Approaching each day with dedication, commitment, and compassion are some of the hardest working and trusted among us. Never before have we collectively been reminded of their selflessness and devotion. If there’s ever been a time to recognize and celebrate nurses, this is the year.  As it happens, 2020 is the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale and was already declared the global “Year of the Nurse and Midwife.” This May, a month that typically includes a week for recognizing nurses, the celebration goes on all month.

They’re with us from birth to death; the first person to care for you when you enter a hospital and the last to see you before you leave. Nurses not only administer most of your medical treatment during a stay, they nurture you, encourage you, provide a warm smile, a hand to hold, and often a shoulder to cry on. If doctors treat the patient, nurses treat the person.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve seen their images across television screens and newspapers. The faces, or really just the eyes, of tired, tested, but devoted people who are fighting a nontraditional war against a new and mysterious enemy. Some have come out of retirement to help and others have traveled to hot spots to bring relief to their peers. In a profession that could be described as more of a calling than a career, these front-line workers are sacrificing themselves to help and heal us all.

But not all nurses work in hospitals. They serve in a variety of healthcare settings, playing significant roles in private practices, schools, nursing homes, as well as at-home care. They run immunology clinics, blood drives, public health seminars, and general health screenings. Nurses not only take care of the sick or injured, they are also responsible for promoting the overall good health of individuals, families and communities. Many are academics, involved in healthcare research, management, policy deliberations, and patient advocacy. Their hours are often erratic and typically long.

Nursing dates back to the earliest times, but Florence Nightingale professionalized it with her pioneering work beginning in 1851. Florence was a well-educated girl from a wealthy British family who made what was considered a radical decision in choosing to care for the sick and the poor in hospitals or their homes. Other young women in her class traditionally only cared for family or intimate friends, but Nightingale believed that a woman with her scientific knowledge and education could help dramatically improve the health of patients. At the same time she blazed a path to personal freedom and an independent career option for all women.

Making up the largest health care occupation in the United States, there are more than 2.9 million nurses here and millions more worldwide. Today the demand for nurses remains high, and with advancements in healthcare technologies and healthcare systems, and the potential for further health crises, we can expect the need for nurses to increase.

Chances are pretty good a nurse has touched your life in some way. Take this month to thank one.