Nurses Help Shape Environmentally-Friendly Practices in Healthcare
In recent decades, environmental sustainability has become an increasingly prominent topic across almost every industry in the country. From efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to finding better ways to dispose of hazardous chemicals, the healthcare industry has been at the forefront of this shift in thinking and practice. Nurses in particular are playing an important role in ensuring hospitals and other healthcare settings implement sustainable practices.
According to Practice Greenhealth, a non-profit organization that provides environmental solutions for greener workplaces in the healthcare community, packaging waste is one of the highest contributors to a hospital’s total waste. Because of that, the organization advises healthcare facilities to evaluate ways to reduce excess packaging to help decrease their impact on the environment.
“Years ago, hospitals started moving from reusable packaged supplies to single-use products in order to improve infection control in the hospital setting,” said Laura Wenger, RN, and executive director of Practice Greenhealth in Chicago, Ill. “But what’s really interesting is that many hospitals are actually reverting back to reusables now that we are more effectively resterilizing equipment – this not only reduces the risk of spreading infections, but it also lowers our overall impact on the environment considering the thousands of hospitals using so much of these supplies every day.”
Another emerging concern in the hospital setting relates to the chemicals often used in cleaning and sterilization in hospitals. Not only are certain hazardous chemicals harmful to the environment, but they can also sometimes pose health risks to those who spend a lot of time around them.
“Recently there has been more focus on how we avoid compromising the health of nurses when it comes to possible chemical exposure,” said Wenger. “While patient safety is our number one priority, nurses – being in the hospital on an ongoing basis – could be prone to prolonged exposure and greater risks. Switching to more environmentally-friendly cleaning products can help shrink our footprint and keep nurses healthy at the same time.”
In addition to potential environmental concerns and health risks, transforming a hospital into a more sustainable facility can bring significant cost savings. According to Wenger, there are several steps that nurses and other healthcare providers can take to implement “green” practices, while also in some cases generating savings for their hospital or healthcare facility.
“Take the biohazard disposal regulated medical waste containers, for example – it costs a hospital several times more to have one of those containers’ bags removed from a facility than it does a regular trash bag. When these containers are put in the wrong areas, they get filled up with paper towels and other non-contaminated trash. Making small adjustments like this can amount to huge savings when these things happen on a daily basis, and hospital managers need to know when these kinds of mistakes are happening,” said Wenger.
So what role can nurses play to help healthcare become more sustainable in the next 30 years? Nurses are encouraged to act as leaders and speak directly to management regarding environmental issues that concern them.
“Nurses are the heart, blood and soul of any healthcare facility, and they are critical in pushing any kind of change since they are so involved at every level,” said Wenger. “Nurses are the ones who are using equipment and making recommendations to the materials managers, so it’s up to them to communicate effectively when they find areas for improvement.”
To learn more about Practice Greenhealth and how you can help your hospital implement sustainable, eco-friendly practices, visit www.practicegreenhealth.org.
Occupational Health and Environmental Nurses Shift Focus Towards Sustainability
According to the National Student Nurses’ Association, the specialty of occupational health and environmental nursing began in the 1880s when nurses were caring for coal miners, but vastly expanded in the early 1900s in the wake of the industrial revolution when factories employed nurses to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Today, the specialty mainly focuses on health promotion and emergency preparedness, but is growing into the area of environmental and sustainability issues.
“When I first graduated from nursing school in the early 1970s, there was no such thing as environmental nursing. However, over time, I’ve seen hospitals and the community become more proactive regarding issues of sustainability, and nurses have played a large role in providing a unique and valuable health perspective to these conversations,” said Jacqueline Agnew, RN, Ph.D., MPH, professor in the department of Environmental Health Sciences, and director of the Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.
With the plethora of environmental issues that exist today – such as food, water and air quality concerns – occupational and environmental health nurses have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and use a multitude of interdisciplinary skills. A new graduate may work as an epidemiologist, injury and safety specialist, or environmental specialist for organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, nurses in this field may consult with executives about the health of employees and safety conditions in the workplace, coordinate employee disability requests or administer inoculations for hepatitis, to name a few responsibilities.
