The importance of patient education should not be ignored as more nursing and healthcare practices adopt value-based care. Through effective patient education, nurses can help patients take greater control over their healthcare by teaching them how to avoid and manage medical conditions. Patients who understand their needs and care options can eliminate disparities, achieve health equity, and make better treatment decisions.
Moreover, patient education empowers nursing professionals to establish caring and reciprocal relationships, helping patients feel more comfortable asking questions and seeking assistance. This makes it easier to collaborate with patients about their course of treatment and how they can better care for themselves at home. This reduces readmission rates and improves quality of life, especially for patients with chronic diseases.
Although its importance is indisputable, patient education is not always effective. This is because patients differ in how much they want to know, their communication preferences, their ability to understand medical concepts, and their literacy. Recent data shows that at least 88% of American adults have inadequate health literacy for navigating the medical system and promoting their well-being. This burdens nurses and care professionals to develop techniques to overcome these challenges and determine ways to educate patients.
Patient education is a process.
Nursing professionals can take steps such as determining the patient’s learning style and identifying their strengths and limitations to improve patient education. However, this can be time-consuming, and a one-time explanation or brochure is not always enough. Patient education is a process, and finding the proper way to communicate vital information can significantly impact the patient’s behavior.
Beyond proper communication, the environment and context in which patient education is delivered are also crucial. This also applies to care outside hospitals, where nurses have little control over a patient’s environment. As a result, patient education can sometimes become an afterthought, increasing the likelihood of hospital readmissions. One way nurses can curb this issue is by organizing community projects focusing on patient education.
Community-centered projects can make a difference.
Through community-centered projects, nurses can equalize patient education in diverse populations and reduce patient anxiety. Some people suffer from far more significant health disparities than others in the United States. Those disparities are caused by fundamental differences in health status and the inequities in factors that affect health status or determinants of health. Only part of an individual’s health status depends on their choices and behaviors.
Community-wide issues such as decaying neighborhoods, poor education, unemployment, and poverty also contribute to inequities in patient education. Recognizing these issues empowers nurses to identify the educational needs of their respective communities. Once they identify these educational needs, they can organize community-centered projects that promote ongoing and effective patient education.
Ways nurses educate patients through community-centered projects
Fostering community involvement in patient education can profoundly impact healthcare outcomes. When nurses actively engage with their communities, it enhances patient outcomes, strengthens nurse-patient relationships, and creates a culture of ongoing healthcare learning. Community-centered projects are a vital link in neighborhoods’ healthcare education and welfare.
Raise awareness with activities that promote good health.
Raising health awareness within a community is vital for early detection, disease prevention, and effective treatment. When community members understand a disease and its symptoms, they are more likely to take preventive actions and seek health evaluations, screenings, and check-ups. Unfortunately, lack of awareness is a significant issue within many community health circles.
Although the causes of this lack of awareness differ from one community to another, some reasons include cultural myths, inaccurate information, and a lack of access to information. For example, the New York Times reports that more than a quarter of Americans believe there is a cure for cancer, but the healthcare sector hides it because treating cancer patients is profitable. As a result, individuals often come to healthcare facilities when their disease has worsened, potentially resulting in a lower chance of effective treatment.
Nurses can raise awareness and improve patient education through various health promotion activities. Forward-thinking nurses can develop individual, group, institutional, systemic, and community strategies to enhance medical knowledge, behaviors, skills, and attitudes. Successful health promotion programs identify and draw upon community strengths. Depending on the nurse’s approach, these strengths can help rural communities overcome barriers to patient education.
Nurses can reduce medical disparities in underserved communities by drawing on their lived experience with the communities they serve, the trust they establish, and the holistic and multifaceted work they do. However, before nurses can implement health promotion programs, they must know and work with basic strategies to promote health in the communities they treat.
Here is a look at some of these basic strategies.
Proper health communication enables community members to understand health requirements better, empowering them to make important personal health decisions. Nurses can use various health communication methods to promote better health, including health screening brochures, flu vaccination posters, and heart disease information flyers.
It is important to teach community members about different medical conditions to enhance prevention and promote early treatment. For example, nurses can organize health promotion activities such as nutrition programs and physical activities to avoid or combat diseases.
Policy, systems, and environmental changes
Also known as PSE changes, policy, systems, and environmental changes are how nurses alter the communities in which they work to help the individuals they serve exercise their right to health. PSE changes impact regulations, shape physical environments, make healthy living more effortless, and tackle the root causes of medical inequities.
Here is a look at some health promotion activities nurses can implement to improve access to medical information and patient education.
