By Wayne Cascio, MD
Today is National Nurses Day and marks the start of National Nurses Week, a time to honor all nurses and increase awareness of their immeasurable contributions to the health and well-being of our nation. On this day, when our nation recognizes the largest single group of professionals within our health care workforce, I’d like to call attention to all nurses in federal, state, and local service who attend to the well-being of our nation through their practice of environmental health and public health. Whether working for a county, a state health agency, the federal government, or the private sector, these dedicated professionals make a difference in the quality of life of the communities they serve. They are often the health professionals on the front lines identifying and responding to the health and emotional impacts of environmental conditions affecting communities, working with at-risk populations, increasing environmental and health literacy, conducting research, fostering interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration, and building coalitions.
The states and their departments of public health and environmental health provide the backbone of public health nursing in the US., EPA, the Environmental Council of the States, and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, recently signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding pledging to work together and find additional opportunities to connect with other professionals who share our common mission.
Over the last two decades, public health nursing has sought to establish a unique identity based on its distinctive contributions to public health. This identity is now well defined in the “Cornerstones of Public Health Nursing” (Keller, et al., 2011) that describes many themes shared by our Agency. Public health nursing practice focuses on the health of the whole population with a holistic view of health that includes its mental, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and environmental components. Moreover, their practice is founded on principles of social justice, compassion, and the respect and worth of all people. Their work reflects the communities’ priorities and needs and promotes health through approaches driven by epidemiological evidence.
Today EPA is again reaching out to nurses and other allied health professionals to become more aware of environmental health issues and to view such issues as a key component of keeping the communities they serve safe and healthy. We applaud the efforts of all nurses, especially our public health nurses, and on this special day call on them to celebrate their successes and envision a healthier future.
Reference: Keller LO, Strohschein S, Schaffer MA. Cornerstones of Public Health Nursing. Public Health Nursing 28: 249–260, 2011
About the Author: Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between exposures to air pollution and public health, and seeks to increase cooperation among healthcare, public health and environmental health professionals to improve public health.