While we have a lot to thank nurses for when it comes to actively treating us for diseases, illnesses, breaks, and sprains, they often do more than just offer remedies. Nurses are some of the most knowledgeable and hardest-working healthcare professionals in the US – did you know, for example, that they play pivotal parts in helping us keep healthy?
It’s a common misconception that nurses purely supply the cure to conditions and help us all get better. In fact, they’re just as involved in the prevention of illness and the spread of disease.
This guide will look at the roles our nurses play in helping us stay healthy and avoid heading to clinics and hospitals in the first instance!
Screenings and early detections
Cancer is thought to affect up to 50% of people – no matter their age or lifestyle, or background. In some cases, illnesses and cancers are impossible to predict without pre-screenings and early detections, which nurses can both promote and undertake for people in specific demographics.
For example, through routine assessments or as part of awareness and promotion campaigns, nurses can suggest cervical screenings to women who may be at risk of associated cancers. Men, too, can benefit from prostate examinations, suggested by nurses, to help prevent the risk of developing cancer.
This method of promoting health and well-being allows nurses to put patients’ minds at rest. In some cases, patients may not wish to head to screenings as they worry about the results that might arise. In other cases, some may be in denial and may feel they are perfectly healthy.
Unfortunately, cancer and chronic conditions can affect even the healthiest people, whether through environmental factors or bloodlines. Nurses can suggest to patients that they undertake routine screenings so they may get ahead of any potential illnesses before they worsen.
The benefit is that if no problems are detected during screenings, patients can leave happy in the knowledge they’re healthy. If something concerning is picked up, however, nurses can suggest the next course of action to take and hopefully remove the risk of cancer (for example) from getting any worse.
Education and awareness
Nurses can effectively lower the rate of hospitalizations for certain diseases and spreadable conditions – as well as those completely avoidable through lifestyle choices – by promoting self-care through public events.
These may include town hall meetings, online forums, or even workshops and speeches at schools and colleges. For example, parents and guardians may benefit from learning more about the potential spread of chickenpox among their children. A nurse or nursing team can work with local schools and their PTAs to arrange sessions where the risks are discussed in the open.
Nurses can also work to produce marketing and awareness materials that are shared across clinics, surgeries, and hospital waiting rooms. For example, young adults becoming sexually active for the first time may benefit from knowing more about how to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
A nurse practitioner is in a unique position to both care for problems and help prevent them. In the same way as a company may promote a service or product, a nursing team may set up public events to help inform specific demographics about how they can better look after themselves. Again, regarding sexual health, this might include providing free condoms as part of a public initiative.
Vaccines and immunizations
As we all witnessed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, knowledge about vaccine safety and effectiveness is paramount. Multiple vaccinations helped to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, and thus millions of people continued to live healthy, happy lives.
Of course, vaccinations and immunizations extend beyond COVID. Nurses administer protection against conditions such as measles, tetanus (lockjaw), and polio. However, it’s also important they share genuine statistics about vaccine efficacy and implore people to receive jabs to avoid becoming ill.
Vaccinations have, in recent years, found controversy as part of a concentrated spread of misinformation – leading to movements such as the “anti-vaccine.” Such movements have proven difficult for nurses and clinics to counteract, particularly as misinformation spreads extremely quickly, thanks to society’s access to the internet.
Therefore, it’s never been more important for nurses to keep people up to date on what vaccines do and why getting immunized is important. As mentioned above, they might share such information through public events, discussing options with individual people, and reaching out to people online.
In some cases, clinics may assist nurses in creating online content to help inform people of the importance of immunization. This may be in the form of YouTube or TikTok videos, which are easy for certain demographics to consume, or through social media posts and carousels (such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram).
Given the misinformation spreading regarding vaccinations, nurses have an immense responsibility to share the truth about how immunization stops harmful diseases and viruses from making people seriously ill.
Lifestyle adjustment suggestions
While we all know that drinking water regularly and eating a healthy diet is conducive to better long-term health, not everyone is aware of the negative effects a poor diet and exercise regimen can have on their minds and bodies.
On a one-to-one basis, nurses can assess individual people’s needs regarding diet and exercise and whether or not changing will help prevent or cure certain ailments. For example, nurses may insist that obese patients take up healthier exercise routines to prevent the risk of heart disease and developing type 2 diabetes.
Promoting lifestyle changes may occur individually, but nurses can also present this information through public events and seminars. For example, nurses frequently head to schools to help encourage better diet choices and may even work with schools to develop healthier menus.
