Nurses are trained to care for sick people in clinical settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, homes for the elderly, and more. They meet their patients’ medical and physical needs by administering medication, dressing wounds, washing them, ensuring they are comfortable, and following a diet specific to their condition.
Nurses and social policy
There is a relationship between individual nurses and their patients, and there is a relationship, or expectancy, between nurses as a group and their role within society. This expectancy began in the early days of Florence Nightingale and has evolved through the ages, eventually being formalized in a document published by the American Nurses Association (ANA) known as Nursing’s Social Policy Statement. The document details the relationship between nursing and society and the role that nurses play in leading public and political reform in the health sector.
In this statement, nursing is defined as “the protection, promotion, and optimization of health and abilities, prevention of illness and injury, alleviation of suffering through the diagnosis and treatment of human response, and advocacy in the care of individuals, families, and populations.”
It means that nurses not only take care of their patients in a clinical setting but also facilitate the prevention of illness and injury, advocate for improvements in the care of patients, families, and populations, and generally promote health in society.
How nurses effectuate change in healthcare
In their daily interactions with patients, nurses become receptive to patients’ needs and their responses to treatment, and this places them in a position where they can identify specific aspects of the clinical methods and procedures that they may be able to improve upon.
Nurses are in a position to advocate for reform within their environment, educate their patients on the correct diet and exercise regimes, and encourage them to continue on a path towards recovery. They may get involved in underserved communities and advocate for better health care.
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Today’s healthcare landscape
Access to healthcare today is not a simple matter anymore. Whether you have private medical insurance or rely on state medical schemes, access to primary care and specialist physicians often means waiting lists and long travel distances for those living in outlying areas. With the current shortage of medical personnel, many disadvantaged communities and isolated geographical areas are underserved, with little or no access to healthcare.
Nurses use their initiative in communities, medical practices, and hospitals to come up with solutions, teaching patients how to look after themselves and proactively manage their health issues. The innovative practices put into place by nurses help to take the pressure off medical doctors and specialists as the population becomes more adept at caring for their personal wellbeing and that of their families.
Nurses, too, are involved in ethical practices, promoting equity in the healthcare system, and educating themselves and others about cultural and religious differences and how they should be accommodated within medical environments.
People who see their doctors periodically for routine medical checkups are able to identify problems and have them attended to before they have a chance to cause too much harm. Not everyone is in a position to do this, however, and those who are too busy at work or have financial constraints end up with serious illnesses that have been left too late. Sometimes, the distances that need to be covered make regular screening unfeasible.
Nurses working in specific areas or communities may identify an illness or condition that is prevalent in that sector of the population and call for comprehensive testing and analysis to be done. Local factors such as a contaminated water supply, excessive air pollution, or the presence of toxins in food sources can cause illness in large groups of people. Nurses can get involved in task teams set up to investigate the cause of the problem and advocate for improved conditions.
Nurses can advocate for mobile screening stations to be set up in disadvantaged areas, offices, schools, shopping centers, and community centers. Promotional material that educates the population on the importance of being screened and advertises the place and date can be posted in these centers, and pamphlets can be distributed.
People with medical insurance can be offered a discount on the costs, while those who rely on state assistance would not have to pay anything. Free public screening could be costly; however, when weighed against the costs of cancer treatment or chronic illness interventions, identifying medical problems early saves lives and a considerable amount of money.
The simple screenings that would be of benefit to the public and can be done easily in a clinic include cholesterol and blood pressure tests, body mass index (BMI), eye examinations, prostate tests for men, pap smears, and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. More specific tests, such as mammograms for women, would require the use of a mobile unit that has been equipped with the necessary machinery and technology.
The most recent statistics released by the US Census Bureau indicate an increase in the percentage of people with medical insurance between 2020 and 2021; however, 8.3% of the population remained uninsured that year.
Health centers are community-based organizations that provide comprehensive medical care to underprivileged communities and individuals who are experiencing a lack of medical care, including the homeless and jobless, casual laborers, and elderly people without insurance.
Nurses who identify a need for medical services in a particular area can be motivated to set up a health program. It can be done through organizations such as the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which arranges financing through federal grants. Finance can also be obtained through working with organizations such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. Whether backed by HRSA or another donor, health centers that comply with Health Center Program requirements have access to reimbursements when treating Medicaid and Medicare patients, discounted drugs, and free vaccines for children. They also receive HRSA-supported training and assistance with the employment of primary care providers.
