1. Bezyack, Maryanne E. MSN, RN, CPNP

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When researchers at the University of Rochester analyzed more than 20,000 magazine, newspaper, and trade publication articles, they discovered that nurses were cited in only 4% of the articles related to health, while physicians were quoted in 43%. (See Missing in Action: Nurses in the Media, December.) Why aren't nurses perceived by the media as health care experts? Why are we "health care's invisible partner"?


These questions were the focus of the media relations conference, "Cutting Through the Clutter: Increasing Media Coverage of Nurses and Nursing Research," which convened in the fall in Washington, DC. Jointly sponsored by the National Institute of Nursing Research, Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), and the American Organization of Nurse Executives, the conference focused on enhancing nursing visibility by positioning the nurse as health care expert.


Participants included more than 100 leaders in academia, research, and practice, as well as public affairs personnel and health care journalists. Strategies for increasing media coverage of nursing were discussed by keynote speaker Bob Arnot, MD, chief medical correspondent of NBC-TV's Dateline and Today; Nancy Shute, assistant managing editor of US News & World Report; Sally Squires, award-winning health and medical writer for the Washington Post; and Doreen Gentzler, medical reporter for NBC-4, Washington, DC.


Ms. Shute won applause from the audience when she began her presentation by saying, "My primary care provider is a nurse practitioner." The panelists agreed that nurses need to educate reporters about nursing. "TV, especially, is driven by market research. Our viewers tell us that they want more health information. You may be the best providers of information," said Ms. Gentzler.


Dr. Arnot commented that the depiction of nurse characters on TV shows shapes nursing's image. He suggested that to educate the public most effectively about the responsibilities of nurses and the scope of their professional roles, "perhaps your first objective should be to change the characterization of nurses on TV, since so many viewers see these shows as 'real.'"


An afternoon session featured a panel of nurse leaders and public information officers. Moderated by Dan Mezibov, director of public affairs at AACN, the panel discussed barriers to media visibility and offered suggestions for breaking them down:


Be a spokesperson for nursing.


* Educate the public about the roles and responsibilities of nurses.


* Respond to current health care issues with letters to the editor. Sign your letters with "RN" before any other degrees or certifications that the public may not recognize.


* Be quick with your response. Often the best method is e-mail. Contact the sponsors-rather than producers-of TV shows to praise, criticize, or make suggestions about how nurses are portrayed.



Work with your PR department.


* Tell your public information officer about anything newsworthy in your nursing practice or research. Encourage the PR department to issue press releases or phone their contacts.



Work with media sources.


* Educate reporters about nursing. And, if a reporter calls you, be responsive. Recognize that reporters work on deadlines; don't miss the opportunity. If you aren't the appropriate source for the article, recommend a nurse colleague who is.


* If you have an exclusive, or a "first," say so. You'll get more attention.


* The best way to contact reporters is by e-mail, with fax as a second choice. Most reporters don't want phone calls.



Eleanor Sullivan, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of Sigma Theta Tau, closed the meeting by emphasizing that it's our individual and collective responsibility not only to continue our efforts to improve individual and public health, but also to communicate our wealth of knowledge to the public-efforts that will both enhance and make visible the role of nursing.


-Maryanne E. Bezyack, MSN, RN, CPNP, adjunct faculty member at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY; president, MEB Communications; and chairperson, Sigma Theta Tau International Public Relations Committee


Source: The Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media: Health Care's Invisible Partner-Final Report. Indianapolis, IN, Sigma Theta Tau Center Nursing Press, 1998