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 then-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.
As Florence Nightingale is no longer seen as a role model in some parts of the world, demands have arisen, for example by the British public sector union UNISON, to transfer this day on another date. 21 May, the birthday of Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845), has been suggested. Elizabeth Fry founded the Institution of Nursing Sisters and is also known for her work with prisoners.
As of 1998, 8 May was designated as National Student Nurses Day, to be celebrated annually. And as of 2003, National School Nurse Day is celebrated on the Wednesday within National Nurses Week (6-12 May) each year.