The past two years have been some of the most challenging years many of us have ever faced in our lifetimes. States, cities and communities across the country have been rocked not only by the COVID-19 pandemic, but concurrently impacted by diversity, inclusion, and equity issues, social unrest and natural disasters to top it off.
We know that our healthcare organizations need to care for the entire community as much as they care for each individual patient. People need access to care, social support, education, safe housing, and jobs so they’re able to support themselves and their families. And as nurses we’ve known this fact to be true for decades. Just look at historical leaders like Lavinia Dock a trailblazer in nursing and social reform, and Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and many others who stepped up to address the healthcare, social, and equity issues of their day.
Affecting positive change
But what about today? How can nurses today be leaders within their communities and affect positive change?Nurses working in the public health and homecare sectors are experts in instituting change in communities, so maybe we can learn from their experiences. We can start by looking at what’s happened during the pandemic. Nurses in active practice and those who’ve been away from the bedside for years, stepped up, joined in, and started volunteering in vaccination centers and healthcare clinics around the country and the world. And if patients couldn’t get to the clinics, nurses went into the communities to bring care to them, breaking down access barriers and providing healthcare and education to the people who lived there so they could make more effective evidence-informed decisions.
In many states, nurses led and participated in teams that worked to clean up communities after natural disasters. Going door to door, nurses worked to make sure the people who were affected had a safe and clean place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and access to healthcare and necessary medications.
But most remarkably, over the past several years, we’ve started seeing more nurses serving on organizational boards than ever before. According to the Nurses on Boards Coalition, there are over 10,000 nurses serving on boards today around the country. Having a seat at the table where decisions are made, and important issues are discussed is paramount to addressing our community needs and affecting necessary change. And nurses are starting to take charge of policy too. Nurses are beginning to extend their reach in local, state, and federal government by being a voice and an advocate for the people they serve.
Making a difference in our communities
So, how can nurses make a difference in their communities? They can start by showing up where there is a need and then motivating others to join them in their important work. That’s what our communities need today – nurses who can and do advocate for others in need by being their voice, providing necessary health education, and breaking down the barriers to equitable healthcare. We know those we care for better than anyone else, so let’s use this opportunity to better know and serve our individual and collective communities too.