As a nurse, you speak with the public daily. You educate patients, support families, and provide information to community resources to get your patients the care they need. When our country experiences disasters, nurses are at the bedsides, providing care, and advocating for their patients. But, when a journalist covers a story about the latest flu epidemic, acute flaccid myelitis, or another violent attack, who do they interview? Do they look for the nurse at the bedside who cared for these patients, or the doctor overseeing the care?
We're quite sure you just said "doctor" in your head, right? But, do you know why? A recent study conducted by Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein replicated the original Woodhull Study that was done in 1997 to explore how often nurses were identified or interviewed in the media for general healthcare stories. The study was reproduced to determine if there have been any advancements of nurses in the media. At a recent AACN-NTI Conference, we sat down with Diana, who is the Senior Policy Service Professor for the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University School of Nursing during the American Association of Critical Care Nurses meeting.
She provided an overview of the original findings, new data, and the future of nurses in the media. You can watch/listen to the full intervew below.
The Original Woodhull Study
In 1997, the "Woodhull Study on Nursing and Media" was published, and was the first of it's kind to explore the representation of nurses in the media as sources of health-related stories. Dianna explained that the original study found that nurses were sources in quotes less than 4% of the time in newspapers, and about 1% of the time in newsweeklies.
During the interview, she explored the notion that even when nurses were at the heart of the story, such as with HIV/AIDS care in the mid-90's, they were nowhere to be found in print publications. Even rarer was to find nurses being interviewed about nursing policy or actually photographed for news stories.
Following the release of the original findings, Sigma Theta Tau raised awareness of the need for nurses in the news. Then in 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released the Future of Nursing Report in which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the IOM conducted a two-year initiative to assess and transform the profession of nursing. The study concluded that nurses played a vital role in the advancements of the healthcare industry, but that barriers existed that prevented them from being well-positioned to lead change and advance health.
Have We Progressed?
According to the preliminary results released by The George Washington University, the new study examined 365 randomly sampled health news stories published in September 2017. They looked at the type and subject of the article, the profession, and gender of the speakers, and how many times nurses were references without being quoted. The researchers found that nurses were identified as sources in just 2% of the health news coverage and mentioned in 13% of health news coverage overall. While this is a decrease in the representation, Dianna explained that it's not statistically significant, so the conclusion has been made that nothing has changed.
She acknowledged that this might not be accurate because nurses might be cited in stories, but not recognized for their role. It's normal to see stories where Dr. Smith is quoted, even if he or she isn't in a hands-on provider. However, when a nurse holds an executive level position, their credentials aren't always given. Other findings included that females are less represented that males in the media, even though the profession is predominately made up of women. There were also preconceptions in the news media about positions of authority and journalists admitted that they weren't sure what nurses do and when nurses would add to a story unless it was explicitly about nursing.
How Do We Make Change?
Nurses provide more hands-on care than any other healthcare professional. Yet, they aren't equally represented in the media. Is this because nurses are not comfortable with being in the spotlight? Could it be that when journalists request an interview for a story nurses are not the ones provided by healthcare systems? Or, maybe journalists aren't even sure how to access nurses for stories.
Actually, all of these were found to be true. So, how do we ensure that this won't be the same 20 years from today? Here are a few things you can do to help progress nursing representation in the media:
Support movements like Show Me Your Stethoscope (SMYS) that advocate for positive cultural changes within the nursing profession and the healthcare community. They strive to provide a united voice for nurses on issues facing our communities. SMYS was founded in response to a public attack on the nursing profession and has ultimately led to the #NursesUnite concept.
Talk about your credentials. Diana points out that you don't need to include all 7 of the certifications you hold, but identifying yourself as a nurse with a hard-earned degree and license is paramount to the required changes in media.
Improve media competence by training journalists and offering media training to nurses. If you want to be a presence in your local community, seek out the media relations department at your facility and request to be trained on how to speak to the media. This training can teach you how to talk with journalists, stay on your message, and just be yourself.
Anticipate healthcare happenings and identify nurses who should be at the forefront of stories. This should be accomplished on a local, state, and national level by healthcare facilities, organizations, universities, and government agencies.
Our time with Diana was eye-opening and empowering.
Have you been in the media as a nurse? Were you well-represented in print? Or, maybe you have ideas on how to empower nurses to be in the press? Whatever your thoughts are about this study, we want to know. Comment below and get the conversation started.