Nurses: Are You Environmental Health Stewards?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


August 05, 2014

Becoming Informed About Environmental Health

Nurses can encounter many stumbling blocks on their way to integrating environmental health into nursing practice. Besides the "where do I begin?" question prompted by the overwhelming number of environmental hazards that could be addressed, nurses might hesitate to make recommendations that they don't necessarily follow in their own lives.

The biggest barrier of all, however, is a fundamental lack of knowledge about environmental health, and an awareness of the responsibilities of the nurse to assess and intervene in environmental health concerns. Most nurses practicing today, except the very newest to the profession, probably learned very little about environmental health in nursing school. Some nurses lack a basic level of comfort with assessing and discussing environmental health with patients because they haven't been exposed to this knowledge. Likewise, many nursing faculty haven't learned enough environmental health nursing to be comfortable teaching it, explaining the delay in integrating this area into nursing curricula. "It's starting," explains Sattler, "but it will take time, just like it took time to integrate genetics into nursing curricula."

Now that such nursing organizations as the American Nurses Association have said that environmental health is a domain of nursing practice, and principles of environmental health nursing have been adopted, nursing schools will follow. As of yet, there isn't a set of questions on the NCLEX, but a work group of the ANHE is working on this issue. "The science is new to most nurses." says Sattler. "It will gradually diffuse into education, practice, and research in nursing."

Lacking a strong educational background in environmental health, nurses must seek this education on their own. Fortunately, many opportunities exist for continuing education in environmental health nursing. The ANHE offers an eTextbook, a digital work-in-progress that already contains a wealth of information for practicing nurses about environmental health, as well as a virtual A-to-Z encyclopedia of environmental health hazards. Want to learn more about fracking or pharmaceutical waste? This is the place.

ANHE and HCWH also offer free continuing education self-instructional programs and webinars. Recent topics include:

  • Advancing Clean Air, Climate, & Health: Opportunities for Nurses

  • What Nurses Can Do to Reduce Energy Usage

  • Healthy Food, Healthy Patients

  • Nurses and Safer Chemicals

  • Greening Your Nursing Practice

  • Political Advocacy for Nurses

For educators, AHNE has developed environmental health curriculum recommendations for entry into nursing practice for baccalaureate and associate degree nursing programs.


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