Changing how the world thinks about nursing

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Planning your curriculum? We have ideas.

curriculum planning difficultiesMany nursing professors rely on the extensive and varied materials on the Truth's website to help their students engage with critical issues nurses will face in the future, from their public image to key aspects of nursing education, practice, and advocacy. Since 2001, we have explored and analyzed how the global media and society in general has seen the nursing profession. Join your colleagues and use this material to help plan your curriculum! Please consider the ideas below:

  1. See our FAQs on nursing in the media, especially:
  2. See the videos that students created on nursing stereotypes at Luther College in Iowa, under the guidance of of nursing professor Jayme Nelson.
  3. Have your students write biographies on our nursing pioneers.
  4. Read "Raising the Profile of Nursing Issues in the Media and other Public Fora" by Claire Fagin.
  5. Teach medical students and physicians about nursing. They need to learn what nurses do to save and improve lives, and how and why they should work collaboratively with nurses. Make it your school's goal to establish at least one class about nursing with your closest neighboring medical school. Physicians are some of the worst purveyors of negative media images of nursing. We must educate them about the scientific expertise of nurses. Please tell us when you've set up classes for medical students so that we can build a database of successful efforts. See a sketch of a nurse shadowing program at Dartmouth.
  6. "Pick up that RN flag and wave it," as NurseWeek editor Pam Meredith once said in an editorial. Don't hide your RN from the media or the public. If they give you an option to choose only one identifier, choose the RN. Then the public will see you as a bright, educated nurse working to improve health care. If you only choose the PhD, credit for your work will go to some other profession, but it surely will not go to nursing. So please highlight your nurse status first and your degrees second, because nursing is the most important part of what we need you to present to the public, to highlight the valuable things nurses are doing to improve health care.
  7. Consider the final stage of your research to be publication in the lay press. Call and meet with members of your local media to facilitate press coverage of your research results.
  8. Seek out appointments in schools of medicine to teach physicians and medical students in the area of your expertise.
  9. Sign up for an online presentation

  10. If you teach at a school of nursing and assign the purchase of Saving Lives by each student for required reading for your class, Sandy Summers would be happy do an online presentation / seminar / engagement with your students for only a $200 donation to the Truth About Nursing. Please conact Sandy at to discuss. Thank you!

Ideas for student leadership projects

  • Consider having strudents trying to find some place to explain the value of nursing where people have shown they don’t understand the value, and teaching those people would somehow improve the world.
  • Specific ideas:

