted revival in 1972 also went nowhere.

In 1997, May 8 each year became designated National Student Nurses Day. In 2003, the Wednesday of every National Nurses Week was designated National School Nurse Day.

Why National Nurses Week?

Why the attempts over the years to give nurses a week in their honor? Because nurses, as a group, form one of the most important constituencies of healthcare professionals in the world.

Nurses, in many ways, constitute the collective face of healthcare.

This is true in a clinical setting, where assessment and patient mindset are directly influenced by the nurse-patient relationship.

It’s true in the academic setting, where nurse educators help shape the future of the profession by passing along established best practices and bringing new techniques learned on the job into the class setting.

It’s true, also, in the area of medical research, where nurses conduct studies and supervise surveys that break scientific ground to help improve patient outcomes and enhance end-of-life and palliative care.

The ANA leads the annual celebration by setting a theme for every National Nurses Week. The theme in 2018 was Nurses: Inspire, Innovate, Influence.

The State of Nursing in 2018

Nurses are in demand in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be an estimated 3.4 million nurses in the U.S. by 2026. That’s an addition to the nursing job force of more than 438,000 positions.

The registered nurse profession is expected to grow at a rate of 15% through 2026, according to BLS projections, which is more than twice the growth rate of all occupations (7%).

Nurses also are among the best-paid professionals in the U.S., with a median annual salary of $70,000 as of May 2017.

Job security and salary tell only part of the story, however. Nurses are subjected to a great deal of stress, especially those exposed to life-or-death situations on a regular basis.

In addition, even though job openings are plentiful, a trend toward specialization has begun to limit the ability of nurses without specialized training to compete for those positions.

Nurses face several other modern challenges, including:

  • The industry shift from paper to digital records
  • The advent of new tools such as virtual reality, improved medical monitoring devices, changing drug formulations and other technological advances
  • The legally vital daily responsibilities involved with charting
  • Increasing difficulties with work-life balance
  • Health and safety hazards on the job
  • Uncertainty regarding the structure of the healthcare system
  • Navigating the potential perils of social media

One of the greatest challenges facing nurses in the early part of the 21st century is an increased emphasis on higher education. Many hospitals and clinics require registered nurses to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, at minimum. Some positions, especially those in nursing management, require a Master of Science in Nursing.

To meet the demand for higher education while balancing an ongoing nursing career, some student nurses rely on a flexible, online education format. Jacksonville University’s Keigwin School of Nursing is a CCNE-accredited institution with a 100% online classroom that helps working nurses go to school and focus on their careers at the same time.

During National Nurses Week, the Keigwin School of Nursing honors all nurses and embraces innovation as we help shape the future of the nursing profession.

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