Nurses' Views Are Often Absent from Media Coverage of Health Care Stories, But You Can Help Change That!

    • March 28, 2011

With the national dialogue over how to expand access to quality health care continuing, ideally, media coverage should reflect a wide range of perspectives on health and health care. Unfortunately, sometimes nurses’ voices are not featured—but nurses can do something about that! Following are a few tips for injecting your nurse’s perspective into your local media.

Letters to the Editor

Perhaps the easiest way for nurses to break into local newspapers is through a letter to the editor. Letters can be quick and easy to write, and most newspapers will accept submissions online or by email. In addition, letters to the editor sections are well read. With just a little work, you can put a nurse’s view in front of many readers.

Every newspaper has its own criteria for the kinds of letters it runs as well as word limits for individual letters. The best way to familiarize yourself with your newspaper’s preferences is to read the letters section and take note of whose letters are printed, what their tone is, what kinds of topics they address and how long they are. But a few things are universal. Newspapers prefer letters from local authors; they like letters that are concise; and they like letters that add new information or a new perspective to an article that has appeared in the paper’s news or opinion pages in the last day or two.

You might send a letter to the editor providing a nurse’s perspective on a recent story. For example, you may respond to a story about the expected growth in Medicaid enrollees by emphasizing that demand can be met more easily if nurses are permitted to practice to the full extent of their education and training.

Remember as you write that the purpose of your letter is to communicate your message. So if you write a letter that disagrees with something that’s appeared in the paper, express your opposing view quickly, and then spend at least as many words communicating your own message about the subject.

Keep your letter moderate in tone. It’s great to be passionate, but an angry tone can turn readers off.

Once you’ve finished your draft, share it with a colleague, get his or her thoughts and then revise as you see fit. When you’re ready, submit it to the newspaper, being sure to include your name (with your nursing degree), address, telephone and email. The paper won’t publish your contact information, but they might want to contact you to confirm that you sent the letter.

Keep in mind that you may need permission from a supervisor or public relations director to list the hospital or institution at which you work. But if that proves problematic, you can simply say that you’ve been working as a nurse in the community for a certain number of years, and not list your institution.

Blog Posts

Another great way to communicate your message is through a blog post. Many hospitals maintain blogs, as do various nursing organizations, community groups and others. With a little Googling, you might be able to identify a local blog that would welcome a guest post from a nurse with something interesting to say. Once you find a likely candidate, contact the organization or individual who runs the blog—an email is fine—and tell them you’d like to do a post. Explain in general terms what it will say, and ask if they’d be interested.

An effective blog entry is short—somewhere between 250 and 700 words, has a lead paragraph that grabs the reader, and includes links that allow readers to get more information related to the issue and facts you’ve covered.

Write a lead paragraph that clearly and succinctly describes the topic of your post. Then in subsequent paragraphs go on to explain why the issue is important and your corresponding point of view. Be sure to avoid jargon and to assume no specialized medical knowledge on the part of the reader.

As with a letter, you can improve your piece by getting a colleague’s feedback on it. When you’re ready, send it off to your contact at the blog (and cross your fingers!). If the blog runs the post, you might also ask if they’d object to your urging other blogs to “cross-post.” If they approve, send emails to any blogs that you think might be interested, including a brief description, a link to the post and an invitation to cross-post. You might also send a link to the blog to local health care reporters, both print and broadcast, in the hope that they might quote you in a future story.

And if either a letter or a blog post is published, be sure to share it with your friends, colleagues and other contacts. One final tip: Encourage them not just to read the blog post or online version of the letter, but to comment on it. That will help reinforce for the newspaper or blog that nurses’ views matter.

Letters to the editor and blog posts are just two ways to add a nurse’s perspective to the news, and there are many others including dialing into radio programs where listeners have the chance to state their views. Have you had a good experience with the media? Share your views in the “Comment” tab at the bottom of this story–and use that tab to comment on all the stories in Sharing Nursing’s Knowledge.