Get access

International Nurses Day and press coverage in South Africa


  • G.S. van Zyl B.Journ, MPH,

    Communications Associate, Corresponding author
    1. School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
    • Correspondence address: Ms Greer van Zyl, P O Box 50634, Randjesfontein 1683, South Africa; Tel: +27 79 896 3447; E-mail:

    Search for more papers by this author
  • N.J. Christofides MPH, PhD

    Senior Lecturer
    1. School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
    Search for more papers by this author

  • Funding: This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. Financial support was received from The Atlantic Philanthropies to subscribe to a clipping service through the University-based Nursing Education in South Africa (UNEDSA) project.
  • Conflict of Interest: No conflict of interest has been declared by the author(s).
  • Ethical approval: An ethical waiver was issued by the Health Research Ethics Committee of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, as this study did not involve humans or human records. The articles included in this study are available in the public domain.



In some countries, nursing's appeal as a profession is diminishing, partly due to poor press coverage and the media's portrayal of an over-loaded, poorly paid profession. The media is important for shaping public perceptions and raising policy issues. International Nurses Day gives nurses an opportunity to profile their critical contribution to quality health care.


To determine the influence of this commemorative day on press coverage about nursing by examining whether there was a difference in the proportion of South African press articles on nursing between January–April and May–June 2010.


A quantitative content analysis was conducted of all press articles mentioning ‘nursing’ or ‘nurse/s’ in the South African lay press from 1 January–31 June 2010. Articles were coded for theme, slant and prominence, and inter-coder reliability was assessed. Descriptive statistics with chi square or Fisher's exact tests were used to compare the two time periods.


We identified 242 articles in 95 publications. The month of May had almost double the press coverage of January. International Nurses Day articles were mainly positive, and appeared in May to June in weekly community publications rather than in daily national and regional newspapers. When they were excluded, most articles portrayed nursing negatively.


The 6-month period may not be representative of the entire year. Only the dominant topic was coded, which possibly influenced the analysis.


International Nurses Day positively influenced the extent and slant of press coverage. Efforts to sustain coverage beyond the event through strategic partnerships and media engagement should be strengthened.

Implications for nursing and health policy

The media's portrayal of nurses and nursing may influence the choice of nursing as a career. International Nurses Day is an opportunity to portray nursing positively. Media training may help nurses to advocate for their profession in the media.