There was a recent review of a seminal study of nurses used as expert sources by journalists called “Woodhull Study Revisited.” The original study was completed in 1998 by Nancy Woodhull, the founding editor of USA Today. Ms. Woodhull was both curious and concerned about what she believed was the under-representation of women in all media, including nurses. The extensive study uncovered some very disturbing data, including that only 4 percent of health-related news articles utilized nurses as a source, even if the article pertained to nursing or included photos of nurses (Mason, Glickstein 2018).
The study was replicated 20 years later in 2018 and the findings were shared in a press conference presented by Diana Mason and Barbara Glickstein the nurse founders of the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement of the George Washington University School of Nursing. I am frustrated to report that the latest findings were equally abysmal with little-to-no improvement in giving voice to nurses as sources for health-related media stories. Woodhull Study Revisited details the findings and raises thought-provoking questions about the role of bias at the intersection of nursing and journalism.
One of the more alarming findings of the study was: “[W]hen used as sources, it most often was in stories about labor, the profession itself (such as the scope of practice), quality or education. Nurses seldom were included in stories on research (9 percent), policy (4 percent), or business (3 percent).” Nursing practice is steeped in research to inform our evidence-based practice, but with whom are we sharing our findings? It seems that we are reporting within our own organizations, journals, and practice specialties, but not outside of the “walls” of our own self-contained silos.
I am equally complicit and here is a perfect example of a missed media opportunity. March 16-17, 2018 was the New Jersey State School Nurses (NJSSNA) annual spring conference. I was the co-chair of the event that drew 400 NJ school nurses, 2 nationally known keynote speakers, 21 breakout sessions, 8 poster presentations and 0 news media. It never even dawned on me to alert the media until I watched the Woodhull Study Revisited press conference! What a missed opportunity to promote the work of school nursing! I realized after reading the Woodhull findings that I had a deficit of nursing knowledge related to media competencies. I began to review the other “missed opportunities” where I did not reach out to the media or pitch a great school nurse story to highlight our work and truthfully, it made me angry but activated!
Nursing media competencies is a worthy course of study! Writing Op-eds, cultivating relationships with journalists, pitching school nurse success stories, submitting manuscripts about a successful initiative can reverse the trend reported in the Woodhull Study Revisited. Being present on social media, especially Twitter can be a first step in making important connections that could lead to opportunities to share your work. This is a “claim your seat at the table” moment, write your own story and then pitch it, no matter the outcome!
Up next…a look at what school nurses say about ourselves when we are the source of a news story, and it is not pretty.