How Nurses Make An Impact: National Nurses Week

Medically reviewed by Audrey Kelly, LMFT
Updated May 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

National Nurses week begins on May 6th and ends on May 12th each year (Florence Nightingale's birthday). The week pays homage to the nurses who work on the frontlines of our healthcare system, in clinics, and in healthcare centers around the country to prevent illness, save lives, and keep individuals away from mental and physical harm. 

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History of National Nurses Week 

While nursing is a long career, dating back beyond the middle ages, the origin of National Nurses week is a brief history.  National Nurses Week and National Nurses Month were first considered in 1953 when Dorothy Sutherland of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare proposed the week to the US president, Eisenhower. She proposed a nurse day, a recognition day for nurses to celebrate nurses and their jobs in the health care system, in October. However, the proposal for a national recognition day was not granted. It wasn’t until 1954 that Nurse Week was observed and was initially celebrated in October. It was celebrated for the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s mission. 

In 1974, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) named May 12th International Nurses Day, as it was Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Following this establishment of International Nurse Day on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, President Nixon then issued a proclamation to name a week in February National Nurse Week. In 1982, National Nurses Day was founded on May 6th in a joint resolution. Going forward, President Ronald Reagan agreed to recognize the date through the US Congress nationally to show thanks to the role nurses play in the health care setting. 

Finally, in 1993, the board of directors of the American Nurses Association (ANA) labeled May 6th to May 12th the official National Nurses Week. Future days were added to the week, such as National School Nurse Day (a day to honor school nurses), National RN Recognition Day on May 6th, and National Student Nurses Day on May 8th. By establishing permanent dates to be celebrated annually, the American Nurses Association ensured nurses would be honored for many subsequent years to come.  The permanent dates enhance planning and position National Nurses Week as an honored and established recognition event. 

How to celebrate the week 

You may choose to celebrate National Nurses Week by honoring a nurse in your life, sending care packages to nurses at your local hospital, educating yourself on how nurses impact your community, donating blood, or learning about the history of the nursing profession and prolific nurses in history. 

What does a nurse do? 

Nurses work in many fields and have various duties depending on their titles and education. There are several types of nurses, including the following: 

  • Advances Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs): APRNs have a master’s degree in addition to RN certification and education. 
  • Registered Nurses (RNs): Registered nurses often attend school for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, along with nursing school.
  • Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs): Licensed nurses may work alongside or under the supervision of an RN or APRN by offering routine care. 
  • Mental Health Nurse (MHN): Mental health nurses may be RNs, APRNs, LPNs, or another type of medical provider that has taken courses or has a degree related to psychology, sociology, or humanitarian work. They may work with mental health clients. 

Nurses often perform diagnosis, planning, assessment, evaluation, and routine treatment tasks. They may provide sutures, administer medications, run an IV line, teach patient care, and perform triage (evaluation) on a critical patient in the emergency room.  


How nurses make an impact 

Nurses and nursing organizations can have a profound mental and physical health impact on communities worldwide. Their impact may include the following areas of health. 

Physical healthcare

Nurses are often the first to visit a patient after they arrive at a hospital, clinic, or another medical setting. They may assess the client’s symptoms, take notes, and narrow down a potential diagnosis. If there are wounds, immediate risks, or causes for concern, a nurse might provide medication, wound care, sutures, or safety protocol procedures. 

Nurses may also work in different settings, including emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, family clinics, pediatric clinics, dentist offices, disaster relief teams, facilities that donate blood, and volunteer missions. They may provide crisis care, early prevention techniques, or essential health support. They often work under a supervising nurse or medical doctor. 

As doctors can often be busy with the number of patients they treat and support, nurses may help doctors keep an open schedule by providing common treatments such as sutures, wound dressings, vitals monitoring, and saline IV solutions. These efforts can help the doctor make a quicker diagnosis, as they may be free to discuss the patient’s symptoms if a nurse has dealt with their initial concerns. 


