How Nurses Apply Their Training in Underserved Areas

The role of a registered nurse is to look after people with medical and mental health problems, caring for individuals, families and communities by administering medical help and providing a holistic approach to improving their wellbeing.

Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, changed the nature of nursing to include holistic methods of administering care, reducing deaths by improving hygiene and living conditions. Today’s nurses are still trained along holistic lines that extend to considering families and communities. They are taught to take care of patients, and also to educate them about the value of good hygiene and following a nutritious diet.

Nursing education

Nursing is a profession that becomes an integral part of your life and one where learning is an ongoing process that improves your knowledge and self-confidence.

You can build a fulfilling career in nursing by switching from a non-nursing field of work. Accelerated BSN online programs, like those offered by Wilkes University online, provide a fast-track path to obtaining your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) qualification. Wilkes’ Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program condenses the traditional nursing curriculum into a more focused format, allowing you to gain the necessary skills and knowledge in a shorter timeframe. It includes prerequisite courses to ensure students are well-prepared for the accelerated nature of the program. This opens the door for individuals who are passionate about caring for other people – including those in underserved communities – to transition into a rewarding nursing career.

Applying nursing theory to practice

Caring for people is an instinct that is inherent in most of us. However, caring for people who are ill or injured takes a lot more skill, and there are methods for managing specific situations that are not always obvious to the non-expert. Nurses need to learn advanced caring skills and evidence-based theory so they can apply their learning to the effective treatment of patients. In today’s medical environment, the patient’s interests and wishes take precedence. Nurses see their patients as individuals in need of physical, mental, social and possibly even spiritual care. They draw upon their theoretical training and practical experience to identify the underlying causes of illness and disease, communicating with patients and their families for positive patient outcomes.

The use of evidence-based methods is crucial in an acute care setting where patients’ lives are often at risk. In an acute care environment, nurses monitor vital signs, administer the necessary medication, and make the patient as comfortable as possible. In this environment, technology plays an important role as diagnostic tools provide information regarding the patient’s condition, and progress is tracked via sophisticated electronic monitors. Patient data is analyzed and stored for further reference, and decisions are made accordingly.

In a chronic care context, evidence-based methods come into play as nurses administer medication and care for patients who are suffering from one or more chronic illnesses. When patients present with multiple chronic ailments, nurses are required to communicate with practitioners in several disciplines; making sure that patient consultations don’t overlap, and medications don’t counteract one another. Based on their theoretical training and experience, nurses know how to treat chronic illnesses, but they also know when the patient is in need of specific treatment and when to refer the patient to a physician.

Nurses working in communities utilize the wealth of theoretical knowledge provided by their training as they administer to people of all ages and with a wide range of medical and mental health issues. From pregnant women and newly-born babies to elderly patients who may have a multitude of problems, they see it all. Community work involves educating people on the benefits of healthy eating and promoting hygienic living conditions as a means of preventing disease. It also means helping people struggling with substance abuse problems and mental health issues.

How nurses assist in providing healthcare to vulnerable populations

Everyone has a right to adequate healthcare. Unfortunately, vulnerable populations exist in many areas: groups of individuals who are at risk of health disparities due to socio-economic or environmental disadvantages. These populations can include very young or very old people, racial minorities, victims of sexual violence or human trafficking, people in rural areas, people who are marginalized because of their sexual orientation, migrant workers and homeless people.

Various factors determine vulnerability in these populations, such as chronic illness, disabilities and mental illness. Very often, nurses extend their nursing duties to include advocating for medical supplies and nutrition as a means of promoting health in these communities. They may also play a role in educating disadvantaged communities on how to improve their lifestyles through healthy eating and exercise. Sometimes nurses go as far as advocating for community training so that parents can build up the skills necessary to find employment.

Caring for the elderly and people with chronic ailments or disabilities

Elderly people and children are particularly vulnerable and reliant on effective support. Homes for the elderly take care of the aging population, with 24-hour nursing care on hand; however, elderly people in outlying areas or socially disadvantaged communities are at risk of not receiving proper care.

People over the age of 75 generally suffer from at least three chronic ailments, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or lung ailments. Caring for these people can be challenging as their conditions require the input of a team of practitioners from different disciplines, and this is rarely available in disadvantaged communities. Nurses working with elderly patients draw up individual treatment plans to ensure that their patients get the required medication, adequate nutrition and exercise.

Taking care of children and their families

Children, on the other hand, rely on parents and, in their absence, on children’s homes. In both settings, nurses are aware that children can be exposed to abuse or severe neglect, and looking out for telltale signs is part of their everyday care in these environments. Once identified, nurses are obliged to report suspected abuse to the Child Protective Services (CPS).

