Why Nursing is Key to a Culture of Health

Oct 9, 2015, 1:38 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

If a Culture of Health means recognizing health’s central importance in our lives, then nurses can be among that culture’s leading ambassadors. More often than not nurses are fully immersed in their patients’ lives, and there are case studies throughout the nation of nurses using that involvement to guide patients in innovative ways to better health.

Consider Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services, a nurse-led Philadelphia clinic serving residents of four low-income public housing projects. Their health center was created in direct response to residents’ requests, and includes not just primary care, but also mental and behavioral health, dental health, and couples and family therapists. There’s a small urban farm producing fruits and vegetables, and a “teaching kitchen” where residents can learn healthy cooking techniques.

At the 11th Street Clinic, nurse-led teams carefully consider each patient’s unique needs. “We don’t ask, ‘What’s wrong with this person?’," the clinic’s founder, public health nurse Patricia Gerrity, said at a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Google+Hangout. “We ask, ‘What’s happened to this person?'" that could affect his or her health.

Listen to the RWJF First Friday Google Hangout to learn how to help nurses reach their potential.

The answers often include trauma, including physical or emotional abuse, or other adverse childhood experiences that highly correlate with chronic disease. A study of its patients conducted by the clinic found that nearly half had four or more such experiences in their lifetimes. Close to 4 in 10 of the adult women had been sexually abused before age 18.

The clinic also focuses on emotional healing, embracing the Sanctuary model of trauma-informed care. Through art therapy, mindfulness, meditation, and other techniques, it helps patients manage the effects of toxic stresses and move beyond them.

To highlight other innovative care models, RWJF will soon recognize a group of 10 nurses who are working to build a Culture of Health in their communities. Susan Hassmiller, RWJF’s senior adviser for nursing, says the Foundation sought out nurses who pay attention to what is going on in their communities in order to understand the social determinants of health that are impacting the health of their patients.

RWJF and AARP will also push forward on the Future of Nursing Campaign for Action, which Hassmiller directs. The ten-year campaign, now at its halfway mark, seeks to boost nurses’ levels of education, and make certain that they can practice to the full scope of their education and training nationwide.

As part of that effort, the Campaign for action is working to make sure that nurses are included on boards of directors of health-related organizations across the country. American Hospital Association data show that the share of nurses on hospital boards was five percent last year, down from 6 percent in 2011. Last year 21 organizations, including RWJF, came together to form  the Nurses on Board Coalition, which aims to get 10,000 nurses on boards of directors by 2020.

Nurses, of course, can lead at all levels and in a myriad locations, whether in a posh hospital boardroom or inner-city Philadelphia. They just need to be given the chance.

Susan Dentzer, Senior Policy Adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, former Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief and Health Policy Analyst, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, is one of the nation's most respected health and health policy thought leaders and journalistsRead more of Susan’s posts.