Nursing and Social Media’s Limits: Real Change Requires Moving Beyond Hashtags and Selfies

Karen Roush, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor of nursing at Lehman College in the Bronx, New York, and founder of the Scholar’s Voice, which works to strengthen the voice of nursing through writing mentorship for nurses.

by rosmary/via Flickr

by rosmary/via Flickr

The recent #ShowMeYourStethoscope media campaign has been hailed as a powerful demonstration of the unified voice of nurses and what it can accomplish.

In case you’re not familiar with the incident that led to the outrage–after a Miss America contestant, Kelley Johnson (Miss Colorado), a registered nurse, delivered a monologue about her work for the talent portion of the yearly pageant while dressed in scrubs and wearing her stethoscope, hosts of the television show The View derided her, with one asking why she had on a “doctor’s stethoscope.”

There was soon a vigorous backlash across social media as nurses posted, blogged, and tweeted photos of themselves with stethoscopes, often adding moving descriptions of the situations where they use them or witty comments illustrating the absurdity of the hosts’ remarks.

I found it a heartening response to disrespect and ignorance. Nurses felt empowered and celebrated the opportunity to show the public what nursing is really about.

But has anything really changed? Yes, The View lost some sponsors and was forced to air an apology (albeit unconvincing and rather patronizing). And perhaps there was a brief uptick in nurses’ public image and visibility.

But does the public really now have any better idea of the complexity of nurses’ work and the richness of their contribution to health care? Will such a campaign have any impact on the issues facing the nursing profession, such as safe staffing ratios, barriers to independent advanced practice that hamper our ability to fulfill our role in primary care, or the lack of nurses in upper leadership roles in health-related organizations?

Preaching to the choir? Those of us who pay attention to social media outlets can easily get a skewed picture of the attention these viral campaigns generate. Though the incident and subsequent outrage were widely reported, particularly in entertainment and business media (because of the loss of advertisers), this alone is unlikely to create an impetus for systemic changes in health care on such issues as safe staffing ratios.

I also asked numerous people (friends, students, and others) if they were aware of the campaign. No one outside of nursing had heard about it, and many nurses hadn’t either.

In these days of spontaneous viral social media campaigns, it is easy to feel like an activist. We charge out there in the midst of the social media storm with our stethoscopes and selfies and stories. Then the storm passes and, unfortunately, too often so does the “activism.” If we want change to happen we have to move our actions beyond social media into the world of policy and politics, boardrooms and the legislature.

So this is my challenge to all of us. After you post that selfie, hit “like,” or send a tweet, go the next step. Write your legislator, call your congresswoman, join your local nursing organization, get yourself into a boardroom, submit an opinion piece to your paper, volunteer for a committee—push yourself beyond the usual response and take your activism into the real world. We shouldn’t keep letting such opportunities go by. Instead, we can seek to stir up the storm where it really counts.

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  1. Cara Vitadaom October 4, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    A group of nurses has decided to come together and take action. Currently we are attacking unsafe staffing. A White House, We the People petition has been started to bring awareness to the public and get a response. We need 100,000 signatures by October, 19 so please sign and share. Thank you so much for the help.

  2. janiegarner October 4, 2015 at 10:03 am

    Hi, I founded the Show Me Your Stethoscope page on facebook. I am so excited to see this! We are working toward advocacy for both our patients and ourselves. Please drop by.

    Kelley Johnson’s experience may very well be the best thing that has happened to nursing since disposable needles. 🙂


  3. […] Source: Nursing and Social Media’s Limits: Real Change Requires Moving Beyond Hashtags and Selfies […]

  4. Cara Vitadaom October 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm
  5. Joyce, RN, OCN October 2, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    Miss Colorado,Kelley Johnson RN, is verbally proud of being a nurse and not intimidated to advocate the value and qualities of our profession on national TV. However, the brief ripple of response was only one strong branch from what is a monumental-size Sequoia: there are many other ‘branches’ that need to speak out to the proper venues; our colleagues, politicians, and board members. There is power behind our education and our number; initiating and succeeding in a change when it’s needed to protect the safety of our profession and our patients.

  6. LifeCoachRN, Naomi D. Jones, RN, MS, CRNI October 2, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I love your article because it asked The most important question “what has changed?”. It was powerful to see that nurses can make their voices heard, but why don’t you see that happening when it comes to nurses salary, to staffing issues, to parity in salaries and retirement lack of benefits especially our nursing managers …. If we want to see things really change we need to lift our voices for more than just a stethoscope. We do have the power!

  7. Joyce Hislop, RN October 2, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    I thank Kelley Johnson for her pride in sharing what being a nurse means. In the past 50 years too little has been done to bring our own profession’s importance to the forefront; changes only happen when we consistently educate our colleagues, politicians, and addressing board members. We need to move beyond the “break room” (if we even get a break) and the intermittent and brief media/hashtag responses. For example, we have “evidence-based practice” of unsafe staffing hours, both for the patient and the nurse. To initiate change, it needs to be done in the right arena, and through the proven value of our profession.

  8. Marianna Crane October 2, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Exactly. I agree 100%, We nurses must also continue to educate the public so they know what we do through all the examples above. As a retired nurse, I promote nursing through my writings and am on a board of one of the local hospitals. Hopefully more nurses will make an effort to increase the visibility of nursing and show how important we are in the health care system.

  9. Joan @ October 2, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Thank you for challenging us to take this a step forward – we definitely need to keep the momentum going and get our voices heard by those that matter.

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