May is the month we celebrate nursing across the world. May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, is International Nurses Day, designated as such since 1974 by the International Council of Nurses. This year’s theme is Nurses: A Voice to Lead, A Vision for Future Health Care in recognition of nursing's role on the front lines of the pandemic.

Nancy Houlihan, RN, MA, AOCN®
Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, ONS president

In the United States, National Nurses Week was designated the same year by presidential order. May 6 was designated in 1982 as National Nurses Recognition Day, and since 1994, we’ve celebrated May 6–12 as Nurse’s Week. Finally, this year American Nurses Association expanded National Nurses Week to Nurses Month as part of the World Health Organization’s extension of the Year of the Nurse into 2021.

ONS has celebrated Oncology Nursing Month in May for more than 25 years since its establishment in 1994. It’s an annual opportunity for individuals, institutions, and organizations to reflect on the daily contributions that nurses make in cancer care and to recognize them in special ways. In addition to the usual celebrations at ONS CongressTM, nurses celebrate local team and individual contributions to patients, work settings, and each other. This year’s Oncology Nursing Month theme is Oncology Nursing: Inspiring Innovation, Inspiring Care, which well describes what oncology nurses have stepped up to do during the pandemic.

Oncology Nursing Month

ONS has many suggestions for celebrating Oncology Nursing Month, such as planning community education programs, sponsoring a child for cancer camp, recruiting nursing students to the oncology specialty, and honoring oncology nurses by nominating them for ONS awards or making a gift in their name to the Oncology Nursing Foundation. For those of you on Twitter or Instagram, tag us on your celebrations with #OncologyNursingMonth and we’ll feature your photos throughout the month. Learn more on

If that’s not enough to celebrate, the United States commemorates another important time in history in 2021: the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971. The act’s broad legislation gave new authority to the National Cancer Institute and cemented our nation’s commitment to science, establishing networks of cancer centers, clinical trials, data collection systems, and advanced research. In a single piece of legislation, the future of cancer was changed forever, and the field of modern oncology was born.

Just four years later, a group of nurses committed to developing the oncology nursing specialty founded ONS. Although it was obscured by the pandemic’s outbreak, ONS celebrated its 45th anniversary in 2020. Many of us can recall those early days of developing the science of supportive care for emerging cancer treatments. In fact, it was very much like what we are doing today with new directions in immunotherapies, precision oncology, and telehealth.

Oncology nursing has kept pace with the developing science of cancer and ensured the success of treatments and quality of life for patients. And ONS has supported nurses throughout that work. See a snapshot of the highlights the ONS Enterprise achieved in 2020 alone.

As we celebrate this month, take time to restore yourself after a long year of personal and professional challenges. Reflect on the resilience and accomplishments you and your colleagues—close by and around the globe—have achieved. Give thanks for the vision of those who came before us to seal the future for millions of people with cancer who have benefited from 50 years of progress in cancer science, therapies, and care. Congratulate yourself for how you contribute to that every day.