Nurses can also work alongside sports centers and schools to develop activity plans for local children and their families. For those people who want to eat healthier and to get more exercise – but who can’t for whatever reason – nurses can work to provide these facilities through their communities.
Nurses can further support individuals by creating lifestyle adjustment plans with clear goals. This doesn’t have to revolve around healthy eating and exercise alone. It may also cater to smoking cessation, stopping alcohol consumption, and preventing further drug use.
A community nurse is in a powerful position to share preventative measures through public forums and with individuals during checkups. Nurses can also tailor lifestyle suggestions to individual people. For example, if they have any allergies or work expectations that may prevent them from making changes, they can be accounted for.
During routine checkups and assessments, nurses can help people to identify certain risk factors for specific conditions and illnesses. For example, a patient may be more at risk of heart disease based on family history.
Nurses can promote health and wellness to patients through a careful diagnosis of existing problems and by helping them to get ahead of any potential concerns that arise in the future.
A complete health check, with information filled out by a patient, will let a given nurse know about the environment and lifestyle factors they come across in their everyday lives. They can then prepare people for potential risks without scaremongering.
Tailoring risk assessments to individual patients instead of offering blanket advice can be more effective in many ways. Some people don’t feel comfortable receiving healthcare advice, period! Therefore, nurses with data to back up their concerns can more confidently prepare people to make changes – perhaps not in all cases, but it’s a start!
Learning to risk-assess and advise preventative care is a key part of most online nursing degrees. For example, Elmhurst University’s MSN for non nurses helps students to understand how to approach people during and after assessments. Their modules take people who may not even have a medical background through the best ways of communicating difficult information.
Once a patient is ill or suffering from a specific condition, nurses can help them not only by potentially finding a cure but also by helping them to make their recovery as painless as possible.
This, again, may include advising said patient about ways they can adjust their lifestyle to prevent a condition from worsening. Or it may even include ways to prevent further infections from developing or from a condition from coming back.
Regardless, a nurse is in a prime position to prevent disease and chronic illness from the outset and help stop it from worsening. This isn’t just by administering medicine and referring to specialists but also by making sure patients know the potential risks ahead.
In many cases, nurses will refer people to specialists if problems worsen beyond their control. Here, a nurse will lay out the treatment and diagnostic courses a patient will likely face as they transfer to another hospital, surgery, or clinic.
Mental health awareness
There is still some stigma surrounding mental health in wider society. In many cases, for example, men find that they’re unable to talk about issues such as depression, as they’re advised to “man up” and suppress feelings.
However, mental health problems affect everyone, which means it’s important for nurses to make healthy suggestions individuals can follow. For example, a nurse may be able to suggest ways for people with anxiety to re-balance themselves through breathing exercises or mental distractions.
Deeper mental health concerns may need the support and insight of specialists such as therapists who can offer CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). That said, nurses can still promote ways for people to manage their minds more easily in moments of panic or depression. Again, as we all function differently, nurses will tailor these suggestions to individuals in clinics and assessments.
Some mental health concerns can travel too deep for nurses to address and treat completely. However, they can recommend people for patients to speak to. For example, any patients with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) who are struggling to overcome traumatic events may benefit from talking therapy.
As with the above suggestions, nurses can further promote the importance of taking care of mental health in public forums and via social media. Movements across platforms such as TikTok and Instagram are helping younger people address potential mental health concerns head-on – and nursing specialists can easily become a part of them.
Finally, nurses can also work on behalf of their patients and communities so that they receive better standards of care from their clinics and public services.
Nurses may, for example, lobby certain local bodies, politicians, and other individuals to ensure that marginalized or undertreated groups receive access to affordable healthcare and guidance.
Nurses have the skills and education to back up their claims, meaning they can (and do) present strong arguments where they feel public services fail to meet the standards individuals require.
Not all nurses follow the activism and advocacy route, but few people are more qualified to promote community needs if services fall below standard.
We need our nurses!
Nurses work hard to ensure that we both get better from illness and know how to counteract problems before they arise (or get any worse). For many nursing specialists, this can mean working closely with schools and public bodies to produce promotional campaigns.
Or it may simply be a case of nurses adjusting their individual treatment plans so that preventative care is front and center. Regardless, a qualified nurse will have a fantastic education and demonstrable experience to reassure most people.
The main challenge they may face is encouraging those who may be resistant to help. Unfortunately you can’t influence everyone, but nurses can present the facts in a way that’s approachable and easy to understand. Without our nurses, we may all be feeling a lot worse for wear!