Nurses target health disparities to enact social change

This summer, nursing leadership throughout the country gathered in Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle to chart the course of the profession for the next decade, and they believe nurses will play a pivotal role in reducing health disparities.

Susan B. Hassmiller, RN

Tackling this problem is critical if nurses hope to improve the health and well-being of the U.S. population, said Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, National Academy of Medicine scholar-in-residence and nursing adviser to the NAM president.

The three regional town hall meetings, which were hosted by NAM, will inform a committee that is tasked with creating the Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report. In 2010, the committee released The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report, which led to significant changes in nursing education, practice and research throughout the last decade.

“Research has shown that social determinants of health such as education status, access to healthcare, social connectedness and food and housing insecurity can all affect an individual’s health and well-being,” Hassmiller said.

“During the town hall meetings, we were trying to uncover what the nurse’s role would be in addressing health equity and these determinants of health,” she said.

From health disparities to health equity

In Chicago, leaders in education shared innovative strategies for incorporating health equity into the nursing curriculum, which can relieve health disparities in the future.

“Learning how to carry out all of the important functions of nursing is valuable, but nurses need to understand how social factors lead certain patients to return to the hospital over and over again,” Hassmiller said.

Pamela McCue, PhD, RN, CEO of Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College, is addressing this nursing education gap by increasing the number of nurses in the workforce who can personally relate to patients struggling with poverty, discrimination and other challenges.

health disparities - Pamela McCue, PhD, RN, CEO of Rhode Island Nurses Institute Middle College

Pamela McCue, RN

McCue told the audience she and other nurses were bothered by the fact that many K-12 students in the city of Providence did not have the opportunity to focus on college and career aspirations because they lived in low-income neighborhoods affected by crime, homelessness and food insecurity.

“Providence is the state’s most racially diverse population, and only 10% of the city’s students perform at grade-level standards on state tests,” said McCue, who previously worked at the Rhode Island Department of Health.

In 2011, she and several other nurses opened RINI Middle College, a charter high school that gives students the opportunity to prepare for careers in the healthcare industry. Students can enroll in college preparatory classes such as anatomy and physiology, and they have access to reading specialists, math coaches, social workers and teachers who specialize in working with English language learners.

More than half of the school’s 272 students speak a language other than English at home, and 87% meet the guidelines for free and reduced lunches, McCue said. …read more

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