In the Media: Most Media Coverage of Supreme Court's Health Care Ruling Features Doctors

    • July 26, 2012

In the days after the Supreme Court’s high-profile decision to uphold most of President Obama’s health care reform law, the national news media turned to the nation’s doctors for their reactions.

The American Medical Association, for example, was covered in pieces about the ruling that were published on PBS’ Frontline on the day of the decision, in the Washington Post two days later, and on a television news program in Kentucky the following day, according to the organization’s website.

So what did nurses—the largest group of health care professionals in the country—have to say about the high court’s decision? It’s hard to tell if you’re getting information through the news media; it appears that nurses didn’t receive as much attention on media websites, according to an informal survey of news coverage conducted by this publication.

A Lexis-Nexis search of news coverage in the wake of the ruling yielded similar results; nurses, it appears, received less attention than doctors did in the week after the decision. A search for stories that included the words “Supreme Court” and “Affordable Care Act” and “doctor” yielded 953 results, but a similar search seeking stories with the word “nurse” instead of “doctor” yielded only 225 results.

Another search for stories about the ruling that included the words “American Medical Association,” in the week after the ruling unearthed 56 results, while a search for stories with the words “American Nurses Association” uncovered only seven stories. A similar imbalance was found in a search for stories featuring the phrase “doctor shortage” or “physician shortage” as opposed to “nurse shortage.”

Diana Mason, RN, PhD, FAAN, the Rudin Professor of Nursing and co-director of the Center for Health, Media and Policy at Hunter College at the City University of New York, has not done an objective analysis of coverage of doctors and nurses, but “has no doubt that most of the reports are citing physicians or health administrators”—but not nurses.

“For the most part, on any health story, many journalists think of the physicians as the experts,” she says. “But sometimes nurses don't respond to journalists’ requests for interviews at all or in a timely fashion, and we rarely think about proactively presenting ourselves to journalists as experts on important current topics.”

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