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Presenting yourself as ‘just a nurse’ gives the wrong message

Nurses need to better convey the critical nature of the profession and its impact, and can make a start by adding RN after their name

Nurses need to better convey the critical nature of the profession and its impact, and can make a start by adding RN after their name

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) started a movement on Twitter to encourage all registered nurses to include ‘RN’ in their Twitter handle.

It has been hugely successful, with most nurses in the QNI network now including RN and other professional qualifications after their name.

The inspiration for this was a book by Suzanne Gordon and Bernice Buresh called From Silence to Voice: What nurses know and must communicate to the public, which explores the consequences of presenting ourselves as ‘just nurses’.

Reality of registered nurses

The authors look at how the language and symbols used in nursing reinforce a different profile from the reality for registered nurses, who carry out highly skilled, critical work with patients, families, carers and communities.

As chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute I am sometimes asked if I am a nurse. This is unsurprising, as it is not unusual for the leader of a nursing charity not to have a nursing background, even if the organisations primarily deliver nurse-led services.

Subtle messages

Reading the book, I realised I had never put RN after my name on presentations at conferences or in articles I write. I now do this consciously, and tell audiences that I am a registered nurse.

The book by Gordon and Buresh has made me think deeply about how nurses are perceived by the public, and the subtle messages communicated to them by the clothes we wear, particularly in a hospital, where symbols of hearts, teddy bears and flowers abound.

As registered nurses we need to better articulate what we do and the knowledge, skills, behaviours and attributes required to be a registered nurse. Only then will the critical nature of our profession and our impact on patient safety, health improvement and well-being be fully understood when decisions about workforce are being made.


Crystal Oldman RN is chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute 

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