Florence Nightingale, born in 1820, is considered the mother of modern nursing. She made a name for herself after taking charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War. She worked hours upon hours, tending to soldiers day and night (she was nicknamed “Lady with the Lamp”). She changed nursing from the verge of incompetency, widely influencing practices such as sanitation, military health, and hospital planning. To this day, many of her practices are still implemented in hospitals worldwide, and the nurses are just as hardworking too. In commemoration of them, International Nurses Week will begin on Tuesday, and end on Nightingale’s birthday, May 12.

“Nurses are the first line of defense in the prevention of illness and injury,” the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration says on its website. “They champion and promote the health of our nation.” Indeed, that task doesn’t come easily. Ask any nurse what their hours are like, and they’re likely to tell you somewhere between 12 to 16 hours a day. It’s not something they often complain about, though. They’re dedicated to their work, and to showing the compassion and care that all patients need, from giving them medication to changing them, and planning their recovery to performing a whole array of tests and procedures. They’re at their patients’ bedsides constantly.

Though they tend to be targets of budget cuts, the bettering economy has given rise to hopeful projections, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says that the number of employed registered nurses is expected to increase by 19 percent over the next eight years. That’s good news. A February study looking into how budget cuts affected patients found that they would have a 30 percent lower chance of dying if 60 percent of the hospital’s nursing staff had a college degree and an average of six patients per shift, compared to a hospital with 30 percent of its nurses holding a degree and managing eight patients. “The odds ratio suggest that each increase of one patient per nurse is associated with a seven percent increase in the likelihood of a surgical patient dying within 30 days of admission,” the authors wrote.

Nurses will become even more integral to the health care system, as more Americans make use of the insurance they recently purchased on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces. With an additional eight million people, not including their families, enrolled in Obamacare, there are already shortages in physicians across the country — nurses will fill part of that gap.

So, the next time you see a nurse, thank them. Sooner or later, you will find them at your hospital bedside.