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International Nurses Day

International Nurses Day on May 12 honors nurses around the world. Sponsored by the International Council of Nurses, it celebrates the tireless efforts of nurses in maintaining public health.

Nurses are integral to the healthcare system.

International Nurses Day 2020

Each International Nurses Day has a theme—in 2020, it is “Nursing the World to Health.”

However, this year's International Nurses Day is a bit special for several reasons. First and foremost, the current COVID-19 pandemic has put an extra bright spotlight on the indispensable and hard work nurses do, along with other essential workers.

Also, May 12, 2020 marks the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, thought to be the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale was a British nurse during the Crimean War in the 1850s. She is popularly known as The Lady with the Lamp because she was often seen tending to wounded soldiers at night with a lamp in her hands.

Taking Care of the Sick and Vulnerable

Nurses are a vital part of any healthcare system, public or private. They are responsible for the well-being of their patients from the time they step into the medical establishment to the moment they step out. They support and partner with doctors and medical providers to administer medical care. They monitor patients’ health and vital signs, advocate for them, and spend time making them feel safe in a medical environment. Because of this, nurses have become one of the most trusted professionals around the world.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. Until Nightingale transformed it, nursing was not an organized profession, often undertaken by members of religious orders, and viewed as a menial occupation. Nightingale helped elevate its position by creating the first official nurses’ training program in 1860 and integrating modern ideas of medicine and care into the day-to-day workings of nurses.

Today, nursing as an occupation accounts for 59% of the healthcare sector around the world. This is according to a study done by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Another 2018 study estimates that patients who require intensive care tend to spend about 86% to 88% of their time with a nurse, indicating the importance of nursing staff in the healthcare system.

A Diverse Field

Nursing is not a monolithic occupation. It is a diverse field with multiple specializations spanning the lifetime of a human being—from taking care of the unborn to giving end-of-life care.

Each country has different rules about the educational and experience requirements of the various nursing specializations. But whatever their specialty, the primary goal of nurses is to deliver the most optimal medical and health care to those under their charge with the utmost compassion.

Demanding Career

Nursing is one of the most physically and emotionally demanding careers out there. Nurses work in high-stress environments dealing with life-and-death cases every day. They also tend to work extended hours, usually spending most of their time on their feet. A study published by MEDSURG Nursing in 2006 found that a nurse can walk about 8 km (5 miles) during an average shift! Many nurses also have to perform physically challenging tasks as part of their job profiles, such as transporting patients from one bed to another and lifting them up to administer tests and medicines.

Because nurses are the first line of care for many patients, they can often be subjected to violence from patients or their families. Nurses also routinely put their lives on the line, taking care of people who may be sick due to infectious diseases or in war and conflict zones. All of this can lead to stress and fatigue.

Honoring Nightingale

In 1965, the International Council of Nurses, a federation of over 130 national nurses associations representing over 20 million nurses around the world, celebrated nurses for the first time on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. The day was officially named International Nurses Day or IND in 1974.

The purpose of IND is multifold: it recognizes and celebrates the hard work of nurses in maintaining a healthy and fit society; it helps bring attention to the many workplace issues and concerns of nursing staff; and, it raises awareness about nursing as a viable and socially vital career.

Each year, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) prepares and distributes something called the International Nurses Day Kit. This kit contains educational and public information materials to be used by nurses everywhere.

The United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) use IND to focus attention on the critical task of recruiting and training nurses worldwide. Estimates show that worldwide, we will be short 18 million health workers by 2030 unless serious action is taken to recruit and train more. As part of the bicentennial celebrations of Nightingale’s birth, the WHO has designated 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and has published their first State of the World’s Nursing report.

Celebrated Around the World

In the United States, the observance was first designated by the White House in 1974. It now falls on the last day of National Nurses Week, which starts each year on May 6, National Nurses Day. May 8 is National Student Nurses Day and the Wednesday of National Nurses Week is celebrated as National School Nurse Day.

In the United Kingdom, an annual ceremony dedicated to the memory of Nightingale and in honor of all hardworking nurses around the world takes place in Westminster Abbey in London. During the annual service, nurses pass a symbolic lamp between themselves and onto the High Altar. This signifies the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another.

International Nurses Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2015TueMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2016ThuMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2017FriMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2018SatMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2019SunMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2020TueMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2021WedMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2022ThuMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2023FriMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2024SunMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance
2025MonMay 12International Nurses DayWorldwide observance

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