Apr 09, 2019

Beyond the Food and Tchotchkes: A Challenge for Nurses Week

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The 2010 Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) report on The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health called for nursing to be front and center in transforming the profession and health care. We’ve already seen significant progress since its release and the launch of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, an initiative of AARP Foundation, AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to spur movement on the report’s recommendations. Today’s nurses are better educated, enjoy modernized scope of practice laws and regulations in 22 states and the District of Columbia, and are being appointed to more boards, task forces and other advisory bodies at the local, state and national levels.

But we’re falling short in one critical area: visibility in health news media, despite the report’s influence and attention it has received — nearly a decade after its release, it remains the IOM’s most downloaded report.

In 1997, the original Woodhull Study on Nurses and Media: Health Care’s Invisible Partner found that nurses were used as sources in only 4 percent of the health news stories in leading print newspapers, news weeklies and trade publications (like Modern Healthcare) of the day. And they were never identified in photos.

In 2017, we wanted to test our assumption that this situation had improved, given progress made in implementing other recommendations of the future of nursing report.  Working with the Berkeley Media Studies Group, we replicated the original study and found that nothing had changed. Nurses were identified as sources in only 2 percent of the health stories in the same publications as in 1997; were seldom identified in photos; and were never cited in stories on health policy. The rare identification of a nurse as a source came in articles on scope of practice for advanced practice nurses and other stories on the profession itself.

We were shocked and sought to learn why things haven’t changed in 20 years. We interviewed 10 health journalists who told us that biases about women, nurses and positions of authority in health care run deep in newsrooms, in healthcare organizations and universities. But they also noted that the profession was not proactive in seeking out and responding to journalists. They seldom received press releases about important articles published in nursing journals or about nurses’ innovations in promoting health and improving health care.

This study provided us with a call to action to raise the visibility of nurses as experts on health and health care—not just nursing. This comes at a time when the National Academy of Medicine, formerly known as the IOM, begins work on a second future of nursing report to extend the vision for the nursing profession into 2030. This is the time to get to work on making nurses a part of the national conversation on health issues.

This is not just about making nurses more visible for the sake of visibility. It’s about sharing nurses’ important and often unique perspectives with the public. We believe it’s nurses’ social responsibility to share their expertise.

Here is what you can do:

  • Watch this presentation and learn about the both Woodhull studies. For more information on all resources and publications related to the “Woodhull Revisited Project”, go to go.gwu.edu/Woodhull.
  • If you work in a hospital or an academic institution, share it with the head of your public affairs/public relations department. Let him or her know that you have a valuable perspective on many health care-related stories and that you are interested in speaking to the media. And if you are asked to speak with a reporter, be sure to return that call as quickly as you can. Many reporters are constantly on deadline.
  • If you are in a leadership position—whether dean, chief nurse, clinical director of a service, seasoned school nurse or other clinical leader–share the studies with the executive leadership of the organization and provide examples of the rich and deep expertise that nurses in your organization have. It’s an opportunity to showcase the organization, as well as expert nurses. Inquire about getting media training to provide these experts with the skills to successfully manage an interview.
  • Familiarize yourself with local reporters who cover health and health care issues. Don’t hesitate to email or call with story ideas or suggestions about what’s going on in your community.

So we issue this challenge to you to turn Nurses Week into a media opportunity to showcase nurses’ expertise. Take the media challenge. Let’s get #nursesweek trending by posting your blogs and tweets, published OpEds, and links to the print and broadcast interviews you landed. We can change the narrative in health news to include more nurses as sources. Your visibility and voice as an expert on health and health care are critical to the health of the public. Pass on the food and tchotchkes this year.

*We’re grateful to Mary Boyle, the Campaign for Action’s director of communications, for turning the major points of Woodhull Revisited into this Spark presentation.