This Nurses Week, Examine Your Message
For as long as I can remember, nursing has been one of the most trusted professions. We should be very proud of that status -- it's not easy to gain the trust of the public, much less mange to hold on to that trust year after year.
We have never campaigned or actively sought out this designation, instead we earned it by simply doing our jobs day in and day out. Nurses don't really like to show off or brag, we prefer to just let our work speak for itself.
But now our role is changing and we need to start thinking more seriously about our "marketing." We may be trusted, but we need more. We need authority.
Let's start with who we are. Even though many legislators have heard of nurse practitioners, few have a real understanding of our role. If you don't believe me, try lobbying your state legislator! You will find that before you can even begin to plead your case for independent practice, you will have to explain what exactly you do and what "advanced practice" means. I am convinced I can see eyes glaze over when we say things like "scope of practice," "nurse practice act" and "consensus model." And just try to explain all our different certifications. I dare you!
We desperately need professional help to bring some clarity to our messaging. In the business world there is a saying that "if you don't manage your message, someone else will manage it for you." That means you need to speak up or you run the risk of having others define you. It's no accident that we have terms like "midlevel" and "nonphysician provider." Who do you think chose those demeaning labels? And who continues to use them? Don't kid yourself, organized medicine knows the power of those words.
And speaking of organized medicine, those folks take their own messaging seriously. There is no doubt in my mind that every word they say has been crafted and focus grouped to have maximal impact. I watched over and over legislators nod and agree when meeting with NPs, only to have seeds of doubt sown later by physicians. If an MD says something, it must be true, right? The public professes their love for nurses but when push comes to shove they still take what physicians say more seriously. Why? Because doctors have done a good job putting forth messaging that establishes them as "authorities." Marcus Welby may have gone off the air more than 40 years ago, but somehow organized medicine has managed to keep the myth alive that everyone in healthcare works for the physicians.
We can change this paradigm. But we can't do this on a one-to-one basis. It will take an organized effort. If you are member of a nursing organization, urge them to consider a PR campaign. Get involved. Speak up. That's the proper way to celebrate Nurses Week!