THERE WAS A NEAR TRAGEDY in my town recently. A school district bus driver picked up an 11-year-old severe-special-needs student, then forgot to deliver him to the extended care center where he attends school. Instead, she parked the bus in the regular school lot and left him there in 90-plus-degree heat, and six hours later came back and drove the bus to the care center to pick him up, not realizing that he was still in the back seat after all that time.
Why am I telling you this? Because the nurses at the care center saved the boy. They found him in the bus, gave him immediate care to stabilize him, then got him transported to the hospital, where as of now he is recovering. The local media attention was intense: There were interviews with the facility administrator and just about everybody — except the nurses who actually saved the kid's life.
But that's nothing new. Licensed RNs are the largest group of healthcare providers in the country, yet they're quoted only 3 percent of the time in health-related articles in major news publications, according to the Woodhull Study on Nurses and the Media. I asked Janet Perrella-D'Alesandro why nurses don't get more media attention. She leads a media training course for nurses in addition to working on nurses' behalf as director, media relations and association marketing with Pitman, N.J.-based Anthony J. Jannetti Inc., an association management, marketing, and publishing company serving the health care industry and specialty nursing associations.
“Generally speaking, nurses feel that being professional means being reserved. They're not comfortable with what they perceive as boasting,” she says. “The public has very little depth perception when it comes to the nursing profession. Everybody clearly gets their caring role, but they don't know that nurses also are researchers, CEOs, innovators, activists, and administrators.”
Perrella-D'Alesandro also cites a study that found that journalists say that nurses don't present information to them in a way they can use. “You have to know how to capture a reporter's interest and talk to them from the heart,” she says. And that takes training.
So for those of you who plan nursing CE, please teach nurses how to toot their own horns to the media. It's important for the public to develop a better understanding of the profession if we want to attract more young people to nursing schools to stave off the nursing shortage before all us boomers really start needing their care.
And for those nurses who wouldn't dream of speaking to the media, like my friend Tamara, who works 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. at the care center mentioned above, boast on their behalf. I'll start. Tamara is a watchdog for the kids in her care. She's done everything from saving a child from a potentially deadly mistake when the pharmacy delivered a look-alike, but completely wrong, drug, to questioning orders that would keep another kid from being able to rest at night. But it's her everyday heroics that get me most, like the way she's sung one notoriously fretful child to sleep, even when it took hours and made her voice hoarse the next day.
Every nurse has a story, and we in the media — and the public — want to hear it. Talk to us.
Sue Pelletier, (978) 448-0377, firstname.lastname@example.org
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