A guest post By Raqui Ward BSN RN, a Public Health Nurse
Public Health Nursing is defined according to Discover Nursing.com as nursing which “works within the community to improve the overall health of the area.” Generally public health can happen anytime, anywhere. From my experience public health nursing is defined by three characteristics; flexibility, creativity, and compassion.
I am usually a planner so being flexible is something I work on – constantly. I would much rather have all the plans figured out months, weeks, and days in advance, but life as a public health nurse does not always work out that way. At a moments notice I must be willing and able to change the plan.
Flexibility particularly comes to mind when I provided family planning/preconception counseling in clients’ homes. I was scheduled to meet one particular client at a local park convenient to her. It started to rain so we went to her house where there were two active toddlers curious about the nurse visiting their home and ready to play.
Oh and did I mention a friend was on their way.
I would have preferred to give the injectable medicine to her in the office or clinic but as you can see coming to me would have caused her more trouble than its worth- the clinic was an inaccessible option. Caring for two children under five, a friend coming to visit her in the middle of the assessment, and a “lovely” neighbor playing their music loudly in the middle of the day- let me tell you I was flexible!
As a public health nurse you work for the homeless women on the corner to the CEO of a fortune 500 company.
Creativity is paramount as all client access to resources is not equal. For instance, when educating a client about eating fresh fruits and vegetables as a part of their diet I must consider their living situation, socioeconomic, risk factors, potential barriers, and receptiveness to the education.
It’s not that most clients do not want to “comply” with our recommendations it’s that they don’t know how to particularly carry out the recommendations to fit their current situation.
That’s where we become creative.
Most clients I have worked with only have access to the corner convenient store or discount grocer; that are able to sell less than desirable products because they do so at “affordable” prices, as their frequent avenues for nutrition.
And while many communities in my area are working toward increasing access to farmers markets such as making sure supplemental benefits are accepted at farmers markets and that these farmers markets are located on local bus routes but this is not enough. There is more work to be done as the options for fresh produce are not consistently available.
When money is tight I encourage clients to buy fresh, then frozen, and canned last. I discuss the benefits of each type of produce and how frozen produce is a great alternative as compared to canned with high sugar and sodium contents, plus they are able to buy more of a variety of frozen because it last longer than fresh. This is just one of many creative ways to present health care to the public.
I once had a client come to me about smoking cessation. Nicotine patches were not an option for him so we discussed alternatives. By the end of our brainstorming we came up with the plan that whenever a craving happened he would drink a glass of water and/or go for a walk.
Also he came up with utilizing cinnamon sticks for his oral fixation instead of cigarettes. The next time I saw him he was beaming ear to ear and thanking me for taking the time to help him because the plan was working. He appreciated that I took time to help him come up with a workable customized smoking cessation plan and encourage him. Creativity is a public health nurse’s middle name.
I believe this goes without saying, “An effective nurse is a compassionate nurse.”
Public Health Nursing is no different. We work for the entire community. I’m not saying you have to be dripping with sugary-syrupy goodness but as a nurse to the public you need to take a walk in your clients’ shoes.
How would you feel to live your entire “normal” life, considering it a success then suddenly be diagnosed in your prime with a debilitating mental illness?
Now you have schizophrenia and you can’t complete a full sentence due to thought blocking, or how would you feel as a teenage middle school mother trying to navigate motherhood while your own mom calls the shots for you and your baby?
Public health nursing serves everyone but especially those living in the margins, the ones society forgot, and laughs at, or discounts, because it’s a “me” generation and often times we make fun of what we don’t understand.
These are just some of the public health experiences I have day in and day out and sometimes I think “am I really making a difference?” In reality a public health nurse is a seed planter and most times someone else gets to see the seeds take root and grow.
It takes its toll but I feel my purpose is to give voice to the voiceless and good or bad I have enjoyed every minute of it! If you would like to know more about public health nursing come on over to my blog and remember a solid public health nursing career is founded on flexibility, creativity, and compassion.
P.S. Check out this video on Public Health Nursing
Raqui Ward BSN RN; Sometimes she goes by Kimberly; currently works as a regulatory public health nurse and nursepreneur, in these fields no two days are alike! After hours you can find “Raqui” spending time with her supportive hubby, reading, cooking, and enjoying the journey of self-discovery.
Connect with Raqui on her blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks Raqui! Her new book is out, Lessons Learned What They Didn’t Teach You or I in Nursing School: Lessons Learned Beyond the Classroom, is in stores now.