ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Blog - 5 Ways Black Nurses Make a Positive Impact on Community Health 4762

ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® Blog - 5 Ways Black Nurses Make a Positive Impact on Community Health

Nurses make a difference by working in hospitals, physicians’ offices, clinics, and home health care. But when they contribute their time, energy, and resources to communities facing significant health disparities, their impact can have a ripple effect.

Black nurses play an especially important role in community health, says #healthynurse Selena A. Gilles, ANEF, ANP-BC, CNEcl., DNP, FAAN, FNYAM. Dr. Gilles is a clinical associate professor and the associate dean of the undergraduate program at New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing. She also works with several organizations, including the National Black Nurses Association, Inc. (NBNA), to help underprivileged communities globally and close to home.

“Community health care looks different in different places, but it’s always about meeting people where they are,” says Dr. Gilles. “It’s critical in underprivileged areas, where health and illness greatly affect the role people play in their family, work, and community.”

Black nurses can connect to their communities and affect community health in ways other health providers may not. When Black nurses work in community health, it often leads to:
  • Better access to care
  • Improved and optimized care
  • Less health care inequalities
  • More diversity in the health care workforce

How Black Nurses Contribute to Their Communities
Black communities often experience social and economic challenges (social determinants of health) that limit access to care and impact their ability to live a healthy lifestyle. Health care providers who take a holistic approach and focus on those challenges can affect how Black communities manage their health conditions.

Black nurses are altering how their communities approach health care in several ways:
  1. Instilling trust in the health care system
The Black community has a history of mistrust in health care providers. It’s based on decades of health inequity and unconscious bias.

“Black people are often put in situations where they feel like they can’t speak up for themselves, and it’s unfortunate,” Dr. Gilles says. “They need providers who relate to them and understand their struggle so they can begin to build trust. Black nurses who truly identify with the community can accomplish that.”
  1. Providing accessible health care in a safe space
Bringing health services to the community is not always enough. You also need to know the best ways to engage the people within those communities.

In 2021, Dr. Gilles worked with the Greater NYC Chapter of NBNA to set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Brooklyn. They chose a specific church for their location — a pillar of the community with more than 160,000 members. The clinic administered over 28,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in 4 months. Black and Hispanic patients received 70% of the vaccines.

“We wanted to meet them in an environment where they felt safe,” Dr. Gilles says. “That feeling is important when you’re accessing care. As Black patients, we don’t always have opportunities to feel safe and heard in a health care setting.”
  1. Advocating for health equity
Black nurses are instrumental advocates for improving community health. As trusted representatives of their communities and patients, Black nurses can establish community partnerships and connections with local and national legislators.

“Each February, nurses across the country gather for National Black Nurses Day on Capitol Hill, and there is power in numbers,” Dr. Gilles says. “We advocate for issues that are important in our community, like maternal mortality and opioid overdose.”
  1. Delivering health education
Educating underprivileged and underserved communities provides the tools needed to change their approach to health care. Black nurses can learn how to deliver the information creatively and effectively. They take advantage of connections formed during local events and in community spaces, including churches, schools, and even barbershops.

“We recognize that men may have difficulty talking about mental health problems, prostate cancer, and other men’s health issues,” Dr. Gilles says. “So, we visit barbershops and engage with men there. It allows us to educate them and make health care feel less threatening.”
  1. Encouraging diversity in nursing
Improving diversity in nursing is critical to health equity. That’s why Dr. Gilles encourages Black nurses to take every opportunity to speak to the younger generation. Black nurses can open their eyes to what it’s like to be a nurse, what it means for the community, and how to get into the profession.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Dr. Gilles says. “If I’ve never seen a nurse or a physician who looks like me, I may not think that’s possible.”

Tips for Getting Involved With Community Health
There are many ways nurses can get involved with their community:
  • Volunteering: If you have the time to volunteer, you can help by raising money, attending community-run health events, and administering screenings or vaccinations at pop-up clinics.
  • Working: You can have a direct impact by working in an underprivileged community as a school nurse, home health provider, or in a federally qualified health center.

Not sure where to begin? Dr. Gilles suggests looking for an organization already doing the work, such as a professional association, church, or sorority. “Professional organizations offer mentorship and support,” she says. “These are also the people on the ground, doing the work, and making connections. You don’t have to do this on your own.”

If you plan to get involved in your community, familiarize yourself with its history, because it impacts how community members access and receive care. Learn about existing community resources so you can connect patients with the support they need.

“There are people who paved the way for Black nurses to be able to do the work we do,” Dr. Gilles says. “Now it’s our responsibility to pay it forward. We have to pull others up, mentor them, and prepare the next generation to continue this critical work.”

How do you get involved in community health? Share with us in our discussion below.

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Blog Quality of Life 06/11/2024 8:38am CDT

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