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University of North Carolina Wilmington

What Is the Nurse’s Role in Community Health?

North Carolina ranks 31st in overall health in the U.S., but healthcare professionals, state and local government officials and community leaders have plans to improve this number significantly. In addition to ongoing community health assessments, the Healthy North Carolina 2020 report details objectives for creating “A Better State of Health.” Graduates from RN to BSN in nursing programs have a large part to play in reaching these objectives.

Healthy North Carolina 2020: A Better State of Health

In 2010, a wide cross section of state and local officials, health care professionals and community leaders released the Healthy North Carolina 2020: A Better State of Health report. This group met with community members throughout the state to learn about healthcare consumers and share information about the initiative.

The report outlines 13 focus areas for improvement — among them are tobacco use, nutrition, physical activity, sexually transmitted disease, substance abuse, infectious disease and foodborne illness, mental health, maternal and infant health, and chronic disease. Based on these focus areas, the authors of the study determined specific health objectives.

How Nurses Can Help

Preventing infectious disease is possible through both community and school efforts. Nurses may dispense vaccinations for diseases such as chicken pox, measles, influenza, and hepatitis B in doctors’ offices, schools, child care facilities and drug stores. Vaccination ideally begins with babies and children and can extend to the parents of young children, healthcare professionals, persons over the age of 50 and people who are medically susceptible because of other conditions.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in North Carolina. Nursing opportunities are available in the public and private sectors and include cessation programs. It is important that school nurses deliver the anti-smoking message to the students under their care.

The best way to counter obesity and its accompanying complications — heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes — is to improve knowledge of good nutrition and the benefits of exercise. Education starts with overweight children and youth in school or clinical settings and extends to adults. Nurses screen people at risk for obesity and help implement healthy food programs and encourage physical education. Nurse dieticians may use the Eat Smart, Move More initiative to promote healthy eating and physical activity in the community.

Counseling for chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes is also important. Nurses may assist with intensive tests like those used to detect colorectal cancer, or they may simply take blood samples to screen for diabetes and cholesterol. Support for individuals with these conditions involves dietary and medication education.

Although anyone can get hurt at home or on the job, some sections of the population may be especially at risk. For example, in North Carolina, more than three-quarters of falls happen to individuals who are 65 or older. As the population ages, deaths from falls may increase. Specialists may train home care providers and staff members of nursing facilities to help prevent falls and other injuries.

Healthy NC 2020 set an objective of one school nurse for every 750 middle school and high school students. Schools’ programs include obesity screening and support for children and youth who may be at risk. Dietician nurses can encourage overall community health by advocating healthy lunches and physical education as part of daily school routines.

School nurses also may help with age-appropriate sex education including pregnancy prevention information and the risks of HIV and STDs. They may assist with substance abuse programs or help students who have depression and other mental health issues.

While school programs are important, nursing care begins before children are born. Family planning education and support for the pregnant mother is crucial. Expectant mothers may need help to stop smoking. New mothers may need education in breastfeeding and infant nutrition. If postpartum depression sets in, nurses can provide counseling, support and referrals to proper mental healthcare providers.

Community Health Assessments: Surveys to Solutions

Regular community health assessments track health issues in North Carolina. Required by local health departments for accreditation, community health assessments help local governments and health care facilities get a picture of current health problems and successes so they can create an action plan to make further improvements.

Whether providing care in a rural clinic, counseling patients or collecting important data on local healthcare, graduates of an RN to BSN in nursing program have many opportunities to improve the lives of North Carolinians.

Learn more about the UNCW online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

Retrieved from Healthy North Carolina 2020: A Better State of Health. (n.d.). NC Division of Public Health

Retrieved from Where Do Nurses Work? (n.d.). Canadian Nurses Association

Retrieved from Definitions of Community Health Assessments (CHA) and Community Health Improvement Plans (CHIPs). (n.d.). NACCHO


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