Q: Does it really matter if nurse experts are explicitly identifed as nurses? Let's face it: those nurses are going to get more respect if we leave the nursing part out. Especially if we also refer to them as "Dr. ____"!
A: Yes, it matters! Please identify them as nurses.
It matters a great deal that all nurse leaders and scholars who are nurses be clearly identified as nurses. Nursing needs to be linked with leadership positions, health expertise, and advanced academic degrees more than any individual journalist or news publication needs to have readers respect a particular cited expert source. And the profession needs that association more than any individual nurse needs the respect that might come from ducking it. Failing to identify health leaders and scholars as nurses does nothing to change the social disrespect that drives that practice in the first place. In fact, it may even give the impression that the cited nurse is a physician—especially if the person is identified as "Dr. ___"— actively undermining the public's sense of nursing skill and autonomy.
The failure to identify health leaders as nurses occurs in various settings, including the news media, which still consults nurses only rarely in health reporting, as the recent Woodhull Revisited study confirmed. The least such sources can do is make sure everyone knows when a nurse actually is consulted! But this problem is not limited to the news media. It extends to scholarly journals, conferences, and other settings. Consider this thoughtful 2012 piece in the American Journal of Nursing by Elizabeth Winslow—that's nursing scholar Elizabeth Winslow, RN, PhD—entitled "We Silence Our Profession When We Fail to Identify Ourselves as Nurses."
For an example of how the failure to identify a health leader as a nurse causes harm, let's look at a May 7, 2019 New York Times article about the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among nurses. The item relies heavily on expert comment by Meredith Mealer, "an associate professor at the Anschutz Medical Campus at the University of Colorado, Denver." It includes some good quotes and even mentions Mealer's research into the use of resilience practices as a way for nurses to cope with the difficulties of their work. But these benefits are undermined by the failure to identify Mealer as a nurse and the inclusion of elements that will suggest to many that she is instead a physician, namely calling her "Dr. Mealer" four times and noting that she is a professor at the "medical campus" of a university. Yes, the piece is about nursing, but much of the public is unaware that nurses get doctorates, are addressed as "Doctor," and become professors at "medical" campuses. And the misconception that physicians supervise nurses and nursing remains common. It is reinforced many times each week by popular media depictions like those on Grey's Anatomy, The Good Doctor, and countless non-hospital shows and other media. The result of all this is that many readers will assume Mealer is a physician, and physicians will get credit for her expertise, while nursing will suffer the continuing misconception that the profession is a mere subset of medicine.
We realize that some nursing leaders and scholars do not insist on being nurse-identified and may even discourage that identification. Presumably they are well aware that most of society will respect them less if they are associated with a profession that is not known for its members' authority, intellect, or knowledge. But it is vital that all media creators and all nurses make clear when a cited leader or expert is a nurse, either by saying so or by listing credentials, like "Meredith Mealer, RN, PhD." We know there is disagreement about where the "RN" should go, but we think it is actually the most important thing of all, so please put it first!
We urge all media creators and nurses to make sure that nurse leaders and scholars are clearly identified to the public as just that: nurse leaders and scholars. Nursing leadership and expertise saves lives. But wider public understanding of that fact will save even more lives, by increasing the respect and resources society devotes to the nursing profession. Thank you!