By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA
Numerous studies have shown that Americans get much of their information about health care from the media. Likewise, what they see and hear in the media, whether a TV drama or a print news story, influences how they perceive nurses and the work we do. And yet, nurses have historically shied away from the media.
Some of us think reporters dig for dirt only when something goes wrong. Others are so accustomed to deferring to physicians or administrators that we forget we’re health care experts in our own right. And many of us feel intimidated by media representatives and don’t know how to talk to or work with them. So we avoid the media and often don’t consider opportunities to demonstrate our knowledge, promote health and wellness, support nursing’s agenda, and gain visibility and credibility.
The media are powerful institutions, and positive media attention is key to elevating our image. It can promote a more accurate understanding of what nurses really do and help recruit others to the profession. It also influences legislators and administrators when they’re allocating money and resources for nurses. Here are some key ways to harness the power of the media.
If you’re a department manager, make contact with the marketing and public relations person in your facility. Make sure he or she knows about the unique work your department does and about any special projects or programs your team is involved in. These might include a mentoring program, a research project you’ve completed, or an innovation on your unit. Make sure the PR person knows that nurses are experts, too, and as such should be referred as sources for the media. And since the media loves tie-ins with special occasions and events, National Nurses Week and nursing specialty weeks are good times to seek publicity. If you’re not a manager, encourage yours to make that connection or volunteer to be the PR liaison for your department.
If you or someone in your department wins an award, is named an officer in a professional association, or receives special recognition from a community or civic group, make sure the marketing department knows about it. When one nurse is honored and spotlighted, the entire profession benefits.
Encourage your facility’s PR people to pitch stories to the media about nursing. Nursing is a particularly hot topic right now with the widely publicized shortage. Positive publicity about nursing is great marketing for your facility, is a good recruiting tool, and helps promote a more accurate image of nursing.
Through professional associations
Get on a marketing or public relations committee. This is a wonderful way to learn more about the world of media relations and develop important contacts.
Organize a media panel for a conference or meeting. This is not only a great way to learn more about how the media works, but also a great opportunity for the media to learn about nursing — who we are, what we do, and what we know.
Bring in a speaker or consultant who offers media training. Then, the next time you have the chance to appear on TV or radio or be interviewed by a journalist, you’ll know what to do. Some associations have developed media training kits to assist members in working with the media.
Most professional associations, at both the national and local chapter level, have a member resource list available for the media. Offer to become a topic expert for your professional association.
On your own
Pitch stories or submit articles to mainstream media about nursing and health care topics or capitalize on current events. When actor John Ritter died last year, one nurse did some research and wrote an article about aortic dissection in layman’s terms so the public could understand what he died from. The article was published in a local newspaper with the nurse’s name as author.
Admittedly, the media is intimidating to most of us. But by taking steps toward becoming more media savvy, every nurse can learn to harness the power of the press for the good of the profession.
• The Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media, Sigma Theta Tau International
• From Silence to Voice — What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public 2ndEd, by Bernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon
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