News and Comment

Does the RCN’s ‘This is Nursing’ campaign hold the key to reversing the decline of the nursing workforce?

Wednesday 10 October 2012

The Royal College of Nursing’s current high profile advertising campaign has the potential to make a significant, and very much needed, contribution to reversing the decline in the number of people choosing nursing as a career. But is the RCN’s decision to not shy away from highlighting the difficult bits of a nurse’s day (as well as the rewarding aspects) a risky move?

The reputation of nursing has taken a bit of a beating over the last few years. With damaging media reports of poor care, unprofessional service and bad management, it’s not surprising that public trust in the profession had hit an all time low. However, as anyone who works in or around the nursing sector knows, in reality these cases are few and far between. This is why the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has launched their ‘This is Nursing’ initiative to help turn around public perception of the profession and to remind us how valuable and dedicated nurses really are.

Featuring adverts on 1000 buses across the UK and accompanied by an emotive YouTube video, a dedicated website and social media channels, the campaign aims to show the reality of nursing – the highs, the lows and the mundane bits in-between. In just over two weeks, they’ve already clocked up nearly 27,000 views on YouTube, over 16,000 Twitter followers and almost 18,000 likes on the associated Facebook page. This is pretty good going by most standards, although of course it’s difficult to calculate how many of these people are already in the nursing profession or in the RCN’s ultimate target audience of the general public.

The underlying aim of the initiative is to try to counteract the huge decrease in people wanting to pursue a career in nursing. According to the RCN’s 2011 Labour Market Review, there are fears that the nursing workforce could shrink by 100,000 over the next decade – a quarter of the total number of nurses in the UK. Studies show that potential recruits have been turned off by misconceptions about the profession via the aforementioned media scepticism, along with fears of poor pay and limited opportunities to progress.

If you’ve already watched the ‘this is nursing’ video ad, you can see that they’ve taken a risk with the content, as showing nurses mopping up sick and having to deal with abusive patients could be discouraging to many potential applicants. However, I think this is where the beauty of the campaign lies. They’re not patronising the viewer, they’re saying ‘yes it’s bloody hard and often under-valued work, but if you care about making a difference and helping people, then consider this as an option’. Then, via their dedicated site, they give the viewer easy access to case studies, articles and advice on how to get into nursing.

A lot is riding on this initiative and the big question is, will it work? Looking at similar campaigns in the past, a natural comparison can be drawn to the ‘Those Who Can, Teach’ campaign in the noughties. Following years of decline in the number of graduates wanting to get into teaching, the campaign contributed to a significant rise in applicants to the profession. Like the RCN’s, this initiative was both aspirational and myth-busting at the same – the myth in teaching’s case was pay. Notably, in the ‘This is Nursing’ initiative, although they highlight how you can rise to the top of the ranks of the nursing ladder, they gloss over the issue of salary and focus on the more altruistic aspects of the job, which may turn off some potential recruits. It will be interesting to see how this pans out over the coming months, particularly as the ‘those who can’ campaign was run before social media had become such a huge part of our lives, so the RCN’s has even more potential to reach a wide audience and to have a bigger impact.

At OPM, we work in partnership with the RCN to build capacity within the nursing workforce, so we’ll be following this campaign closely. If you would like to talk to us about these issues, please feel free to comment below or get in touch at