The Pulse | Thursday, November 19, 2020
SGNA Reviews: ‘From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public’
Question one: Do you believe that the public trusts nurses as individuals and the nursing profession in general, yes or no?
Question two: Do you believe that most members of the public understand what nurses actually do, yes or no?
Nurses tend to respond “yes” to question one and “no” to question two. This exercise sums up the impetus of the book, “From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public,” by Bernice Buresh and Suzanne Gordon, which urges nurses to communicate what they know and encourage the public to understand the true nature of their work.
The authors make a strong point that nurses need to take their backstage conversations of what they actually do to the frontstage. The book’s authors, two journalists, worked with nurses to achieve a 360-degree motion to advocate for and elevate nurses and the nursing profession.
Buresh and Gordon vividly describe the important issues confronting nurses and barriers to the public’s full understanding of what they do. They present examples that describe the complex roles of nurses and scenarios of missed opportunities of public recognition of the contributions nurses have made to healthcare. Specific guidance on how to communicate to the public, including reaching out to and leveraging interactions with the media, are also given.
“Just a Nurse”
How important is it that nurses introduce themselves with their first and last names and role during interactions with patients and families? And doing the same when communicating with other departments and institutions? When nurses find themselves in an interview and are asked what they do, are they prepared to respond? The same concept applies in a social setting ― when someone at a party asks you what you do, are you prepared with your introduction?
The book makes it clear that nurses’ individual presentation of themselves creates the public’s perception of nurses. Nurses can and should share their specialty and specific role, such as a pediatric intensive care nurse, clinical nurse specialist, endoscopy nurse, etc., instead of the simple “I’m a nurse” response. Every interaction is an opportunity to tell the world what you do.
The book shines a light on the depth of how nurses recoil from the spotlight to avoid getting credit for their work. “It wasn’t much.” “I didn’t do much.” “I’m just a nurse.” These individual presentations of oneself contradict the intent of making the public advance their understanding of nurses.
Ending the Silence
The authors clearly expressed that the nursing profession needs to be united to end the silence. Many news articles mention doctors and nurses, but the details reveal no information on what the nurses contributed. Nurses participate in multidisciplinary rounds and should position themselves alongside physicians and the rest of the team, not be semi-invisible.
Nurses should commit to communicating what they know and do as an integral part of their work. When the public has a broader understanding of what nurses do, nurses gain more trust and generate stronger support.
“From Silence to Voice” includes how-to resources such as creating anecdotes and arguments, writing letters to the editor, writing opinion pieces (or op-eds) and reaching out to journalists, all aimed at helping nurses end the silence.
For those seeking resources to help our profession speak up and stand out, this book is an excellent and thought-provoking resource.
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