    1. Find a story to pitch to local media, something a local professor or nurse has been up to, or somebody making local change, or their work, maybe nursing professors who go overseas and the problems they find, the international community, research that local nurses are doing, try to get a local story about it.
    2. Host a roundtable for members of the local media. Give them story ideas from some leading lights in nursing. Also use the event to educate them about the general nature of nursing— that clinical care includes 24/7 surveillance and intervention and decision-making, patient education, advocacy, research.
    3. Create posters or develop an online campaign to convey what they think people in their community should understand better about nursing—hopefully avoiding hand-holding, pillow-fluffing and brow-mopping imagery and instead focusing on detection of dangerous symptoms, decision-making, autonomy, advocacy, prevention of errors... We have examples here that anyone is welcome to print and hang anywhere.
    4. Write letters to the editor and op-eds about problems with the undervaluation of nursing. We have written a few as models for your consideration:
    5. Nursing professor Mona Shattell writes a lot of op-eds you can see here. Dr. Shattell's op-eds are generally focused on health problems, as compared to ours, which are generally focused on nursing. Both types of op-eds are needed. Focusing on health problems is good because discussing health generally in the public sphere sets nurses up as health experts, whether they are discussing nursing or not.
    6. Put together an educational video aimed at decision-makers and legislators who are in the process of diluting nursing or denursifying health care about how RNs differ from unlicensed assistive personnel, explain all we do that they haven’t been educated to do, discuss the errors and missed care that happens when techs take over nursing work (miss deterioration of the patient, they do not know what symptoms to look for when giving meds or what meds interact badly with others, or how to educate the patient to take these meds at home—what to eat with them or not eat, or avoid grapefruit etc…) Educate decision-makers how nurses know things, see things, hear things, do things and make critical decisions about how to proceed in the face of crisis that makes a life or death difference. Give it local flavor so legislators are reminded of the local community. Our animated video is here as one example.
    7. Collect short stories from practicing nurses about instances in which they saved a life and get them published in the newspaper, or magazines. Discussion of nursing skills should avoid that their nursing just “kicks in” as if hand of God reached down to take action through the nurse (really common way nursing stories are portrayed)—the nurses should be portrayed as doing this on his/her own! Here’s an example of a great nursing story.
    8. Launch a project at a local hospital to put paintings or pictures on the walls of nursing leaders at the hospital akin to what they have for physicians, detailing their skills, credentials, history and the changes they have advocated for—explaining the reason for their eminence. Aim to place at least as many nurses on the walls of the hospital as there are physicians.
    9. Transforming practice at a local health facility through innovative nursing practices. Below are some examples of what other nurses have done:
    10. Develop something or help a local nurse turn his/her innovation into something tangible and useful in real world delivery of health care. Ideas how to do that here. Below are some examples of what other nurses have done:
    11. Find out some numbers we can use for advocacy and to explain to decision-makers about how nursing is funded:
      • How much federal money (in your country) goes to nursing education, nursing research, nursing clinical practice and nursing residencies?
      • How much federal money (in your country) goes to physician education, physician research, physician clinical practice and physician residencies?
      • If someone has the time, we really need updated information of these numbers in the US as well :)
    12. Do some surveys of the public thinks about nursing. Do members of the public know nurses have college degrees? Have a legal and ethical obligations to object to physician actions and prescriptions if they are not advantageous for patients? Do they know nurses make autonomous decisions about how to proceed with patient care? Do they know nurses must educate patients? That nurses must advocate for them? We have the JWT Communications and Univ of Dundee and Woodhull and Buried Alive and University College Dublin YouTube studies but not many others. We could use some more!
    13. And once we are sure we have a good questionnaire (I can advise on it) we need these surveys to be done on legislators and hospitals administrators—because we need to know what they know.
    14. This is a study we designed for a graduate student, but he it wasn’t the right fit for him. So if you have any takers (or a group of takers), please consider examining how stereotypes affect nurses. I have long believed, but have no research to back this up, that nurses practice with less day-to-day autonomy than their profession calls for in large part because they have been so indoctrinated by the media to believe that they have little or no autonomy, that physicians are in charge of them, and they must necessarily do what physicians prescribe. I would love to know how a nurse’s sense of autonomy is affected by the media they consume. For instance, you might consider a study having two groups. You could show Group A a series of film clips where nurses are portrayed as unskilled handmaidens. Then give the nurses a written test of a number of patient problems and deteriorations and ask nurses what they would do in these situations to examine how autonomously they respond. Next show Group B a series of film clips that show nurses performing autonomous, courageous acts, then give them this same test on autonomy. (We have film clips and could help you identify the best and the worst.) I think that positive media encourages nurses to fully embrace their professional autonomy and negative media makes them think of themselves as helpless mice. This would help us explain the power of the media to the wider world and to nurses specifically. We need research to explain why nurses in the workplace setting act with so much less autonomy than nursing schools train them to be.
    15. Host a forum/meeting/party with local medical students to ascertain from them their level of understanding of nursing, what they think their relationship with nursing will be. Do they think they will be our colleagues or wrongly think they will be our supervisors? And try to educate them about how it is and will really be.
    16. Or start a shadowing program as they have at Dartmouth College.
    17. Do a survey of local physicians and determine from them what they know about nursing. Do they know nurses have a duty to advocate, that they are autonomous professionals, that they have to educate patients, that they make decisions about how to deliver care, that they have a legal duty to protest dangerous care and negotiate for better care? You might have to offer them a free sandwich for their participation.
    18. Examine the ethics committees at local hospitals. Do they exist? Do nurses have a substantial presence on them (equal at least to physicians). How are conflicts heard and settled? Are nurses encouraged to call on the ethics committee 24/7 when they have a difference of opinion with a physician or other health professional about how to proceed with the patient plan of care? Make recommendations for improvement akin to hospitals that have done it well. Here is an article for more details about ethics committees
    19. Have students interview faculty at local nursing schools, to determine if is it the practice at for faculty to explore issues of nursing autonomy, patient advocacy and decision-making in professionalism classes. Are these enduring themes throughout the school or are professors who teach them outliers?
    20. Please have your students sign up for our free news alerts so they can keep on top of the latest news on nursing in the media.
    21. See chapters 10 and 11 of our book Saving Lives: Why the Media’s Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk for more ideas.
    22. Students: Earn scholarship money by writing a grant proposal for us! The Truth About Nursing is looking for students who are assigned to write grant proposals for class. If you write one to help the Truth get funding, you will earn 10% of the total grant amount awarded to the Truth. If you're interested, please contact us for details at Thank you!
    23. Please assign or encourage your students to write letters for all of our letter-writing campaigns..

    Students may benefit from reading our FAQs:

    Please also consider assigning students to read our award-winning book, Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nursing Puts Us All at Risk. 

    If you are considering making Saving Lives required reading for one of your classes, please let us know and we can send you out a gratis copy. Just email us at Thank you!

    For a quick summary of the 11 chapters in our book, you can view the 11 articles we have written (one for each chapter) for the prominent UK nursing journal The Nursing Times below:

    Sandy Summers 
    Book a speaking engagement for your school!

    Please also consider inviting Sandy Summers to speak at your school about the value of nursing for a seminar, graduation speech, or other event. The Truth gives schools of nursing a significant discount. See details on her speaking engagements here. (All honoraria go to support the Truth.)

    You don't need our permission to link to our pages, but we'd still love to know how you use our material to teach your students. Please let us know at letters@truthaboutnursing. Thank you!