President's Column: Can They Hear Us?

Oct 01, 2021

Added to Collection

Now, we have a unique opportunity to focus the spotlight and cultivate our growing influence.

Nursing represents the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, yet why do our voices often go unheard?

The 1998 “Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media: Healthcare’s Invisible Partner” found nurses were quoted as expert sources in only about 4% of health news stories in leading newspapers. Almost 20 years later, a replication study indicated the numbers had not really changed.

These alarming findings highlight how nurses’ voices and interests can be hugely underrepresented where and when it matters.

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to change that representation in the media. More and more, we see nurses represented in national news media, in print, online and on social media, more often than we’ve ever seen before. Our essential role on the front lines of this pandemic has shone a light on nursing that has never been brighter. It has given the public a close look at what we do every day as acute and critical care nurses, and how without sufficient numbers of nurses, the healthcare system will be in peril.

Now, we have a unique opportunity to focus the spotlight and cultivate our growing influence. Nurses have borne such a huge burden over the past 18 months. Now it is even more critical that we elevate our individual and collective voices. We must show others — patients and their families, our friends and neighbors -- nurses’ lived experiences in compelling ways, so they understand what we need in order to be there for them. And how to prevent this unconscionable situation from happening again. Advocacy, in its many forms, is more important than ever.

AACN continues to escalate advocacy on behalf of our community of exceptional nurses. Since the pandemic began, we have spoken boldly in many ways — at The White House, on the National Institutes of Health guidelines panel, advocating for PPE, and with others, such as the Critical Care Societies Collaborative and the Nursing Community Coalition. Our new Hear Us Out campaign, directed at the public, is one more powerful example of using our influence to elevate the voice of nurses.

Hear Us Out targets the public to shed light on the escalating crisis impacting nurses and the healthcare system. It asks people across the country to become our allies and bring an end to this pandemic — for nurses, for the healthcare system and for the health and well-being of our communities. The campaign shares the raw reality of front-line nurses, so the public can understand our collective experience.

As I’ve watched the Hear Us Out campaign pick up momentum in the media, I’ve reflected a lot about how, as an individual, I need to identify my circle of influence and where I need to stretch my own wings of advocacy.

Did you know nurses are more confident advocating for patients and families than we are for ourselves? We found this out in AACN’s 2021 Community Impact Survey. In fact, confidence in self-advocacy was lower than the previous survey. Perhaps our path to self-advocacy begins by first taking a look at our environment and asking what actions we can take in our individual circle of influence.

AACN member Gwenn Tammaro suggests that we “can’t be heard if we do not participate in solutions.” Here are two examples of how we can elevate our voice in advocacy to become part of the solution: Join your hospital’s professional governance council or other unit-based or hospital committees and also become involved in professional organizations. Our individual circle of influence will grow as we start taking that leap toward elevating our individual voice in advocacy to become part of the solution.

I agree with Gwenn, who also encourages her fellow nurses to seek and involve themselves in opportunities to shape the future of nursing and healthcare. Now more than ever, elevating our voice — individually and together — is essential.

As you think about your own circle of influence, what are some areas for you to stretch your advocacy wings and be part of the solution? Write to me at