5 Hard Lessons I Learned as a Nurse News Reporter

 In Nurses Weekly

Becoming a long-time TV medical contributor as a nurse wasn’t easy. I’ve worked in radio, local news, and national news. I currently host the award-winning Ask Nurse Alice podcast. Over the years, I learned a lot of hard lessons about reporting on the news as a nurse – I wish someone had told me these tips back then!

With the growing number of news stories about nurses recently, it appears that more and more negative stories are emerging. As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce and with the power of social media, nurses have the power to educate, empower, do damage control, and change the narrative. Without doing proper research, talking to participants, fact-checking, and presenting a well-rounded objective story – the possibility of getting the story wrong is very possible and can be damaging to the nurse and the nursing profession.

As the nurse’s role in the media continues to grow and transform, here are 5 tips on how nurses can protect themselves and the credibility of the profession, as well as educate their viewership. I’ll also provide different story angles that people can use to help tell the same story from different lenses and to be well-rounded in educating the public, meeting the interest of different segments of the public, and prolonging the story’s longevity of interest.

1. As a Nurse, You Are Automatically a “Public Figure”

By all means, use your platform however you want to use it and tell the story you want to tell. But when you’re portraying yourself on a public platform as a nurse, keep in mind that you’re a nurse 24/7. Even though it’s your personal social media place, it really isn’t personal. People will scrutinize and look at everything you do with a nurse’s lens. It doesn’t matter that you’re off the clock.

Personally, I identify myself as @asknursealice on all social media platforms because I want people to ask me questions. I’m the Chief Nursing Officer at Nurse.org. I identify as a nurse. No, I’m not always on the clock taking care of patients, but I do have this sense that as a public figure, I am looked at differently than some people who are not public figures. Because of this, the things I do and the words I select are very influential.

Recently, nursing was awarded for the 21st year in a row, the most trusted profession according to a Gallup poll. People believe we as nurses are some of the most trustworthy professionals out there, higher than doctors, firemen, etc. However, the media can frame stories how they please – when they depict nurses in a certain way, they leave an imprint and impression on the viewer. So it’s very important that we as nurses are smart and think about things first before we speak about certain stories on social media.

2. Viral Headlines, Sound Bites and Click Bait

It’s easy to read a headline or watch a 15-second TikTok video and form an opinion. However, headlines and short videos only tell a small part of the story. Did you know that headlines have a word limit? Squeezing all details of a news story into an article headline is impossible.

Once the headline or sound bite piques your interest, make sure to read the full articles and documents before forming an opinion. Your opinion and understanding of the story may change once you know more information and have a clear understanding of all sides of the story.  What you see online is not always accurate – whether it be a viral article, TikTok video, or social media post. Keep in mind that biases exist, and people sometimes have their own motives behind “going viral” or posting trending news stories.

As it becomes easier and easier to disperse information quickly online through social media – mistakes and oversights are bound to happen. Misinformation is bound to happen. While it’s important to stay informed on current issues that impact the nursing profession, it’s equally as important to do your due diligence to ensure that the information being shared by, and about nurses, is factually correct.

3. Double Check Your Sources

Whenever possible, if you are posting about current events, and especially if you are a public figure with a large following, it should be a top priority to check your sources and facts before posting. Relying on unnamed sources or reposting information from other videos or social commentary could run the risk of spreading misinformation, even if your intentions are well-meaning.

As a nurse’s role grows in the media, what we say online is going to be more scrutinized. There are outlets that fact-check what you say online as a nurse. There have even been some nurse influencers who have been called out for misrepresenting, misreporting, and allegedly saying what happened when they didn’t do their due diligence.

Social media is fun, it’s rapid and it works so fast. Many of you might think nobody will be looking at your post after a week because it will be old news, but that’s not true. It gets looked at several weeks, months, and even years later. It gets looked at by employers, nursing brands, patients, and the overall public. So it is important to do your thorough research and report with precise and factual information.

4. Critique Yourself Before You Post 

It’s easy to feel opinionated on a topic, create a video or write an article and hit “publish.” In those instances, I encourage you to take a step back. Maybe have someone else view your post, before posting it.

We want to use our platforms to advocate, educate, empower, and influence. We want to influence important things, things that will influence practice, policy, staffing, and resources. You don’t want to do this in a way that short-changes public safety and patient care. It can really damage the image and credibility of nursing, which is the opposite of what we want to do.

We as nurses need to be aware of what we’re saying and recognize that when we’re online and having these conversions we should be professional. There’s no need to belittle or bully someone online.

If you are a nurse who is hoping to get into the media and become a regular contributor on larger, organized platforms, then it’s important that you’re credible, consistent, and professional, and that you don’t undermine the profession of nursing.

Remember that whatever we portray to the public and in the media becomes fact.

  • Be mindful of what the bigger and fuller picture looks like.
  • Take off your nursing lens for a second and ask yourself, “What does this story look like to someone who is not a nurse?” before you post it.
  • Make sure you cite your sources so it doesn’t look like you’re just speaking generally without having done any research or that you’re gossiping.

If you do end up sharing a video with inaccurate information, it could also lead to mistrust in your audience and community. As we all know, when you’re a nurse, misactions by one nurse can reflect on the entire nursing profession.

Everyone has the potential to be so great, and many of you are already doing great things. I would just like to see us as professionals unite and use our growing role in media in a powerful way.

5. Stay in Your Lane, Beware of Misinformation

Anyone can throw around a healthcare “expert” label, but the truth is, being a nurse or even a doctor does not mean you are an expert on all things healthcare.

Most healthcare professionals specialize, so that means that unless you have direct knowledge of a specific situation, it’s usually best to “stay in your lane” when giving health advice.

Misinformation, especially, tends to spread very easily and doesn’t necessarily need to come from the most qualified experts to go viral—in fact, it’s often people who aren’t experts in the topic that tend to spread misinformation in the first place.

Thus, we may be seeing nurses online who are spreading misinformation about an area they may not have expertise in. Unfortunately, spreading misinformation isn’t just about facts. It’s also about what that misinformation does to people who are genuinely looking for education. Because if they are learning inaccurate information, that may mean they will alter their own health behaviors as a result, which can have long-lasting and widespread repercussions.

For instance, a parent who sees misinformation about a vaccine may spread that information to other parents and may teach their children and community to be fearful of vaccines, which could affect an entire population of people down the line. Even one piece of misinformation has an impact.

As readers and consumers become more aware online, it’s important that nurse influencers and other influencers in the health sphere consider viewing their work online as an extension of the work they would do as a nurse in a hospital or working directly with patients. In other words? When in doubt, keep it professional.

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