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To combat the nursing shortage we must break down stereotypes


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The Conversation

Hildegart Gonzalez Luis

Lecturer at School Nursing

Nurses are the largest workforce in healthcare systems worldwide. Their work is essential to improving and promote our health.

For more than twenty years, the survey Gallup Honesty and Ethics, which measures the trust that professions inspire in citizens, has placed nurses at the top of the ranking. Without them, the healthcare system would falter, as we have seen in the pandemic we have suffered.

Nevertheless, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is a shortage of 5.9 million nurses, and this shortage is a problem of concern to national and international organizations and authorities.

Stereotyped and negative views

Several intertwined factors contribute to the fact that many practicing nurses are considering leaving the profession and that new generations do not value nursing as an attractive work to pursue.

The distorted and stereotyped knowledge that society has about what nurses are and what they do is one of the causes. In part, it is explained by the anecdotal presence of this profession in health news and by the erroneous images that the media disseminate of it. Even when it is reported that "thousands are missing".

In fact, a systematic review that evaluated 60 studies analyzing the image of nurses portrayed in the media concluded that in 40% of cases it was negative. In 20%, the traits that defined them were more harmful than positive.

Among the most recurrent stereotypes identified by the researchers are: that it is an exclusively female profession of "sexy girls" or "angelic saints"; that nurses are assistants to doctors; that they work in a vocational official document , without the requirement of a university training ; or that they are heroines willing to risk their lives to save the lives of others.

Scientific evidence sample shows that this poor image can also have repercussions on professional self-esteem, job dissatisfaction, the resources they manage and are granted, and their presence at political decision-making tables.

On the front line of the pandemic

With the aim of recognizing and positioning in the public imagination the identifying marks that define this profession in the 21st century, the WHO declared 2020 as the International Year of Nursing and Midwifery staff .

This entity, together with the International Council of Nursing (ICN), promoted the creation of a worldwide movement to reinforce development and knowledge of discipline in all continents called Nursing Now. It is currently known as the Nursing Now Challenge.

As confirmed by programs of study, during the two years of the pandemic there was a noticeable increase in the media presence of nurses. It was an opportunity to show the public what this profession contributes to health today.

Thus, it seems reasonable to think that this increased visibility may be one of the factors that led to 32% more Spanish students choosing nursing as their first university choice in 2020. high school diploma students chose nursing as their first university choice in 2020.

How to improve image and media presence

Without claiming to be exhaustive, some possible actions that are being undertaken or could be developed to increase the visibility of nurses and make it consistent with their identity are listed.

1. Actively combating stereotypes. The Truth about Nursing is an American observatory dedicated not only to denouncing erroneous images disseminated in any English-language media subject , but also generates a list of useful materials for healthcare professionals and communicators who want to contribute to improving the image of nursing.

In Spain, the Foundation for Nursing development (FUDEN) launched a campaign called #FakeNurse, which gained great notoriety. It encouraged healthcare professionals and the general public to denounce this subject of images on an online platform.

The creation of an observatory similar to the one in the United States, focused on Spanish-language media, would be beneficial to mitigate the adverse consequences derived from the dissemination of erroneous images in Spanish-speaking countries.

2. Create advertising campaigns that convey a real identity of nurses and/or denounce misconceptions about them. Nursing colleges, unions and associations are the entities that usually lead this subject of awareness-raising actions, which tend to be disseminated on World Nurses' Day or World Working Women's Day.

3. Implement courses, subjects or seminars in which nursing students and active nurses are trained in communicative skill . They, from their own narrative, can become sources of information and can teach about what their profession contributes to the various interest groups with which they interact and in the multiple contexts in which they work.

4. Educate communicators and communication students about the essential role that nurses play in the health care system to combat the ignorance they have in this regard and even get them to perceive them as essential sources on health issues.

5. Support the research in this field so that, based on evidence, diagnoses can be made that allow the entities involved in this field -colleges, associations, unions, nursing Schools ...- to develop strategic communication plans that improve the public image of this profession. The research can also help to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions carried out to achieve this goal.

The resources required to activate these initiatives should not be perceived as a expense, but as an investment, as evidence confirms that reducing ignorance and improving the erroneous knowledge about this profession are good battering rams to combat the nursing shortage.

From the School of Nursing of the University of Navarra we are researching in this area and we are supporting and activating some of the initiatives mentioned. #CommunicateIt'sAlsoCare.