A discussion paper published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing on the image of nursing shows that the public is not always aware of the qualifications nurses need for their profession. As the result, their actual public image is diverse and incongruous, and tends to be influenced by nursing stereotypes. Ironically, this image may be partly self-created by nurses themselves due to their lack of public discourse and visibility.
A team of researchers from The Netherlands identified the image and identity of nurses by identifying 1216 relevant studies in the period 1997—2010, with 18 studies meeting their inclusion criteria. They identified several aspects of the stereotypical images that not meet the professional image of nursing. Nurses generally prized for their virtues, not their knowledge. They seem to be viewed as feminine and caring, not as autonomous healthcare providers. Moreover, nursing is seen as a profession with limited career opportunities.
The study found that nurses derive their self-concept and professional identity from their public image, work environment, work values, education and traditional social and cultural values. To circumvent this unfavorable image, nurses should work harder to make themselves ‘visible’. They could profit from using social media to communicate both their professionalism and contribution to the public.
The study concluded that fairer image and stronger position can be realised by ongoing education and a challenging work environment that encourages nurses to stand up for themselves. Furthermore, nurses should make better use of strategic positions, such as case manager, nurse educator or clinical nurse specialist and use their professionalism to show the public what their work really entails.
We asked Cheryl Prescott, Nurse Educator at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane what her thoughts are. This is what she said:
The professional image of nursing has long been vulnerable to inaccuracies and negative stereotypes, and the role that mass media plays in reinforcing negative nurse stereotypes cannot be overstated.
Inaccurate portrayals in the media that minimise the invaluable contribution of nursing to the intersdisciplinary team have far reaching effects, negatively affecting nurses’ professional self-concept and undermining the fight to ensure nursing is resourced to meet the needs of clinical practice, and promote quality nurse education and research (Bickhoff, 2015). Further, it has been shown that this negativity has a tangible effect on recruitment into the nursing profession. As long ago as 2008, a study conducted at Dundee University found that public images of nurses as low-status and lacking credibility – even as “brainless sex-mad bimbos” – were discouraging academically advanced primary school students from considering the nursing profession (Neilson and Lauder, 2008, p. 684).
It is important that nurses advocate strongly for their profession, presenting the reality of nursing, and helping everyone to understand what nurses really do for patients and the wider community. As nurses increasingly take on more and more roles, we must take every opportunity to own the care nurses deliver, celebrate the positive therapeutic connections we make every day, and positively profile our great profession (Prescott, 2015). Only an understanding of the true value of a strong, highly-skilled nursing profession will ensure that professional, competent and caring nurses are there when and where they are needed.
Bickhoff, L. (2015). Smart Nurses, Stupid Posts. Accessed via http://www.definingnursing.com/smart-nurses-stupid-posts/#sthash.hU7HSw8N.dpuf 2/2/2016 2.25pm
Neilson, G. R., & Lauder, W. (2008). What do high academic achieving school pupils really think about a career in nursing: analysis of the narrative from paradigmatic case interviews. Nurse Education Today 28(6), 680-690.
Prescott, C. (2015). Increasing Staff Pride and Patient Connection. Journal of Nursing Administration 2015 45 (11): 529-30.
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