Matter of Opinion: Reframing the Public Image of Nursing (Podcast)

How nurses can shape popular perceptions of the profession

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The public perception of nursing is largely shaped by media outlets but too often the portrayals are inaccurate, incomplete or downright damaging. At one end of the spectrum, nurses were cast as superheroes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversely, the profession took heat earlier this year when a scandal broke about the licensing of nurses with fake diplomas.

An accurate image of nursing is vital. It impacts not only how nurses are treated at work and throughout their careers, but also influences the next generation’s decision to enter the profession.

“We are in a place where we can really, really make a difference and advocate for our contribution that is unique to the health and wellbeing of society,” says Mary Beth Modic, DNP, APRN-CNS, CDE, a clinical nurse specialist at Cleveland Clinic.

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In a recent episode of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse Essentials podcast, Modic talks about the image of nursing today and how nurses can contribute to it. She discusses:

  • The portrayal of nurses in television dramas, advertising and on social media
  • The pressure of being labeled as superheroes during the pandemic
  • How nurses can tell their stories to help create an accurate picture of the profession
  • Proactive ways to combat negative perceptions
  • Stories that depict nurses as healers and innovators

Click the podcast player above to listen to the episode now, or read on for a short edited excerpt. Check out more Nurse Essential episodes at or wherever you get your podcasts.

Podcast excerpt

Podcast host Carol Pehotsky, DNP, RN, NEA-BC: What can I be doing to really help portray that image of nursing to maybe inspire the next person to consider it as a profession?

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Modic: I think we need to talk about what we do. Often, we talk about that we didn’t have lunch, we didn’t have any water. And who wants to do that? Who wants to be starving and thirsty? So, I think that we need to be saying that I identified this problem that was unclear to anyone else or that I realized that this family member was struggling so much that they were acting out.
We are encountering patients and their families who are more aggressive than we’ve had in the past. And I think that’s reflective [of the fact] that we’re having sicker and sicker patients in the hospital and that families aren’t nearby. And so, either they’re not being able or they haven’t seen their loved one in a while, and they come and they see this catastrophic situation. And so, I think that we do remarkable things, but we just think it’s not that big a deal.

And I love nursing for a number of reasons. First, I’ve had the most extraordinary career, and when I reflect on it I want that for everyone because I was continually learning. And I worked with people who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. They were also patient with me when I was very immature, and they gave me mercy. And I think that all of those things set me up to want to advocate for this. So, tell our stories.