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Public perception of nursing careers: the influence of the media and nursing shortages.

Nursing is the backbone of our healthcare delivery system. We face a formidable shortage of nurses, estimated to be as much as 285,000 in the next decade. The nursing workforce is aging with an average age of 43.7 years. At the same time 78 million aging American Baby Boomers are increasing the demand for healthcare systems that can deliver more complex care. America faces a growing urgency in recruiting, training and retaining people in the nursing careers.

This article discusses a study about the public versus registered nurses (RNs) perceptions of the nursing career and it's impact on nursing shortages. The study revealed that 70% of the public viewed the nursing career positively. However, there were some surprising differences between the public's opinions about he nursing profession versus opinions of registered nurses themselves. Nursing was perceived as caring or compassion by 20% of RNs versus 16% of the general public. While 16% of the general public considered nurses as caring, just 20% of RNs agreed. While 17% of the public considered RNs highly knowledgeable, qualified and skilled, only 6% of RNs agreed. Eight percent of the public considered RNs as professionals, while only 23% of RNs considered themselves as professionals. Only 4% of RNs perceived RNs as smart or highly educated compared to 7% of the public. One might attribute these perceptions to a lack of awareness or education among the public about the rigors of nursing education and competency. But what explains such low scores coming from RNs themselves? Why do nurses have such low opinions of their own profession? Is it because nurses do not feel empowered in the workplace as compared to their physician colleagues? Are there negative gender biases, that work against the nursing profession which is still overwhelmingly female? Another interesting finding of the study was that while one in four Americans had considered a nursing career, nursing professionals were significantly less likely to probably or definitely recommend a career in nursing than the general public. This could be a sign of apathy toward the profession among nurses. It would have been helpful if the study investigated how or why nurses developed this mindset.

It is clear that the media plays an important role in presenting positive characterization of the nursing profession. While television news stories may often portray nurses in a positive ways in new stories related to disasters and patient safety, more needs to be done. I agree with the authors' that a national commitment is needed to build, and retain a robust nursing workforce. This might be implemented through a national public service campaign with federal, state and local governments joining forces with corporations, as well as private and non-profits hospitals to highlight positive stories and experiences of nurses making a difference in the health and lives of people all across America. Many of these stories narrated by nurses themselves could powerfully advocate for choosing the nursing career.

In conclusion, nurses must come together and begin to support and promote nursing from within the profession. Who can be more credible advocates for nursing than nurses themselves? If we are to eliminate nursing shortages more nurses should engage in leadership roles on the national healthcare stage to help educate, shape and improve the public perception on nursing profession. The public generally has a positive regard for the nursing profession; we must now collectively work on positively motivating people to such a degree that they choose the nursing profession. This may well be an important step in reducing nursing shortages, improving nurse retention while better preparing nurses to deal with future healthcare challenges and demands.

Karen Donelan, ScD; Peter Buerhaus, PhD, RN;

Catherine Desroches, DrPH; Robert Dittus, MD;

David Dutwin, PhD Nurs Econ. 2008;26(3):143-50,165. 2008 Jannetti Publications, Inc.

Reviewed by Denise S. Rowe APRN, BC, FNP
COPYRIGHT 2008 Nevada Nurses Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Nevada State Legislative Issues
Author:Rowe, Denise S.
Publication:Nevada RNformation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:638
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