Nurses working in disadvantaged communities can get involved on a higher level and advocate for children’s rights and accessibility to proper healthcare and food, as well as housing and support for families in need.

Addressing mental illness

Mental illness can affect people from all walks of life, and it may go untreated for various reasons, regardless of socio-economic circumstances. Lack of access to proper healthcare exacerbates the problem, however, as mental health issues often manifest in physical health problems and are identified by healthcare practitioners.

People with disabilities, elderly people in homes, adolescents and people dealing with chronic ailments are all prone to depression and anxiety. When nurses treat patients in these situations, they should also look out for signs of anxiety or depression, as this can often be the cause of the physical ailment being reported. Severe cases of depression and anxiety should be referred to professional counselors but, if less severe, the patient could be referred to a general practitioner for the prescription of a mild form of medication such as a mild sleeping or anti-depressant medication. These patients should be monitored for side effects, signs of progress and possibly a need for professional treatment.

Remote nursing for rural communities

People living in outlying communities are more likely to struggle to find jobs and thus have reduced opportunities for healthcare insurance. This situation can be exacerbated by many of these areas lacking adequate healthcare facilities due to their geographical location which can mean long travel distances to hospitals and clinics. Nurses who live and work in rural communities often carry the additional responsibility of caring for their community without adequate support from other medical professionals.

Nurses can advocate for medical provisions and for the services of medical professionals on a part-time basis if possible. They can request facilities for the treatment of patients and, with modern technology, they can request and assist with the setting up of remote diagnostic facilities (known as telehealth systems) for patients to communicate with primary care practitioners or specialists who make their services available online.

Through programs that assist healthcare professionals working in disadvantaged communities, the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) is able to provide support in these disadvantaged areas. They also offer educational loan repayment schemes to healthcare professionals who dedicate themselves to working in these communities for specific periods of time.

Understanding the needs of migrant workers and minorities

When nurses work in an environment where racial and ethnic populations are experiencing a lack of healthcare, it helps to educate themselves on the reasons for the disparity and empower themselves with the knowledge to cope with these conditions. Learning to communicate in relevant languages is a great help or, alternatively, having someone available to translate can also work when trying to understand and treat patients who may not be able to communicate effectively. Having a basic knowledge of ethnic traditions and customs certainly helps, as these customs sometimes prohibit community members from accepting certain forms of medical intervention. Nurses should be respectful of traditions and give their patients the opportunity to accept or reject the proposed intervention. In the case of rejection, the nurse may be able to suggest an alternative treatment.

Migrant workers may also have specific needs as they may not speak English, and their presence in the country is usually on a temporary basis. These workers may not have medical insurance and often work in hazardous and unhygienic conditions without access to proper food, clean water or medical care. They may suffer from health problems, malnutrition, depression, pesticide poisoning and work-related injuries. Because of the migratory nature of these groups, the continuation of care is also impractical at times. Migrant health centers do exist for uninsured migrant workers, or they can be referred to other federally qualified health centers for healthcare. Again, it helps for nurses to be able to communicate in their patient’s language or to have a translator available. Many hospitals and clinics specifically employ staff who are fluent in second languages, as this benefits their organization when helping people in these circumstances.

Caring for LGBTQ+ populations

Members of the LGBTQ community are often exposed to social stigma, discrimination, violence and victimization. This can affect their mental health and often results in increased substance abuse and, sometimes, suicide. Nurses are specifically trained in the treatment and counseling of people suffering from sexually transmitted infections. They are also trained to educate people in these communities so they can protect themselves from contracting infections. Nurses can encourage regular healthcare interventions, and also recommend social support in some cases.

Challenges of nursing in correctional facilities

Nurses working in correctional institutions face a whole different set of challenges that come with the job. Substance abuse, injuries and contagious diseases are some of the problems which nurses may encounter. They are required to treat their patients with care and respect.

Many inmates in correctional facilities suffer from mental health disorders and are prone to substance abuse. Social workers and counselors will often recommend that inmates with serious health disorders be admitted to psychiatric hospitals for treatment but, for the rest, it is up to the nurses and doctors to administer treatment within the confines of the correctional facilities.

Healthcare is a constitutional right of prisoners, and neglect to provide such healthcare is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Nurses in this environment are required to make decisions as to whether prisoners should be admitted to the medical unit within the facility or whether they should be transferred to a facility that can provide advanced health care. Such a move must be justified with the appropriate documentation.

Nursing challenges and rewards

As we have explored, nurses may find themselves working in one of many challenging situations. Whatever the situation, there is always much to be learned and skills that can be added to the theoretical knowledge imparted by your studies. This can result in expertise and experience that will enhance your career as a professional nurse.

No matter where you find your niche, there will always be rewards in helping and caring for people, their families and communities.

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