- Giving short presentations in schools, churches, and senior centers
- Organizing “Lunch and Learn” sessions with community groups such as senior citizens, new parents, and parents of children with special needs
- Developing health-related brochures and distributing them to communities. Potential health brochure topics can include the effects of smoking during pregnancy, teen pregnancy and nutrition, genital herpes, and the impact of high blood pressure
- Organizing comprehensive tobacco cessation programs
- Working with adolescents and older community members to increase physical activity
However, before nurses can implement such activities, they must address key action areas for health promotion. This includes reorienting health services and creating a supportive environment to achieve optimal wellness. By fostering an environment that improves health success on a social and physical level, nurses can eliminate existing harmful practices that specific communities engage in.
Moreover, nurses must help community members understand pertinent information and develop the skills to improve their health and proactively track and support their wellness. Once they have learned the proper skills, community members can strengthen community action by advocating for policy changes and developing new programs.
Promote healthy practices with health screening events.
Meeting patients where they are is another way for nurses to educate them. Patients, especially those in underserved communities, often only receive education when they go to a hospital and seek professional help. Nurses can break down health equity barriers and empower community members to control their health by conducting patient outreach activities such as health screening events.
Moreover, health screening events can detect dangerous and life-threatening conditions early and may even prevent the next pandemic. As the world slowly recovers from COVID-19, the focus shifts to preventing the next crisis. Wherever its origins, the next pandemic could be deadlier and spread quicker than the current one. Rural and underserved communities are at greater risk, especially since they may be exposed to novel pathogens.
If that’s not bad enough, rural and underserved communities lack skilled healthcare professionals. As a result, outbreaks can go undetected for months or even years. Through health screening events, nurses can provide community-based assessments and screening facilities for individuals of socio-economically underprivileged backgrounds. This can help them detect diseases early and educate individuals on the steps they must take to improve their condition.
Many prevalent chronic illnesses, such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease, provide similar challenges associated with self-management. Through health screening events, nurses can educate individuals continuously on maintaining proper nutrition and exercise, managing complex medication regimens, and dealing with symptoms and disability. Furthermore, constant patient education can help community members adjust to psychological and social demands and engage in effective and meaningful conversations with healthcare providers.
Create a community health improvement plan to support health goals.
Healthy communities do not develop overnight. They are created through the efforts of local citizens, governments, and healthcare professionals working in communities. One way to create healthy communities is by establishing a community development plan that addresses public health issues according to the results of community health evaluation activities and the community health improvement process.
What makes a community health improvement plan a practical approach is its ability to help nurses broaden their reach into the community and avoid insular strategies by considering multiple experiences and perspectives. However, before nurses can create a community health development plan, they must conduct a detailed community health assessment to determine the community’s current health status, requirements, and issues.
Community health assessments can be done by organizing a community forum, conducting health disparities research projects, and conducting community assessments or surveys. After identifying the factors affecting the community, nurses can prioritize issues by considering the population size impacted, critical trends over time, current medical resources, severity, and possible intervention strategies. This allows nurses to establish goals and plans to tackle the issue and empower community members to be in charge of their healthcare.
How to become a community health nurse
If you want to work outside the hospital halls and have more autonomy in your practice, a community health nurse might be a good career path. As a community health nurse, you are responsible for conducting patient education programs and distributing essential healthcare information, stopping the spread of infectious diseases, and administering comprehensive medical assessments.
Becoming a community health nurse starts with an extensive environmental health and epidemiology background. Earning a nursing degree from an accredited academic institution like the University of Indianapolis is a good start. However, before you enroll, you must understand the difference between ADN and BSN so you can find a nursing program that is suitable for your career goals and objectives.
An associate degree in nursing (AND) usually takes two years, while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree often takes four years or longer. ADN programs concentrate mainly on hands-on skills, while BSN courses teach students more in-depth theory and practical skills. It is worth noting that while an ADN is enough to work in the community health sector, most employers prefer individuals with a BSN degree.
You must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs after completing your ADN or BSN degree. This adaptive computerized evaluation contains more than 140 questions and is tailored based on the test-taker’s performance. Once you’ve earned your license, the next step is to gain nursing experience and develop essential community health nursing skills before entering the job market.
Depending on the communities you choose to work in, some skills you might need to become a successful community health nurse include verbal and written communication, sensitivity, understanding and sympathy, active listening skills, and cultural competencies. A background in epidemiology, behavioral sciences, social sciences, biostatistics, and environmental health is also helpful. This can give you a strategic advantage over other candidates, especially in niche job markets.
Consider earning certifications to boost your professional credibility and reputation. You may want to make the Public Health Nursing certification, the Community Health Nursing Certification of the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and the Certified Community Nurse credential. With specific certificates in their professional arsenal, community health nurses can gain recognition for their specialized skills in providing care to underserved populations.
Work toward a meaningful community health nursing career today
Most nurses enter the profession because they want to change the world. As a community nurse, you are at the forefront of change by building positive, healthy habits within your community and helping individuals achieve a better quality of life.