Speaker: Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH
Founder and Executive Director, The Truth About Nursing
Health care errors are a leading cause of death and a tremendous drain on health care resources, estimated at $4.7 trillion per year globally. Errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. A study in the United Kingdom found nearly 12% of patients had suffered a health care error. And in Australia, 17% of patients suffer a health care error every year, with 18,000 people dying from them.
Since studies show that two-thirds of health care errors are preventable, we can save lives (and resources) by carefully analyzing why errors happen. And that means looking closely at nursing since nurses are the professionals who identify and prevent most health care errors before they happen.
Unfortunately, nurses do not yet have the resources they need to catch and prevent the rest of the errors—in large part because decision-makers do not understand the value of nursing, and so do not invest enough in it to enable nurses to reach their potential. And due to this same undervaluation, nursing care is often overlooked in efforts to reduce errors.
Since 2001, Sandy Summers, RN, MSN, MPH, founder and executive director of the Truth About Nursing, has shown nurses around the world how we can work together to strengthen nursing's role in the health care setting, in policy-making, and in our society.
Sandy explores overlooked roots of the global nursing crisis and offers innovative strategies to foster a response that strengthens nursing, and by extension, patient care. By reconsidering how society thinks and acts toward nursing, we empower nurses to improve patient safety, reduce turnover, and enhance public health.
Sandy has led the Truth About Nursing's outreach efforts to improve how the media depicts nurses. The media reflects, shapes, and reinforces how the public thinks about nursing. Public health research shows that even entertainment media products have a significant effect on how people think and act with regard to health care. But today too few decision-makers, from government to the private sector to the public at large, know that nurses are skilled professionals who save lives and improve outcomes. Resources flow accordingly.
Despite a few strong historical depictions of nursing on television, the media presents modern nurses mainly in stereotypical terms: unskilled losers, handmaidens, female sex objects, yesterday's girl, oppressible angels, or oppressive battleaxes. Advanced practice nurses are often ignored or portrayed as cut-rate physician substitutes, even though studies show their care is at least as good. The most influential media rarely conveys the importance of nursing. Indeed, popular media often shows physicians doing the valuable work that nurses really do!
Such depictions leave the public believing that nurses lack substantive knowledge and autonomy. They discourage talented people from entering the profession. They legitimize the under-funding of nursing education, residencies, research, and clinical practice. Decision-makers who undervalue nursing often dilute nursing care delivery with less-educated technicians. Undervalued nurses may be stretched so thin that they are unable to do enough surveillance on their patients, where they look for subtle clues that spell decline so they can turn a patient's downward trajectory into an upward one—so patients needlessly decline and die as a result. These are all factors in the nursing shortage that continues to take lives worldwide.
Sandy Summers explains powerful strategies to help nurses reach out to the media and the public to change thinking that affects nursing strength. These action plans range from in-person education to public health advocacy, from influencing media content to creating nurses' own media. Implementing these ideas can help nurses improve public understanding of their profession. That will attract more resources and strengthen nursing, so nurses can save more lives.
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