Each and every nurse has a responsibility towards the profession to enhance the image of the nurse in the public eye – whether at work or in public. Public opinion of the nurse affects recruitment to the profession. It also influences political agendas which determine where and how public funds are allocated.
There is a worldwide shortage of nurses as well as concern over a decline in recruitment and the aging of the profession. Until fairly recently nursing was one of few professions easily accessible to women. Today they have a wide variety of career choices, including in fields which were previously exclusively male domains.
Throughout the ages it was mainly women who cared for the sick and vulnerable which is also why nursing developed as a predominantly female profession. Added to this is the fact that in the cultural context women have been viewed as the weaker sex and subservient to men. While there has been a lot of change in the status of women in the recent past, it is questionable whether complete gender equality has been achieved anywhere. These cultural factors have contributed to the stereotypical views of nurses as the Doctor’s handmaiden, ministering angel, sex kitten, or battle-axe (spinster) matron.
Generally only people who have had extended contact with nurses, in the healthcare setting or as family and friends, really understand what nursing entails. We need to do much more to get the correct image of the nurse out there – that of an educated and highly skilled independent professional practitioner, male or female, who is self-assured and confident.
1. Have pride in your profession
When asked in a social setting what your job is don’t answer with “Oh, um, I’m just a nurse” as though you are ashamed. Hold your head high and reply with confidence something like: “I’m a nurse working at St. John’s hospital in the pediatric unit”. If relevant, add that you are a specialist, e.g. in critical care. This may be a good opening for further conversation.
When you are questioned about nursing or any other aspect of your work answer factually and use the opportunity to convey information about the profession. People are always concerned about their health and may ask your advice in any setting. Give a reply which demonstrates that you are knowledgeable and caring (although you don’t have to go into a full consultation at a dinner party!)
Never criticize patients, co-workers, your employer or the profession in front of patients or in social settings. The place to vent about your horrible day is either at home with your family or alone with your nursing colleagues or best friend.
2. Maintain a professional image
Look and act like a professional person 24/7 – wherever you are you serve as a role model of who and what a nurse is.
Professional appearance starts with good grooming and workwear appropriate for a professional person. Keep to the dress code of the institution where you are working. Cartoon characters on uniforms might have a place – but only on a pediatric ward.
“Look and act like a
professional person 24/7.”
Introduce yourself to patients and explain to them who you are, why you are there and what are going to do. Explaining procedures and medications, and the reasons for them, not only reassures the patient but also shows that you are knowledgeable and confident in what you are doing.
All nursing actions in front of patients and their relatives must center on the patient. The rules we learn as student nurses, like not chatting about our last night’s date last with your colleague while making a patient’s bed, criticizing another member of the health team or correcting a junior in front of others are about professional behavior.
3. Get the nursing story in the media
A study conducted by Woodhall on nurses in the media during 1997 was published under the title “Health Care’s invisible partner”. It was found that nurses were referred to in fewer than 4% of over 2000 health articles in newspapers from across the United States. The researcher came to the conclusion that this largest group of health care providers was virtually invisible to the public.
“The main career motivator for most nurses is service…”
The main career motivator for most nurses is service, rather than money or power and prestige. This is why nurses shy away from and are unaware of the need for media to promote the profession. For the public to understand the major and indispensable role of nurses in healthcare, they need to be shown who she is and what she does.
Nurses everywhere should help to put nursing and nurses out there in the public eye through the media. Nursing Associations and Societies take on this task at national and regional levels, but every nurse can make a contribution on social media and through local newspapers.
Share nursing achievements and events involving nurses, such as recruitment or health campaigns, on social media. This should be shared not only amongst nursing colleagues but also where the public can see it. Approach your institution’s public relations department and ask them to make sure that nurses are included on the company website, in press releases and in interviews with the press.
Establish relationships with local newspapers and ask them to profile local nurses and to publish stories about nurses’ achievements. Invite them to cover events such as graduation and award ceremonies. Radio and television channels can be asked to include interviews with nurses on news items and panels on health matters.
Also, speak out when nurses are displayed in an offensive stereotypical manner in, for example, TV series or in advertisements.
4. Become a community leader
Given their education, background and exposure to community issues nurses can serve effectively on various platforms and become leaders in their communities. Participation by nurses at this level shows them as concerned and knowledgeable citizens and enhances the public image of nursing. Participating in community activities also contribute to your own professional development.
“Participating in community activities contribute to your own professional development.”
Make yourself available as an expert speaker on health topics at meetings of community organizations, such as youth or women’s groups. Write articles for local newspapers and magazines. Always make sure that they are published with your qualifications and the RN designation.
Become involved in community organizations, particularly those related to health care issues. Be prepared to serve on committees, do research and prepare reports for public bodies or the press.
5. Speak up for you and your patient’s rights
How many times have we been advocating for safe nurse-to-patient ratios? Numerous studies (here, here, and here) have found out that understaffing causes increased risk not only for patients but also for nurses. These studies support the minimum staffing levels, but hospital administrators are reluctant to adopt them, of course, to save money. Press would usually attribute the overburdened state of hospitals to a national nursing shortage, but most everywhere there has been a surplus of educated nurses for years.
Together, we nurses must advocate for change in the hospital setting. Fighting against unfair and unsafe staffing ratios will not only help our image of nurses as patient advocates but also a catalyst for positive change.
6. Make a difference
Contribute to the future of your profession – what you as a nurse do or say does make a difference. Be proud to be a nurse, always look and act professionally, help to inform the public about nurses and nursing an example within your community.
What things you do or ideas you have in mind that would contribute greatly to uplift the image of nurses?