One Public Health Nurse’s Full Circle Journey

Jul 26, 2013, 1:00 PM, Posted by

Cassandra Standifer, BSN, PHN-NFP, is a public health nurse working in the Nurse Family Partnership program in Renton.

file Photo credit: D.K. de’Jesus

When I think about public health, I don’t think only of my nursing practice. I think about where I came from and how I got here. When I sit with my clients I can see in their situations my own mother, my aunt, my cousins and myself.

I work with first-time teen moms in a program called the Nurse Family Partnership.  Today I met my client, Sarah*, at her transitional housing. As I sat outside waiting for her, I thought back to 1990 when I was seven years old and living with my mother and sister in transitional housing. My mother was addicted to cocaine and attempting recovery—again. Transitional housing was an improvement from the hotel we had been living in, but I was well aware, even then, that there had to be something better out there than this halfway house.

During our home visit we chatted about Sarah’s daughter.  She exclaimed, “She has eight teeth on the bottom and eight teeth on the top, no cavities!”

As I got into my county car to head back to the clinic, I thought, “She really loves her daughter!” I remembered that when my sister and I were finally removed from my mother’s care because she couldn’t stay clean, I went to the dentist for the first time at the age of nine, and had eleven cavities!  My sister and I eventually received the care we needed, and when we did, it came from public health.

With the love and support of many people, I graduated high school and chose nursing as a career. My childhood experiences had fostered in me a great desire to work in a ‘helping’ profession and to give back to the community. I graduated from Seattle University and, after becoming a mother myself, eventually changed my focus to maternal health. For me, that is a full circle journey.

I stay in public health because I believe in the power it has to effect change in the community.  I am attuned to this because of how it effected change in my own life. When I relate to my clients, I relate as one WIC mom to another.

My one wish for public health is that the nursing workforce would reflect the diversity of our population.  As one of a very few African American public health nurses in our agency, I hope to set an example to my clients that they, too, can someday come full circle.

*name and some information changed to protect confidentiality

Read more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work on public health nursing.
Read a blog post about the Nurse-Family Partnership.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.