Marion E. Broome, Dean and Ruby Wilson Professor of Nursing, Duke University School of Nursing; Vice Chancellor for Nursing Affairs, Duke University; Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs for Nursing, Duke University Health System; recently published an article entitled "Improving representation of nurses in the media" in Nursing Outlook. Sandy Summers of The Truth About Nursing in Baltimore, MD is a co-author of this article.
Nursing scholars just delivered some unsettling news about the image of our profession. In “The Woodhull Study Revisited: Nurses’ Representation in Health News Media 2018,” Mason et al. (2018) examined how nurses are treated in the print news media and compared their findings to the landmark 1997 Woodhull study on that same topic (Sigma Theta Tau International 1997). So one could wonder: What had changed after two decades? Nothing, actually. Now, as then, nurses are almost invisible in the news media (Mason, Glickstein, Nixon, Westphaln, Han & Acquaviva, 2018).
Woodhull Revisited found that nurses were used as expert sources in 2% of health articles in 2017. What is remarkable is that this was an actual decrease from the 4% found in 1997. Although that difference is not statistically significant, it certainly makes the point. The researchers wanted to know more, of course, and interviewed 10 health journalists (Mason, Glickstein, and Westphaln 2018). They found that journalists generally don't understand how nurses are educated or what nurses do to improve health. When journalists do want to talk with nurses, they often don't know how to find them. Hospital public relations (PR) personnel often are unhelpful. In their study, one journalist described a typical interaction with hospital PR: “I ask for nurses, they give me physicians.” On the rare occasions when journalists do use nurses as sources, they often have to justify it to their editors. A journalist related the common editorial reaction: “What, am I unable anywhere in America to find a doctor?”