The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has celebrated this day since 1965. In 1953 Dorothy Sutherland, an official with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, had proposed that President Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaim a “Nurses Day,” but he did not approve it.
In January 1974, the decision was made to celebrate the day on 12 May as it is the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who is widely considered the founder of modern nursing. Each year, ICN prepares and distributes the International Nurses’ Day Kit. The kit contains educational and public information materials, for use by nurses everywhere.
In 1999 the British public sector union UNISON voted to ask the ICN to transfer this day to another date, saying Nightingale did not represent modern nursing. As of 1998, 8 May was designated as annual National Student Nurses Day. As of 2003, the Wednesday within National Nurses Week, between 6 and 12 May, is National School Nurse Day.
Each year a service is held in Westminster Abbey in London. During the Service, a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses’ Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another, thence to the Dean, who places it on the High Altar. This signifies the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another. At St Margaret’s Church at East Wellow in Hampshire, where Florence Nightingale is buried, a service is also held on the Sunday after her birthday.
The U.S. and Canada celebrate their National Nursing Week each year from 9 to 15 May each year. It was established in the U.S. by President Richard Nixon in 1974. The Canadian Minister of Health instituted National Nursing Week in Canada in 1985.
The International Council of Nurses (ICN) themes
1988 – Safe Motherhood
1989 – School Health
1990 – Nurses and Environment
1991 – Mental Health – Nurses in Action
1992 – Healthy Aging
1993 – Quality, costs and Nursing
1994 – Healthy Families for Healthy Nation
1995 – Women’s Health: Nurses Pave the Way
1996 – Better Health through Nursing Research
1997 – Healthy Young People = A Brighter Future
1998 – Partnership for Community Health
1999 – Celebrating Nursing’s Past, claiming the future
2000 – Nurses – Always there for you
2001 – Nurses, Always There for You: United Against Violence
2002 – Nurses Always There for You: Caring for Families
2003 – Nurses: Fighting AIDS stigma, working for all
2004 – Nurses: Working with the Poor; Against Poverty
2005 – Nurses for Patients Safety: Targeting counterfeit medicines and substandard medication
2006 – Safe staffing saves lives
2007 – Positive practice environments: Quality workplaces = quality patient care
2008 – Delivering Quality, Serving Communities: Nurses Leading Primary Health Care
2009 – Delivering Quality, Serving Communities: Nurses Leading Care Innovations
2010 – Delivering Quality, Serving Communities: Nurses Leading Chronic Care.
2011 – Closing The Gap: Increasing Access and Equity.
2012 – Closing The Gap: From Evidence to Action.