Changing Nurse 'Branding' to a Profession of Medical Leaders

Nurses want to be seen as leaders in their field, but their image in the public and in the media does not convey that yet. Two experts discuss how to change the “branding” of the profession.

Images of nurses in the media have changed over the years, and while many people see them as trustworthy and respected, far fewer see them as leaders in care.

Judi Godsey, PhD, MSN, RN, was discussing the inconsistent nursing image with her graduate nursing students at Northern Kentucky University, and the conversation sparked such a debate that she turned to a marketing expert, Tom Hayes, PhD, dean of the Williams College of Business at Xavier University. The two teamed up led research on nurse brand imaging, analyzing both how the public saw nurses and how nurses saw themselves.

“[Branding] comprises a multitude of things, including the images that come to mind when you think about nursing — the good, the bad, the indifferent. What are those things? What is that we want to communicate?” Godsey, a nursing professor at Northern Kentucky University and prior member of the Northern Kentucky Health District and Kentucky Nurses’ Association said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News.

The study was administered to 286 people, who ranked 42 words/phrases on a Likert scale that measured opinions on phrases that currently described nursing or were a desired descriptor for nursing. Findings showed that the most frequently selected words describing nurses included “caring,” and “advocates,” but the phrases “leaders,” “powerful decision makers,” “health experts,” and “influential” were rarely chosen.

The most desired brand position that nurses reported was wanting to be seen as leaders in practice, education, and research.

“In our research, we asked, ‘who is responsible for changing this?’ and the number 1 answer was nurses themselves,” Hayes said. However, he noted that with more than 3 million nurses in the world, that leaves major room for error and mixed messages. “From a pure marketing perspective, if you want this to happen, it’s our belief that it starts with the major associations.”

Major nursing associations can do this through the journals they publish and the conferences that they put on. Additionally, institutions of nursing education can also teach the next generation of nurses that they are leaders in their field.

On an individual level, nurses need to consistently see themselves in leadership roles, and establish to their patients that they work with physicians, not for physicians.

“What the public does not recognize is that nurses have their own license that’s totally separate from [medical doctors’]. Our licenses are regulated by the Nursing Board and ensure that we are providing the highest level of care to patients,” Godsey said.

“The Institute of Medicine published back in 2010 that nurses should be functioning as equal partners with physicians, not subservient to them, but arm-in-arm with them in a collaborative approach. And that is the image that we need to be sure to project,” she said.

Read more: Will COVID-19 Get Nurses the Recognition They Deserve?