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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