1. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, APRN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

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Twenty years after the 1998 (Sigma Theta Tau International [STTI]) Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media, Health Care's Invisible Partner, little has changed regarding the use of nurses as sources in print media for health news. Mason et al. (2018) painstakingly replicated the original Woodhull study as closely as possible and found little has changed from the original 1998 study. According to Mason et al., after sampling the same sources referenced in the original study, nurses were only identified currently (i.e. September 2017) as "sources in 2 percent of quotations or other sourcing;" health care stories rarely mentioned nurses or the nursing profession (i.e. only 13 percent of articles); and "nurses were more likely to be mentioned in articles about labor (57 percent), profession (44 percent), quality, (32 percent) and education (25 percent)" compared to "research (9 percent), policy (4 percent), the Affordable Care Act (4 percent), and business (3 percent)." Further, the researchers found even when nurses' perspectives were highly relevant to the topic being discussed, nurses were not cited and were only identified in 4 percent of images. Men (regardless of profession), conversely, "were quoted roughly twice as often as women" (65 percent vs. 34 percent) and were in 72 percent of images while women were only in 48 percent (p. 2).

Kathy A. Baker, PhD,... - Click to enlarge in new windowKathy A. Baker, PhD, APRN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

Following their analysis of the current literature, Mason et al. (2018) interviewed 10 health journalists regarding their experiences using nurses as sources in health news media. They found (p. 2) these journalists recognized that "nurses can bring important perspectives to health reporting" though "journalists don't fully understand the full range of nurses' roles, work, and education." Additionally, "journalists don't' know how to find nurses to interview." More concerning is that "communication staff of health care organizations and universities aren't offering nurses as sources unless journalists specifically ask for them." They also noted that "nurses and their associations aren't strategic about engaging journalists," and, often, nurses are blocked as sources because of "editorial biases, policies, and processes." Another interesting finding of the Mason et al. (2018) study is that while many schools of nursing use Twitter for social media, the tweets are coded to address current nurses instead of people outside of nursing or the university/school.


In concluding their report, Mason et al. (2018) noted that "nurses remain largely invisible in health news stories, despite their relevance to almost any health issues" (p. 3). Their findings found that while nurses were cited as sources in health news 4 percent of the time in 1997, they are only cited 2 percent of the time in 2017. The authors theorize that nursing as a predominately female profession is undoubtedly one reason for this absence in the media. Physicians remain the resource journalists go to for health and health care issues, despite our differences in philosophy, scope, and focus of practice.


While journalists may find it a "hard sell" to their editors to use nurses as sources for health and health care stories, Mason et al. (2018) state "Nurses also share some of the responsibility for their poor representation in the media" (p. 4). Nurses need to be responsive and better prepared to talk with the media. Nurses can also do more with social media to attract the public (including journalists). Policies that prevent journalists from recognizing their sources as registered nurses (RNs) or graduate prepared nurses (i.e. Masters or Doctoral) also should be challenged and changed to allow for recognition of nurses' valuable expertise in policy and health care.


In a time when communication is so prevalent and powerful in society, nurses must take responsibility to promote nursing's expert and credible role in health care. Not only in the social media realm, as Mason et al. (2018) explored, but in our own professional and personal circles, we can do more to promote nurses' broad engagement in health care. As you teach patients and families, be sure to emphasize your use of current evidence and research in making recommendations regarding their health management. As you participate in organizational or community committees, be sure to refer to current guidelines or evidence-based recommendations for issues related to best-practices in quality and safety. Don't take for granted that your closest family and friends understand what you do as a nurse. Find way to emphasize your knowledge about current evidence, health policy, and quality and safety related to health. And when the opportunity presents for you to speak to these critical issues, step forward. Show others what nurses have to offer beyond their own personal experiences. Get the word out!




Mason D. J., Glickstein B., Nixon L., Westphaln K., Han S., Acquaviva K. (2018). The Woodhull study revisited: Nurses' representation in health news media. (Research brief). Available online @[Context Link]


Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI). (1998). The Woodhull study of nursing and the media: Health care's invisible partner. Indianapolis: STTI.