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How Nurses Help Underserved Communities

By Keith Carlson, via Multibiefs

Nurses have a rich history of contributing to the welfare of underserved populations. As the backbone, lifeblood, and connective tissue of the healthcare industry, nurses interface regularly with citizens who are most in need of compassionate care grounded in nursing science.

When Lillian Wald founded The Henry Street Settlement in 1893, she was doing what nurses do best, which is recognizing a problem that can be mitigated by the nursing process and nursing intervention.

Florence Nightingale herself saved the lives of countless soldiers when she almost singlehandedly transformed battlefield medicine and nursing care amidst the travails of the Crimean War. At that time, soldiers were themselves an underserved population when it came to the treatment of the wounds of battle, and one can easily argue that veterans of the American armed forces remain as vulnerable as they have ever been.

Nurses Know Vulnerability

The education and training of nurses at the baccalaureate level frequently involves the study of population-based health, leading some students to delve into the shadows of the healthcare system and the communities who receive less than their share of appropriate, timely care.

For nurses employed in emergency departments around the United States, there are consistently stark reminders that a multitude of Americans continue to have little to no access to primary healthcare, instead seeking out assistance at times of crisis when no other form of care is readily available. These types of scenarios likely exist in other countries as well, especially those where single-payer universal healthcare is not the norm.

From addiction treatment centers and school-based health clinics to inner-city community health centers and homeless shelters, nurses are on the front lines of the treatment of underserved populations.

Nurses Getting Educated

As the debate about access to, and the quality of, healthcare continues here in the United States, nurses can become politicized by such debate. Nurses can choose to educate themselves about the plight of the uninsured and underinsured.

Nurses can likewise strive to understand the complexities of healthcare legislation at the local, state, and national level. They can also critically examine issues salient to global public health, from the Zika virus to AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Education is key, and nurses’ grounding in the nursing process and research is a powerful key to leveraging nursing knowledge for the betterment of the vulnerable.

Nurses Taking Action

Nurses can indeed run for legislative office in order to influence how underserved populations access healthcare. Nurses can write letters to the editor, meet with legislators, and champion the cause of underserved populations through the art of simple conversation with neighbors, friends, and colleagues.

As the most trusted professionals in the United States, nurses are in a position to become beacons of hope for the underserved. They can also serve as examples of compassion for those in need of support from the wider community and society.

Nurses have strength in numbers, a scientific education, an understanding of the medical system, and the potential for keen insight into the ways in which certain segments of society are bereft of access to services that most of us take for granted.

In these times of political turbulence and socioeconomic and cultural upheaval, nurses embody the potential for the taking of action in support of the underserved. May many nurses hear the call.

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, has been a nurse since 1996. He is the blogger behind the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway and a widely read freelance nurse writer. Keith is also the co-host of RNFM Radio, a popular Internet radio station devoted to the nursing profession. Under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, Keith's passion is helping nurses and healthcare professionals create ultimate satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

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