The Public Trusts Nurses’ Voices During Health Emergencies

September 14, 2020 by Alec Stone MA, MPA, Former ONS Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

The cacophony that echoes through the 24-hour news cycle can be heavy on an average day but overwhelming during a global health pandemic. That is why relying on a trusted voice is essential when attempting to understand how to deal with the voluminous information that bombards us through radio, television, emails, social media, and any other channels that deem themselves news outlets these days.

Public relations and communications theories and practices suggest ( that during health emergencies, communicating constantly, clearly, and consistently is the best approach. Assuaging people’s anxieties and presenting useable facts may help de-escalate an already stressful situation.

Why Nurses’ Voices Matter

As the most trusted profession ( for two decades, nurses can help bring clarity to confusion, whether during a cancer diagnosis, infusion appointment, postoperative recovery, or global pandemic. Patients, caregivers, family members, and the general public look to nurses to provide accurate information and a sense of reassurance.

During an era filled with fake news, biased reporting, and false claims, nurses must be a rational voice that translates public health information and dispels erroneous assertions that at best are confusing and at worst harmful. “The spread of false and potentially dangerous claims during a lethal pandemic clearly poses a threat to our national security,” U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood, RN, said ( at a 2020 House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee meeting. “When it comes to vital public health information, the stakes are life and death.”

Raise Your Voice in the Community and Country

Because the public—and policymakers—place so much trust in nurses, nurses have an opportunity and obligation to raise their voices in times of health crisis. Share critical information in your community, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations ( for practices to prevent exposure to and spread of COVID-19. Advocate ( for a reduction in racial and ethnic disparities related to COVID-19, many of which are similar to the health disparities in patients with cancer. Educate your patients with cancer about the specific virus-related health factors that affect ( their disease process. Cry out for reform in personal protective equipment availability and staffing shortages.

What ONS Is Doing to Help

We know it’s not easy when you’re facing barriers that run the gamut from misinformation in the media to unsafe working conditions. “COVID-19 is causing concerns ( for oncology nurses in many facets of practice, including availability and use of personal protective equipment, telehealth strategies, changes in treatments, staffing concerns, and psychosocial care for people with cancer.”

But nurses must set the record straight and be that trusted voice when it is most needed. ONS supports, monitors, and reports on the pandemic’s implications for oncology nurses and patients with cancer, providing approved health and medical resources for nurses to use in practice.

In meetings with elected officials, congressional staff, and federal regulatory agencies, ONS leadership advocates that the role of the nurse in health care is critical and more needs to be done to protect both providers and patients. A safe workforce makes for a stronger patient population. This message is crucial in conveying a strong sense of optimism in the face of uncertainty.

Ultimately, nurses may think of themselves more as action oriented than as professional communicators. The truth is, they are both. By using evidence-based practice in their daily work, without saying a word nurses demonstrate that they are seeking improved outcomes and measures for quality care. But they also have a responsibility to speak out.

In her ONS president’s message after taking the office in May 2020, Nancy Houlihan, MA, RN, AOCN®, called for courage ( in the face of adversity when she referenced Florence Nightingale’s quote, “little can be done under the spirit of fear.” It is that approach to the field and the patient that drives nurses, confirming their place as the most trusted profession.

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