National Nursing Week is an annual event celebrated globally to honour nurses’ hard work, dedication and achievements. This year, Nurses Week runs from May 6- May 12, and provides an opportunity for the public to express gratitude to nurses for their contributions to enhancing health outcomes and making a positive impact on people’s lives.

Nurses are the superheroes of our healthcare system. They provide compassionate care to patients during their most vulnerable moments. Nurses Week is a time to take a break and appreciate their exceptional work. The theme for National Nursing Week 2024 in Canada is “Changing Lives. Shaping Tomorrow.” It’s all about showcasing how much of an impact nurses have on individuals, communities, and the future of healthcare. Let’s give them a big shout-out for all they do!

The History of Nursing in Canada

The story of nursing in Canada is a testament to the grit and passion of nurses. It started in 1639 with the nursing mission of the Augustine nuns to Quebec. This mission led to the first-ever nursing apprenticeship program in North America. In 1874, St. Catharines General Hospital and Marine Hospital in Ontario set up nursing schools to train their own student nurses. These programs inspired other hospitals across the nation to do the same.

Canadian nurses played a pivotal role in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in 1901, with over 3,000 nurses enlisting and serving in WWI. Nurses also served in WWII, with the average age being only 25 years old.

Fast forward to the 20th century, and in 1971, the International Council of Nurses designated May 12th International Nurses’ Day in honour of Florence Nightingale

Nightengale, nicknamed  ‘the lady with the lamp,’ was the founder of modern nursing. She became famous for significantly reducing death rates during the Crimean War by improving hygiene. In 1985, the Canadian Nurses Association petitioned the federal government to proclaim May 12th as National Nurses Week annually.

Canadian nursing history spans over 350 years. However, the diverse mix of Indigenous healers and midwives is omitted from the narrative. Long before European settlement, these individuals played a crucial role in their communities, utilizing their knowledge of medicinal plants to address health issues.

Embrace Indigenous Nurses Day

Indigenous Nurses Day is celebrated in BC on April 10th, but is also a significant part of Nurses Week as it is celebrated nationally on May 6th. This day holds immense importance as it recognizes and celebrates the achievements of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit, and Métis nurses and honours their vital contributions to improving the health of Indigenous Canadians.

Edith Anderson Monture, born in 1890 in Six Nations of the Grand River, overcame numerous barriers to become Canada’s first Indigenous registered nurse. Despite facing obstacles due to her heritage, Monture’s determination led her to earn her nursing degree in New York in 1914. She served as a public health nurse, volunteered in World War I, and continued her work as a nurse and midwife at Six Nations until the 1960s, leaving an indelible mark on Indigenous healthcare in Canada.

Today, indigenous nurses, driven by a deep commitment, face unique challenges as they collaborate with communities, health professionals, and government institutions on Indigenous Health issues and practices within the Canadian healthcare system. These challenges, specific to Indigenous communities, are met with a determination to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples across Canada.

Nursing: A Catalyst for Positive Change in Patients’ Lives and the Community

Nurses impact their patients and community by communicating effectively. Clear communication helps patients feel understood and respected and leads to improved health outcomes. In diverse communities like Surrey, where only 43% of the population have English as their mother tongue, nurses use a variety of communication strategies to ensure patients can take control of their health.

Did you know that our eyes, body language and other cues can speak louder than words when it comes to showing empathy and compassion? It’s true, and nurses use these nonverbal cues daily to connect with non-English speaking patients to demonstrate care and understanding. Nurses also encourage family members to accompany non-English speaking patients to hospital appointments, offer medical interpreter services and use visual aids.

Emotional support is also a crucial aspect of a patient’s healthcare experience. Nurses not only treat the physical discomfort of their patients but also help them manage emotional stress. A new health diagnosis or hospital environment can trigger a physiological response known as ‘white coat syndrome‘, a term used to describe the increase in an individual’s blood pressure and heart rate when they are in a medical setting. Nurses create a calming environment where patients can voice their concerns without judgment and bias, helping to alleviate this stress and improve the overall healthcare experience.

Nursing advocacy is a potent tool that can transform both the lives of individuals and communities. Nurses are often the voice of their patients. They advocate tirelessly to ensure their patients receive the best care and support possible. From navigating the healthcare system to assisting with health insurance documents, deciphering medical instructions, and connecting them to resources in the community, nurses play a pivotal role in empowering patients to take control of their health.

Join us in showing appreciation to our nurses

As we celebrate National Nursing Week 2024, let’s also celebrate the incredible contributions of nurses to our communities and healthcare system. The profession of nursing is changing lives and shaping the future of healthcare. 

Show your appreciation by supporting nurses in every way you can—through words of gratitude, advocating for better working conditions, or promoting policies that prioritize their well-being. Let’s make Nurses Week 2024 a time of heartfelt appreciation and meaningful action, recognizing nurses’ invaluable role in improving lives and shaping a brighter future for all.


About the Author

This article is a guest post by Denise Moulton, a registered nurse that works at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey. Denise is passionate about writing. Her background in journalism allows her to create compelling and informative content that resonates with anyone interested in healthcare. In her free time, Denise can be found exploring British Columbia’s hiking trails.