President’s Column: Finding Our Voice

Sep 04, 2018

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A recent finding in the 2017 “Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media” caught my eye. It had to do with journalists being asked why they do not include nurses as sources for healthcare-related stories. One conclusion of the study is that healthcare journalists really don’t understand the roles, work, education and training of nurses. I’ll go out on a limb and say that journalists are not the only ones.

First, a little background on the study. It was first conducted in the 1990s and found that the nursing profession was grossly underrepresented in published healthcare news stories. Despite being one of the nation’s largest professions, nurses were quoted in only 4 percent of health-related news stories. Four percent! Fast forward to 2017, and the study has been updated. This time it asked, “Are nurses represented as sources in public and trade print publications with greater frequency than in 1997?” Unfortunately, the study did not show an increase in nurses being mentioned. No, the result was worse. It showed that nurses as sources in health news had declined to just 2 percent (!), and nursing as a profession was mentioned in only 13 percent of healthcare stories.

Why is this? What is keeping our voice out of the media? I think there’s a simple answer: People (including journalists, apparently) are unclear about our role and the impact that nurses have in healthcare.

This has probably happened for a number of reasons. Some say that acute and critical care nurses have been pulled away from their primary role to perform too many other duties — filling in as transporters, answering the phone, covering for the respiratory therapist, arranging home health, etc. Of course, we want to be part of the team and work collaboratively to meet our patients’ needs. But we don’t want to do it while sacrificing those unique contributions to patient care that only nurses can bring.

We nurses play a unique role in healthcare. We continually assess and monitor highly unstable patients to identify subtle changes. We administer multiple medications and monitor their interplay and our patients’ response. We teach patients and their families intricate details about illness and high-tech care. In a sense, we are the “air traffic controllers” for everything that happens to patients while they are in our care.

Positive patient outcomes and experiences can occur only when acute and critical care nurses have the resources to provide this unique care. And positive nurse experiences and fulfillment can occur only when nurses understand that the unique contribution they make is valued. Because of this, we need to use our voice to articulate our contributions to the public, our patients and our healthcare leaders. We can positively impact our environment and overcome existing barriers to practice by using our voice. And based on the data gleaned from the Woodhull study, we need to find new and different ways to tell the world about our vital role.

Tell me how you are acting your way into a new way of thinking at