International Nurses Day: History, Theme, Significance and Celebration
International Nurses Day. Photo: englishcathedrals

Organised annually by the International Council of Nurses, International Nurses Day celebrates the contribution that nurses make to societies around the world. The date has a very strong significance, being the birthday of perhaps the world’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale.

Alongside the encouragement of a fully deserved congratulations owed to nurses, the organisation also produces an International Nurses Day Kit to educate and assist health workers around the world, with a different theme each year. Past publications have focused on working with the poor, fighting AIDS, equal access to care, and sustainable development.

What is International Nurses Day?

International Nurses Day is a global celebration that acknowledges and celebrates the commitment and bravery of nurses around the world.

This fantastic event is coordinated by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) to ensure that the invaluable contributions of nurses to the health of people globally are recognised.

The ICN has set the theme for International Nurses Day 2021 as 'nursing the world back to health', with a focus on the 'true value of nurses to the people of the world.' Annette Kennedy, the ICN President, has said that, 'This global COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world the important role that nurses play in keeping people healthy across the lifespan' and so the day will be focused on the future of healthcare, according to Twinkl.

International Nurses Day: History

International Nurses Day: History, Theme, Significance and Celebration
Photo: paho

In 1953, Dorothy Sutherland, an official with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, contacted President Dwight D. Eisenhower and proposed to celebrate "Nurses Day". At that time he did not approve her proposal. Since 1965, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has celebrated this day. In January 1974, 12 May was finally officially declared as ‘International Nurses Day’ because on this date Florence Nightingale was born, who is the founder of modern nursing. Every year on this day ICN prepare and distribute International Nurses Day Kit which consists of educational and public information materials which can be used by nurses among the public. Let us tell you that National Student Nurse's Day is celebrated on 8 May since 1998 and National Nurses week from 6 May to 12 May, Jagranjosh cited.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.”– Mother Teresa

Who is Florence Nightingale?

Florence Nightingale, (12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910) was an English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing.

Nightingale came to prominence while serving as a manager of nurses trained by her during the Crimean War, where she organised the tending to wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a highly favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of "The Lady with the Lamp" making rounds of wounded soldiers at night.

While recent commentators have asserted Nightingale's achievements in the Crimean War were exaggerated by the media at the time, critics agree on the decisive importance of her follow-up achievements in professionalising nursing roles for women. In 1860, Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas' Hospital in London. It was the first secular nursing school in the world, now part of King's College London. In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses, and the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve, were named in her honour, and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday. Her social reforms include improving healthcare for all sections of British society, advocating better hunger relief in India, helping to abolish prostitution laws that were over-harsh to women, and expanding the acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce.

Nightingale was a prodigious and versatile writer. In her lifetime, much of her published work was concerned with spreading medical knowledge. Some of her tracts were written in simple English so that they could easily be understood by those with poor literary skills. She was also a pioneer in the use of infographics, effectively using graphical presentations of statistical data. Much of her writing, including her extensive work on religion and mysticism, has only been published posthumously, Nurseszone reported.

International Nurses Day 2021: Theme

International Nurses Day: History, Theme, Significance and Celebration
Photo: Youtube

The theme for the 2021 resource is Nurses: A Voice to Lead - A vision for future healthcare. In 2021, we seek to show how nursing will look into the future as well how the profession will transform the next stage of healthcare.

As part of our 100-day countdown to International Nurses Day (IND) on 12 May, we will be releasing a variety of key resources which will support our IND report on “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – A Vision for Future Healthcare” ICN reported.

Past INDs:

  • 2020 - Nurses: A voice to lead - Nursing the World to Health
  • 2019 - Nurses: A voice to lead - Health for All
  • 2018 - Nurses: A voice to lead - Health is a Human Right
  • 2017 - Nurses: A voice to lead - Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
  • 2016 – Nurses: A Force for Change: Improving Health Systems' Resilience
  • 2015 – Nurses: A Force for Change: Care Effective, Cost Effective
  • 2014 – Nurses: A Force for Change – A vital resource for health
  • 2013 – Closing The Gap: Millennium Development Goals
  • 2012 – Closing The Gap: From Evidence to Action
  • 2011 – Closing The Gap: Increasing Access and Equity

How to celebrate International Nurses Day

Because this day is all about celebrating nurses’ endless contributions to society, take this opportunity to show a nurse who has taken care of you how much you appreciate him or her. As with most gestures of appreciation, whatever you decide to do need not be grand or cost much money. Sad as it is, many people neglect to thank their nurses at all, seeing them only as robots who only know how to follow the doctor’s orders, so every little way to say a simple “thank you” will definitely make that nurse’s day.

If you are feeling especially grateful for the way a certain nurse took care of you (fed you, brought you a blanket, cleaned vomit off of you, monitored your vital signs, made sure you were getting the right pills, changed your wound dressings, helped you get to the bathroom, let you cry on his or her shoulder, or any of the hundreds of other things nurses do), today is the day to show that gratitude. So take a trip down to the hospital with a box of chocolates, a nice bottle of wine, or anything else you think that particular nurse might like.

