Directors of nursing must develop strategies to address negative perceptions of the nursing profession at a local level before launching any national campaign to improve nurses’ image.
Pilot work on improving the public’s perception of nursing, carried out by senior nurses at two strategic health authorities, has found that the needs of the current workforce must be addressed “at ground level” as a priority.
Nurse leaders have told Nursing Times that serious failings in care, such as that experienced by patients at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, have “tarnished” the public image of nursing and damaged nurses’ morale.
In its final report published earlier this year, the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery called for a national campaign to challenge the public perception of nurses and raise awareness of nursing as a graduate calibre profession.
Unison head of nursing and commission member Gail Adams said a national media campaign, such as the one used to recruit social workers, could be “very beneficial” in addressing the negative stereotypes that surround the nursing profession.
But the pilots have indicated the need to improve nurses’ sense of their own work first.
Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic and District Hospital Trust director of nursing Vicky Morris, who is leading the pilot for NHS West Midlands, told Nursing Times:
“Unless we convince frontline nurses that we can support them in a better way, and that we can address issues of staffing and morale, then nurses themselves may actually shoot the recruitment drive or national campaign in the foot.”
Ms Morris said senior nurses must show “strong leadership” in making nurses aware of the range of opportunities within the profession, and where they can access support and raise concerns.
They should also highlight the levels of education and training undertaken by nurses to give them a “higher profile” with the public.
As part of the regional strategies, NHS London and NHS West Midlands are developing an interactive website for nurses who may want to pursue different career pathways and members of the public interested in nursing as a career.
The strategic health authorities are also working with The Patients Association to restore public confidence in the profession and explode some of the myths around nursing.
Project lead for NHS London and deputy chief nurse Janet Shepherd said: “The public view is that nurses earn between £11,000 and £15,000 a year and they don’t need to have qualifications because they are born with the ability to nurse. We need to give the public a better understanding of what nursing really is.”