For an impressive 21st year in a row, Americans rated nursing as the most trusted profession in the country. The 2022 Gallup poll found that 79 percent of adults said nurses have “very high” or “high” honesty and ethical standards; significantly higher than any of the other 17 professions rated.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for nursing (including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners) is growing at a high rate of 40 percent between 2021 and 2031. The average salary in nursing is close to $124,000.
The pandemic tested the profession in many ways, and new research shows the level of burnout and stress many nurses suffered at COVID’s height.
As a registered nurse (RN) with decades of service to the profession, I know firsthand the tremendous work my colleagues do as clinicians, researchers, educators, and policy advocates. To be considered the most trusted profession is not a distinction myself or my colleagues take lightly.
Yes, there is an international Happy Nurses Day every year in May. Popular television shows such as “Chicago Med,” “Call The Midwife,” “Bob Hearts Abishola,” and “Grey’s Anatomy” all feature fictional nurse characters in a variety of roles.
Unless they are on strike, as the New York State Nurses Association was recently until reaching a tentative agreement, why are nurses mostly invisible as experts in media commentary and news?
In an update to a Woodhull report from 1997, researchers analyzed health news stories published in September 2017 and found quotes were attributed to nurses only 2 percent of the time.
Nurses were identified in only 4 percent of the images and mentioned in only 13 percent of the articles; they were entirely absent in numerous stories despite the relevance of a nursing perspective to the topic – especially those involving health care policy, business, and research. Male nurses were quoted approximately twice as often as female nurses despite representing only 9.4 percent of the profession.
When quoted in health news stories, a 2020 study shows nurses have been portrayed as having little leadership and influence, with the image of a nurse existing primarily to help physicians.
News media play an important role in setting the public’s and policymakers’ agendas. Whoever receives a voice in framing a news story can impact how people think or feel about the topic.
In 2019, then Washington state senator Maureen Walsh commented that nurses in rural hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” In 2015 hosts of “The View” commented that Miss Colorado was wearing scrubs as a “costume” with her “doctor’s stethoscope” around her neck.
Nursing is the largest health care profession, with over 4.2 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. To eliminate nurses’ clinical expertise and unique perspectives on health, illness, and health care is a disservice to the public as they are not benefiting from the wisdom and insight that nurses can provide.
In 2021 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine (IOM), published a consensus study report, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity.”
The report identifies how nurses play a critical role in the health system and, due to their unique combination of skills and knowledge, are well-poised to address health inequities and improve the overall health and well-being for all.
Health care is not at a hopeless point but at a critical point. Nurses must claim their expertise and authority by making every effort to engage the media. The media must respond, see what is truly there, and trust nurses for their insights and credibility because we are worthy of that trust.
Molly Moran is a nurse executive.