By Kirk Winter

In 1971, the International Council of Nurses designated May 12, the birthday of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale, as International Nurses Day. In 1985, the Canadian Nursing Association passed a resolution to begin negotiating with the federal government to have the week containing May 12 proclaimed annually as National Nurses Week. Soon after, the federal Minister of Health proclaimed the second week of May as National Nurses Week. In 1993 the name was changed to National Nursing Week to emphasize the profession’s accomplishments as a discipline.

For full disclosure, I have a soft spot in my heart for nurses as both my Mom and Mum-in-law were very proud and competent nurses. My Mum-in-law just missed her opportunity to go overseas as an army nurse and instead looked to put her nursing training to good use as a flight attendant for Trans-Canada Air, the precursor of Air Canada. Many today would be surprised to discover that at the dawn of post-war commercial air travel, the minimum qualification for flight attendants was a nursing certification. My Mum-in-law flew both domestically and internationally until marriage forced her to utilize her nursing qualifications in a more traditional manner, spending many years as a hospital nurse and as a head nurse at the Homewood Sanitarium in Guelph. My Mum-in-Law was one of the first truly liberated women of her generation. She had her own opinions about almost everything and wasn’t afraid to share them. She loved her work and the stimulation and responsibility it provided, and it only made her stronger.

For my Mom, “going into training” at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Regina was a step up on the social ladder for the daughter of a single Mom. There was nothing about nursing my Mom didn’t like, and when she was “capped” I believe it was one of the proudest days of her life. By the time I came along, my Mom had traded in nursing for full-time stay at home parenthood, but Mom never forgot her training. You could “bounce a quarter and catch it” on any bed in our house and I believe we had the best organized and cleanest house you could find anywhere. I thought everybody’s Mom wore polished white nursing “Clinics” to do their housework. My Mom still treasures her nursing classmates and as they all approach 90 their bonds are as strong as they were when they were in training together so many years ago.

Coast to coast, there are more than 425,000 licensed nurses. Forty-eight percent of all health care professionals in Canada are nurses, and health care in Canada would grind to a halt without their innumerable contributions to our daily well being. The theme of this year’s National Nursing Week is Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Health for All. This week will reflect that “every nurse has a story and every story has the potential to improve the health system and enable individuals and communities to achieve their highest attainable standards for health. From these insights comes the power for change.” Health for All means “not just the availability of health services, but a complete state of physical and mental health that enables a person to lead a socially and economically productive life.”

This week recognizes the vital role that nurses play on the frontline of Canadian health care every day.

Most Canadian families have at least one extended member who is a current or former nurse. During National Nursing Week 2019, don’t be afraid to send them a card, text them or call them and let them know how appreciated they are. You won’t be sorry you did.