Health centers within communities are governed by a board, with the majority of board members being members of the community and patients at the clinic.
Stipulations for the management of these health centers require a board of management that is made up predominantly of community members and patients at the clinic. Fees are charged in relation to patient or family income.
Policy reform and legislation
Because of their direct contact with patients and the methods used for treatment, nurses can identify shortcomings in the current methods of treatment within their clinical environments and lend their expertise to discussions around improvements in policies and procedures.
Nurses with an interest in policy reform within the healthcare system can become involved in one of the many health boards or committees where they can share their insights and ideas for improvement. They can also join task teams that have been set up to address specific issues. Their on-hand experience would provide valuable input to such a team.
Nurse involvement can take place on a local level within their own clinical environment, or they could become part of a health board at a local or government level, where they would be involved in suggesting improvements and shaping policies.
Health education and lifestyle improvement
Helping patients manage and take responsibility for their own health is an important part of the nurse’s role. This initiative results in improved patient outcomes and alleviates the pressure placed on already overworked medical professionals.
Nurses instruct patients on the importance of taking medication and explain why they are taking it and when. Helping patients understand the reasons for their medication makes them feel more comfortable with taking it, leading to successful outcomes.
Nurses also explain how to monitor pain or temperature levels and when to administer medication, teach patients or their family members how to dress their wounds, and administer injections, such as insulin or morphine. Patients who have dietary restrictions due to procedures or illnesses such as diabetes need to take extra care with their diets. Nurses assist by providing them with diet plans.
Elderly patients need constant care, and it is not always practical to keep them in nursing homes or hospitals. Family members who care for their elderly parents need a great deal of support and advice. Nurses can demonstrate the best way to lift patients, give them bed baths, help them with exercises to strengthen muscles, and help them eat their food.
All this is time-consuming and physically exhausting, particularly if the caregiver is not in perfect health themselves. Family members or caregivers often reach a stage of burnout, and support from someone who can sympathize and offer advice is essential for the wellbeing of both patient and caregiver. Nurses could offer this support or set up a group in their community that offers this type of service.
Nurses educate patients and their families about healthy eating habits and the benefits of regular exercise. Community nurses can set up exercise classes and involve members who are able to perform the functions of gym instructors or yoga teachers.
They teach communities how to establish a communal vegetable garden or plant their own vegetables if space permits. Community members can be encouraged to keep poultry, teaching them about the benefits of eating protein while raising awareness of how to care for animals at the same time.
When nurses identify a need within a community, such as joblessness through a lack of skills, they can advocate for adult training and be instrumental in setting up a training center. When parents work all day and children are left to their own devices, setting up an after-school center for homework supervision alleviates pressure on the parents and keeps children out of mischief. These initiatives should ideally be run by members of the community, and the nurse may apply for state assistance if needed.
Involvement of family and friends
When patients are admitted to medical facilities, many of them arrive without the support of family or friends. It may be due to work or financial constraints, or simply because the patient is far from home.
Establishing contact with the patient’s support system is important for their recovery. With today’s technology, a chat group can be set up so that there is communication between the patient, friends, and family, with the nurse providing progress reports and arranging phone calls at convenient times.
This type of intervention gives the patient something to look forward to and alleviates any stress that the family may be experiencing. Involving the patient and family in decisions around the patient’s options for treatment gives them the assurance that everything possible is being done under the circumstances.
Nurses are required to follow procedures that are based on sound evidence-based practice; however, they are not limited in terms of holistic methods of care that focus on the patient’s wellbeing. For example, playing soothing music for a patient who is unable to see or organizing a daily massage for a bedridden patient can have an immensely positive effect on the patient, both mentally and physically, with improved patient outcomes.
Stress and anxiety in patients often manifest in additional ailments, such as stomach aches or headaches and muscular pain. Nurses today preempt these symptoms by arranging for physiotherapists and occupational therapists to visit patients in hospitals and clinics. In nursing home settings, nurses occupy residents’ time with mind games and board games, cheerful music, and exercise routines. Keeping patients happy accelerates the healing process and makes life easier for all concerned.
A dynamic profession for those with a caring nature
As nurses go quietly about their daily duties, rest assured that what you see is not what you get. They are working behind the scenes to improve the lives of patients and their families, whether on a small scale or something larger that is not immediately apparent to the onlooker. Our hard working nurses deserve respect and gratitude for being there for us and society.