Some people, after having spent months in the hospital with a serious condition, decide to order pizza or cake for the entire medical team that was looking after them, a gesture that that team is guaranteed to remember you for forever, if you should decide on it. However, as mentioned before, it’s the thought that counts the most. A nurse’s main goal is to help you get through treatment and get better, so just knowing he or she succeeded is a reward in itself.

As the day has been chosen because it is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, you may want to spend some time researching more about Florence Nightingale and everything that she achieved. There are a lot of online resources, as well as plenty of books that have been published as well. Florence Nightingale is created with being the founder of modern nursing. She served as a trainer and manager of nurses throughout the Crimean War, organizing care for soldiers who had been wounded in battle. This resulted in her being an icon of Victorian culture, giving nurses a favorable reputation.

Florence also laid the foundations for professional nursing when she established a nursing school in 1860. This was in London at St Thomas’ Hospital. Today, it is part of King’s College London. Back then, it was the world’s very first secular nursing school, which is quite some achievement! This merely scratches the surface of her achievements. Her social reforms include expanding female participation in the workforce, helping to eradicate prostitution laws that were hard for women, advocating improved hunger relief in India, and improving healthcare for all sections of society in Britain, Daysoftheyear noted.

Celebrations Internationally


The Australian Nurse of the Year is announced at a ceremony at one of the state's capital cities. Additionally, in each of the Australian states and territories, various nursing ceremonies are conducted during the week.


In 2007, 5000 nurses gathered in Yichun, East China's Jiangxi Province. Each year nurses in Chinese hospitals recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge.


Since 2012, Nurse Jobs Ireland (an Irish nurse recruitment agency) launch a weeklong pro-bono campaign to celebrate nurses on the 6–12 May every year. This week long celebration uses digital platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to promote the great work nurses do using the hashtag #CelebrateNurses. The public leave their positive comments and thanks on the Celebrate Nurses website where they are collated into an ebook which is shared in medical facilities throughout Ireland.

United Kingdom

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.

USA & Canadian Celebrations (National Nursing Week)

The U.S. celebrates National Nursing Week each year from 6 May to 12 May (the birthday of Florence Nightingale). Canada celebrates National Nursing Week each year during the week that includes 12 May, which is Florence Nightingale's birthday. The Canadian Minister of Health instituted National Nursing Week in Canada in 1985.

In the U.S., National Nurses Week was first observed from 11–16 October 1954 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's mission to Crimea. President Nixon later proclaimed a "National Nurse Week" in 1974. In 1982, President Reagan signed a proposal officially designating 6 May as "National Recognition Day for Nurses," now known as National Nurses Day or National RN Recognition Day. In 1990, the American Nurses Association (ANA) expanded the holiday into the current National Nurses Week celebrated from 6 May to 12 May.

In 1997, at the request of the National Student Nurses' Association, the ANA designated 8 May as National Student Nurses Day. In 2003, the ANA designated the Wednesday within National Nurses Week as National School Nurse Day. The National Association of School Nurses, however, claims that National School Nurse Day has been recognized since 1972.


Singapore celebrates Nurses Day on 1 August. Back in the 1800s, a thriving Singapore found itself in need of providing better healthcare and medical services to a growing population. While there were several hospitals, there was a lack of nurses to support the doctors. French nuns from the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus were trained to become nurses to fulfil this need, as they were seen as the only educated European women in Singapore who could undertake this challenge. 1 August 1885 marks the beginning of the development of nursing in Singapore when these nuns began their nursing duties in the General Hospital at the Sepoy Lines in the Outram area.

International Nurses Day: Significance

International Nurses Day: History, Theme, Significance and Celebration
Photo: biomedcentral

In the whole world, we can't ignore the fact that nursing is the largest health care profession in the world and they are the key factors in achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Several training modules are provided to the nurses for maintaining the health and wellness of the patients.

No doubt nurses have deep knowledge of delivering the best health care services. Do you know that National Nurses Associations (NNAs) play an important role in encouraging nurses, providing education, well informed, advised, so that they can deliver their work properly? Also, NNA works with governmental and non-governmental organisations to strengthen health care systems.

What is the International Council of Nurses (ICN)?

It is an organisation that operates nurses and leads nursing internationally. They ensure quality nursing care for all and sound health policies all around the world. Every year ICN chooses a theme to celebrate International Nurses Day. The resources and evidence deal with critical issues of the time and highlight the many ways in which nurses are making an impact.

So, we can say that International Nurses Day is celebrated across the world to raise awareness about nursing as a profession and also the contribution made by the nurses towards the health care regime. Nurses are the people who meet the local needs of the patients, who have proper knowledge about how to handle patient properly, to improve physical, mental well-being of the patients etc.

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