Why NPs Should Reach out to the Media


For Nurse Practitioner World News, Sept-Oct 2009
By Carla Mills, ARNP

Nurse practitioners lack influence in the health care system because we have accepted invisibility. Our work is hidden behind exam room doors. Now that health care reform is under way, NPs have the opportunity to cast off the cloak of invisibility through media outreach. Media exposure is vital if we are to be effective health leaders.

Health care in the future aspires to do exactly what NPs have always done: educate patients about their health status so they can actively participate in their own treatments. For NPs to steer health and health care in healthier directions, we must reach out to the media and share our stories.

My Uncle Walt had a favorite expression: “When you’re up to your a** in alligators, it’s hard to remember you came to drain the swamp.” Demands of clinical practice, restrictions on NP practice, and lack of public understanding about what distinguishes NPs from other nurses are alligators that distract us. A dysfunctional so-called “health” care system that doesn’t do a thing until people get sick is the swamp that needs draining.

Making Media Outreach Part of Your Professional Life

After over 40 years, the NP message is still not well understood. It is up to each of us to do our part to bring our NP methods into the public consciousness. The best way to do that is through the media.

Incorporating media outreach into your professional life doesn’t have to be hard—it can actually be fun! Think for a minute about your own personal core message or solution as an NP. Maybe it’s a project you are developing, an experience you’ve had, or a passion that drives you. Write about it in the most compelling 500 to 600 words you can muster. You might have one story or 10, and they will change over time. When big news happens (or when you feel like reacting to something you see in the media), adapt what you’ve already written. Then send it out to the media.

If you follow Twitter, take a single thought or idea from your core piece and tweet it. If you read news stories, blogs, or editorials online, post comments to them. If you give a talk that is videotaped, post it on YouTube. Take every opportunity to get to know your local newspaper, TV, and radio reporters, and make yourself available to help them when they face tight deadlines.

The goal is to promote your constructive opinions and ideas in a way that will get our message out of the exam room and into the public discussion. Start with media channels you already follow; you already have a good idea of the stories they do and how they do them. As you get more proficient, you may want to branch out. Before sending your piece to more than one media outlet, be aware of “exclusivity” requirements that the larger media organizations often require.

Tips for Compelling Writing

  • Have a clearly stated point of view. Stick to it; don’t equivocate.
  • Be brief. Keep your writing tight, 600 words max.
  • Make your point in the first paragraph.
  • Support your opinions with facts.
  • Don’t be afraid of controversy.
  • Offer insights that educate, but don’t preach.
  • Be passionate but controlled.
  • Hook your piece to breaking news. Submit it within 12 hours of the news; the sooner the better.
  • Close with a short, strong, powerful last paragraph.
  • Indicate your expertise in a short “bioline” at the end. Be sure to include your NP credentials, but keep it simple so your audience understands them – Nurse Practitioner is probably enough.

For a great example of compelling writing, read the 274 word Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln.

Media Outreach Ideas

Media channels are always looking for compelling stories and interesting viewpoints. Many pieces can be submitted online. Be sure you follow any submission instructions to the letter.

The more targeted your submissions, the more successful they will be. The trick is to reach the right contact at the right outlet at the right time with the right story. It makes sense to start locally, expand regionally and, as your message or reputation grows, go national. Here are some starting points:

  • Op-ed articles are a great way to educate and inform the public and increase NP exposure. Try to tie your topic to breaking news.
  • Submit articles or stories to consumer organizations like AARP or business publications like Forbes or Business Week. These channels want to know NPs’ views.
  • Share story ideas or op-ed pieces with local newspapers and TV and radio stations. Maybe you can become the local health expert and have a column or featured spot on a show.
  • Start a blog. Follow and comment on other blogs.
  • Use Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Always make sure your profile and posts reflect well on you professionally.
  • Check out Help a Reporter Out™ (http://www.helpareporter.com). It’s free, and reporters post their story needs 3 times a day. Warning: Never pitch off-topic; it will get you banned from the list.
  • Join non-NP business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, to meet professional leaders outside your field.
  • Consider media training to learn how to do interviews and get comfortable on camera and on the radio.

Media Exposure for One Is Media Exposure for All

Retail clinics have succeeded in putting NPs in the headlines as never before. Most major newspapers throughout the country have had stories about retail clinics, largely because of the controversy surrounding them. Despite the opposition of physician groups, the clinics are thriving. Their services are high quality; they deliver on their promise of convenience; they boast state-of-the-art electronic medical records; and their patient satisfaction numbers are stunning—90% and higher. This high quality, affordable, NP-led care has given millions of uninsured Americans access to care they could not have afforded otherwise. And it has made for marketing and media success. All NPs owe thanks to the Convenient Care Association for its tremendous job coordinating the retail clinics’ media outreach. Now we need to bring similar publicity to NPs everywhere in the health care system.

This fall National Public Radio’s Morning Edition profiled a nonprofit company, Fairview Health Services in Fairview, Minnesota. The company has developed an innovative care delivery system that, if successful, could be a model for the entire nation. The story intrigued me because the care model described didn’t sound like a physician-type approach. An NPR personality interviewed the company’s CEO and a physician on staff, then introduced Valerie Overton, NP, in this way: “Nurse practitioner Val Overton helped oversee the redesign of care at the clinic.” Val then commented: “It’s kind of interesting that Washington is reforming health care, when they’re not the ones in the room with the patient, and that’s really what this project is about: letting the people in the room with the patient reform health care.” It was gratifying to hear an NP’s leadership and vision credited on National Public Radio—with the correct title and everything.

We are living in an enabling time in history for NPs. We have a rare opportunity to advance our core values and to improve health care in this country and around the world. We should seize this moment. Media outreach will be part of our job description from now on, so we would all do well to develop our skills at it. I can’t think of any better way to tame the alligators and drain the swamp.

Carla would like to thank the following people for offering their input and perspectives in the writing of this column: George and Louise Young (publishers of NP World News), Loretta Ford, Eileen O’Grady, and Carolyn Buppert. As always, readers are invited to leave comments.

This information is offered for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe or treat. For that please seek direct care from a health professional.

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