This has bothered me since 1986. I'd thought it would be resolved by now, but it's not.
That year, I read an excellent study in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dorothy Brooten, PhD, and colleagues that showed the safety, efficacy, and cost savings of discharging very-low-birth-weight infants with follow-up care by nurse specialists (nurses with master's degrees in perinatal and neonatal nursing). I thought to myself, “I wish this important study had been led by a nurse!” Then I realized that three of the authors were identified as MSNs and the study was from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Although Dorothy Brooten wasn't identified as such in the study, I later found out that she was a nurse.
I've seen many instances since then in which either nurses (especially nurses with a PhD) don't identify themselves as nurses or, even if they might prefer to do so, the journal doesn't identify them as nurses.
Some journals only include academic degrees with the author's name but omit RN since it designates our licensure, not an academic degree. Some international journals report no academic degrees for any authors. Some journals leave it up to the author to identify the credentials to be included and their order.
It's important that we include RN with our name. The RN affirms our nursing perspective, indicates that we have passed a national licensure exam, and should enhance the nurse-author's credibility when the topic is related to nursing and health care. In addition, the RN helps readers to appreciate the professional lens through which the author is viewing the world. Journal editors should insist upon nursing credentials; this shouldn't be the author's choice.
When we don't identify ourselves as nurses, our voices have no professional identity or public visibility. As Buresh and Gordon noted in their 2006 book, From Silence to Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public (2nd edition), although nursing is the largest health profession, our voices are often missing from health reporting. When others report about us or our accomplishments, we need to make sure they identify us as nurses. When reporters write articles about my research, I stress that they need to identify me as a nurse.
It's also important to include our highest academic degree, national certification, and awards and honors. In 2009, the American Nurses Association (ANA) published a position statement, Determining a Standard Order of Credentials for the Professional Nurse, in which they recommended the following order: highest academic degree (PhD, MS, BS), licensure (RN), authority to practice at an advanced level (NP, CNS), national certification (RN-BC, CCRN), and awards or honors (FAAN, FCCN).
But many nurses seem unaware of this, and many nursing publications don't follow the recommendations. I informally reviewed the current practices at eight recent nursing publications and one medical publication.
AJN, American Nurse Today (the ANA's official journal), Nursing2012, and the Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing always or nearly always follow the ANA recommendations.
By contrast, the American Journal of Critical Care and Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing list licensure first, followed by highest academic degree and certification, in that order. In Nursing Outlook and the Journal of Nursing Scholarship, sometimes the licensure is listed first and sometimes the highest academic degree. In JAMA, one nurse-author was identified as BSN but not RN; a doctorally prepared nurse was identified as “RN, PhD.”
When we publish or speak, let's make it clear that we are RNs and let's follow the ANA's recommendations for listing our credentials. We have much to say to improve health care. Let's say it in our nursing voice.