Before you become a travel nurse, you may think that by not having a long-term job assignment you'll feel removed from the communities you serve. However, once you start working as a travel nurse, you know that's far from the case.
Travel nurses play essential roles in the health of their patients and can leave lasting impressions on the communities they serve. It's important that you stay involved when you move to a new town and contribute to matters of public health. There's a lot you can do to support your communities and improve the resources your patients have available to them.
1. Understand the population you serve
One of the best ways you can support public health in the communities you travel to is to take the time to get to know and understand the culture and health concerns of your patients. Different parts of the country will face different health care issues – some diseases thrive better in subtropical climates, for example, so what you need to treat in New York may be different from what patients need in Florida. Take time to do a little research on your community before you arrive to familiarize yourself on the kinds of conditions that people commonly seek treatment for. When you arrive at your new job, talk to your colleagues about the concerns patients commonly bring in. You'll be better able to treat your patients when you have a better idea of what to expect. You'll also be more prepared to answer their questions if you familiarize yourself with health care problems you didn't often face at your last assignment.
"Training and education is essential for combating health care discrepancies."
It's also important to understand the differences in the people themselves. There's a wide disparity in the level of health care that different demographics receive in the U.S. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that white people are statistically more likely to have better access to health care than black, Hispanic or Asian people. Racial minorities are more likely to receive less testing for diseases or to get the same treatment options as white patients. As a result, they face more complications and have higher fatality rates for many conditions from heart disease to certain cancers. By being compassionate and thorough with any person who comes into your exam room, you can help fight this problem and provide quality care to anyone who needs it.
Patients who don't speak English fluently also face barriers when trying to access quality health care. You may find yourself assigned to an area that has a high population of non-native speakers who rely on languages you're less familiar with. It's important to find ways to communicate with these patients and to treat them with patience and compassion so they get the proper attention and care that they need. This may require you to ask another nurse for help translating, or using a smartphone app to help you look up translations you're not familiar with.
You should also be prepared to work with gender and sexual minorities. Some facilities in Boston, for example, may specialize in treating gay or lesbian patients, or may have programs in place for transgender or non-binary patients, whereas smaller towns don't offer the same resources. Familiarize yourself with common health problems these populations face and understand how to treat them compassionately, such as using the correct name and pronouns when treating transgender patients.
Your work and advocacy in these causes can make a big difference, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which states that health care training and education is essential for combating health care discrepancies. Being prepared to treat any patient and helping to educate other providers on how to stay aware of culture competencies are great ways to benefit public health in your new communities that will reap the benefits of your work after you've moved on to a new assignment.
2. Participate in community health programs
You may also find opportunities to engage in public health programs on assignment. RegisteredNursing.org reported that understanding and addressing the health educational needs of your patients can have many positive impacts. Some patients may not know exactly what foods constitute a healthy diet, for example, or don't know how to treat or prevent common injuries their children may get. By educating patients on how they can better control some aspects of their own health, you can help ensure they react appropriately to a future health concern. This can allow them to get faster treatment that makes recovery easier, or allows them to care for the problem at home without racking up unnecessarily medical bills.
There are several ways you can go about educating patients. You can do it one-on-one when a patient is in your exam room, or with a family if a parent or spouse goes in with their loved one for an appointment. You can also teach group classes or seminars at your medical facility or a local community center. Ask your colleagues or look online for opportunities where you could engage with members of your community to educate them on health basics. This is especially important to do as a travel nurse, as you may bring new knowledge or experiences that your new location hasn't been exposed to before.
3. Advocate for necessary changes
In some cases, you may want to get involved in advocating for new public policies to better your community. Perhaps local schools don't teach safe sex practices you feel are important, or government funding has been cut for vital health programs you support.
"Find other people in your local network to work with."
If you want to make public health changes for your community through advocacy, be careful how you go about doing it, according to the Association of Public Health Nurses. If you're tied to a non-profit, for example, there are limitations to how you can interact with government officials or campaigns.
When you're a travel nurse, you should find other people in your local network to work with before you start advocating for new policies on your own. Make sure you know your facts and have sound research to support your ideas. Be polite and honest when making your case for proposals and don't get emotional or into arguments with the other side. Spend plenty of time researching the officials you need to work with to better understand how to effectively approach them.
There are many ways travel nurses can benefit the public health of their new communities. Just take the time to get to know your new location and the people you serve, and you'll be sure to make a lasting, positive difference in your patients' lives.