Nurses often evaluate the risk of a situation and act quickly to support all involved. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, nurses were trained on the common symptoms and risk factors for the condition. They supported patients in wearing masks, cleaning their hands, staying outside of main treatment areas, and quarantining in unique exam rooms. 

Mental healthcare

Nurses might offer mental health support to patients who first come to a doctor to receive treatment. They may take a client’s symptoms, provide mental health screening, and discuss community resources. Some nurses work as psychiatric mental health nurses who provide education and mental health care to children, teens, and adults. 

Psychiatric nurses who work in a therapeutic setting such as a psychiatric hospital or therapy center may also lead therapeutic groups, monitor client vital signs, teach coping skills, provide case management, and stabilize patients in a mental health crisis. They may also hold a degree in mental health counseling or social work. 

Frontline support 

Frontline health workers provide direct services to communities and may be at risk due to the circumstances of their jobs. Nurses may be exposed to infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, Ebola, Zika, and more. In these cases, they must take extreme precautions to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and keep others safe from contaminants. 

Additionally, nurses may be required to work more hours during global epidemics or pandemics as sickness may impact colleagues or themselves. Many nurses also work in developing countries as international nurses to aid those with less availability of healthcare options. Frontline workers can provide much-needed services that may save lives. 

Prolific nurses in history 

Many nurses throughout history have impacted the world and US society, including the following. 

Florence Nightingale 

National Nurses Week and National Nurses Day were founded because of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse who provided critical support during the Crimean War. She also worked in a hospital in the 1850s, providing support for a cholera outbreak. She believed unsanitary nursing practices caused a higher death rate in her career. When she worked in Crimea to provide aid, she was the only female nurse to treat injured soldiers. Hospitals were understaffed, and there were many sanitary concerns. 

Florence and 34 other nurses traveled to Crimea and attempted to treat soldiers with the limited supplies they were provided in poor hospital conditions. Because of her work, fewer soldiers were dying. Florence also improved the hospital’s sanitary conditions and created a kitchen and laundry room for her clients. Due to her work, she was awarded by the British government and founded a hospital to treat more patients. 

Clara Barton 

Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross, became a teacher at 17, and was a part of the women’s suffrage movement. She risked her life during the Civil War to provide food and nursing supplies to the front lines. 

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the first Black woman to become a registered nurse in the US. She faced extreme discrimination in her career, working from the early 1860s until the 1910s. She worked as a nurse for 40 years and inspired many Black nurses in modern nursing. 

Dorothea Dix

Dorothea Dix was a nurse who advocated for mental health in the early 1800s. She taught those with mental health conditions in the local jail about mental health and healthcare. She also advocated improving the conditions of mental hospitals at the time, which were often in poor condition and had high rates of tuberculosis. Her efforts were part of the change to increase humane conditions in mental healthcare. 

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Mental health support for nurses

Nursing has many impacts on the world, and it can also have impacts on the nurses who provide it. If you are a nurse or support worker who has struggled with mental health, the impact of your job, or stress, you may benefit from talking to a therapist. Counselors can help other support workers discuss their symptoms and gain therapeutic coping mechanisms to use at work and home to create a healthy work-life balance. 

If you find that your schedule makes it difficult to commute to in-person appointments, consider online therapy. Online counseling allows you to select an appointment slot at a time that works for you. Many therapists online have after-hours, early morning, or weekend time slots for those who can’t see a provider during business hours. Additionally, studies show that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially effective in treating long-term exposure to stress. 

If you’re interested in meeting with a mental health provider, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp, which offers a unique platform with the ability to write journal entries, view webinars, try worksheets, and talk to your therapist in one safe app or website. 


Nurses can have a significant impact on worldwide and nationwide health. However, their jobs can also have many demands. If you’re a nurse or other frontline worker struggling with mental health symptoms or stress, consider reaching out to a therapist to discuss your experiences. You’re not alone, and support is available.
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