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The impact of bad press on nursing

The impact of bad press on nursing

The nursing profession is naturally close to our hearts and constant media attention ensures that it's never far from public consciousness. While the vast majority of the public appreciates the skill, care and dedication demonstrated by our nurses, the continual negative headlines must have an effect on perception, both among the public and healthcare practitioners.

You have to wonder, what impact does bad press have on the nursing industry as a whole?

Fosters concern among those that are currently studying

There are thousands of student nurses, all working hard toward a career in the health service. Yet many recent news stories have started to cause consternation among them. An article published in Nursing Times by student nurse Rachael Starkey, entitled 'As a student nurse, the future looks daunting', opened up discussions about career prospects, revealing the worry that is circulating the lecture theatres - based on the news stories that are read almost daily.

Subsequent comments and social media responses echoed Ms Starkey's own fears regarding whether the health service would be the same upon qualification and whether - as the press speculates - there will even be any jobs when she graduates. The stories understandably don't do much for morale, making hitherto enthusiastic students "feel like they are in a battle", competing with each other for finite amount of roles. Ms Starkey and her readers appear to have genuine worries that the career they are studying for might not exist in the same capacity come graduation time, a feeling that is exacerbated by the media.

Affects public perception of the industry, but not necessarily in a bad way

A study in the US found that the majority of industry-relevant news articles were subject to editorial decisions made with a business focus, i.e. that the negative stories would sensationally hit the front page, while positive ones would be hidden within the depths of a newspaper. That's probably no great surprise but, understandably, many nurses feel they are vilified by the media and that they have to prove to the public that they are 'good'.

Naturally, bad press can have an impact on public perception of nurses, but this isn't always to their detriment. For example, a Reader's Digest infographic posted by @dtbaron on Twitter shows nurses are considered one of the most trusted professions - ahead of doctors, interestingly (82 per cent v 76 per cent). Actually, it's possible the incessant negative press coverage elicits sympathy for these hard-working professionals from the public. The anger and criticism is rarely directed at the workers, more at the systems and procedures - or lack thereof - that lead to failings.

Opens up discussions about standards and encourages improvement

Negative press might be difficult to read, but the fact is that it raises issues that might otherwise not come to light. It creates discussions around standards at all levels; it's good that investigations expose bad practice, which strongly goes against the beliefs of any good nurse. The failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is a sad but relevant case in point: as the Francis report pointed out, deficiencies in culture and practice caused unimaginable suffering but brought to light the need for better patient focus. As a result, health facilities up and down the country, public and private sector, will be forced to review some of their practices, making improvements overall. 

What's more, there seems to be a strong commitment to fighting unnecessary or negative changes with nurses now more empowered to challenge unwise decisions or support positive ones.

Shapes education and recruitment

An article published by the NHS on the implications of the Francis report demonstrated how its recommendations will have an effect on education and recruitment. Presumably this could be the case with other high-profile 'incidents', thus negative press could in a roundabout way influence nurse training and job prospects.

The article talks about adhering to a code of conduct through training healthcare professionals 'in establishments that meet fundamental standards' and reinforcing the importance of the 6Cs (care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment, for those that don't know). It additionally proposes that nurses are recruited in accordance with those 6Cs. This, which was initially driven by negative press, could result in better-educated and more suitable individuals securing improved posts.

Highlights resilience and a strong, supportive network

Rachael Starkey's article understandably struck a nerve with those that are studying toward or currently working within nursing. However, the various responses also suggested that despite what seems to be a regular barrage of criticism, the majority of nurses are still dedicated to the profession and committing their lives to caring for others. Their responses reveal a resilience and determination which is highly admirable. The comments also indicated a real sense of community among nurses, whether they were newly graduated or had twenty years' practice under their belts. The encouragement and support conveyed in the messages must hopefully provide some reassurance to those that are studying currently. 

Re-emphasises nursing as a rewarding career

Why does anyone want to be a nurse? No doubt the answer is something around 'making a difference to other people's lives through the provision of care and consideration'. If anything, the bad press and responses to it could actually reinforce nursing as an incredibly rewarding career. It is scrutinised by the press because it is vitally important and anyone who qualifies is doing a great public service.

Again, responses to Ms Starkey's article reinforce the value of nursing and the incredible difference that nurses can make. They infer a sense that a small group of people can still make positive changes. In addition, some of the feedback also highlights the incredible scope nurses have to practice around the world, whether or not jobs are forthcoming in the UK.

Ultimately, you might think that bad press would have a damaging impact on the nursing industry, however if you look a little deeper, it can serve to bolster the people who have chosen this much-needed profession. The impact isn't always negative if it can bring this incredible group of individuals together, keen to provide the best level of care possible.

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