“Occupational health and environmental nursing is a great specialty for those who are interested in health and disease prevention from a population perspective. Nurses in this field are problem solvers and independent thinkers who must take a step back to understand how environmental issues could affect our entire population, not just one patient,” said Agnew.
Many occupational health nurses are beginning to integrate environmental health into their practice settings. For example, many nurses in the field conduct occupational and environmental health histories, determine actual and potential environmental hazards, control disease exposures, or educate the working community about these hazards.
“A lot of my students start at the local level and become involved with environmentally-focused organizations as a side project, but for some students, it truly starts to become their passion,” said Agnew.
While most nursing schools at the undergraduate level do not currently offer environmentally-focused specialty courses, some universities and organizations are starting to provide nurses with online courses and supplemental resources to stretch their education into health and global sustainability issues. For example, the University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON) offers a master’s degree in environmental health nursing, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has an Occupational and Environmental Health Nursing (OEHN) program and a Master of Public Health and Nursing (MSN/MPH) degree program.
Additionally, organizations like the Environmental Health Nursing Education Collaborative, a project organized by the Boston University Superfund Research Program (BU SRP) and the Harvard School of Public Health, provides lectures, case studies, presentations and reports to contribute to the education and training of nurses by helping their faculty integrate environmental health into the nursing curriculum.
“Right now the focus is shifting – despite this being a new area of concern, people are coming together and bringing the knowledge they have to the table. I foresee great promise and opportunity for this specialty in the future,” said Agnew.
For more information about occupational health and environmental nursing, including appropriate certification, visit www.discovernursing.com.
Get to Know
Charlotte Wallace, RN, pediatric nurse and sustainability coordinator at Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) in Annapolis, Md. Wallace was awarded the Nursing Leadership in Environmental Health Award from the Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment in December 2012.
Q. When did you decide to pursue a career in nursing and why?
A. I always wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but during my senior year in high school, I decided that nursing would provide me with a more flexible schedule and vast career path. I was intrigued by the idea of helping a child feel comfortable in the hospital setting, while educating and treating them with respect.
Q. What do you enjoy most about nursing?
A. Knowing that I have made a positive impact on someone else's life is what I enjoy most about nursing. Whether I help ease their pain, pick up on subtle assessment changes or reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, I can look myself in the mirror and know that my hard work has truly made a difference in someone else's life.
Q. How did you become involved in your hospital's sustainability efforts?
A. Throughout the years as a pediatric nurse, I saw too many children suffer from diseases that I felt could have been prevented. I also watched a fellow nurse go into a severe asthma attack due to exposure to the carpet cleaner. I wondered how this chemical, and other cleaning chemicals, were affecting my patients already in respiratory distress.
Concerned, I decided to write a letter to our former CEO. I wrote that I was tired of the paradox of being an institution for healing, when we had practices that seemed to harm human health. I told him that our staff and patients deserved better and challenged him to be a leader in sustainability.
Q. Why do you think it's so important for hospitals to adopt sustainable practices?
A. I believe hospitals should be the leaders in sustainability practices – after all, we took an oath to "do no harm.” It’s important that we consider the impact of our operational decisions on the health of our community, staff and patients.
For example, in March 2011, Anne Arundel Medical Center successfully implemented a reusable sharps container program in our operating rooms to reduce the volume of plastics sent annually to the incinerator. Additionally, thanks to our waste segregation efforts, we now only send 16 percent of our waste to the incinerator – 30 percent as recycling and 54 percent as municipal waste.
Ask a Nurse
Learn from Industry Leaders How to Kick-Start Your Nursing Career
Attention all student nurses and new nurses – are you interested in learning how to expand your network, prep for interviews or gain valuable experience in nursing? Or maybe you want to know what to expect during your first year as a nurse. We are inviting student nurses and nurses with less than five years of nursing experience to share your fundamental questions with us on the Nursing Notes by Johnson & Johnson Facebook Page and on Twitter @JNJNursingNotes. Each month, we will pick a few questions to highlight in this section with responses provided by seasoned nurses!
Q. What are some unique opportunities nursing graduates have today that they may not have had in the past?
A. If you look at the nursing shortage nationwide, there are significant opportunities for graduates right now. Thirty years ago, it was pretty much assumed that nursing students would immediately transition to a doctor’s office or a hospital – those were pretty much your only options, so that’s what we all focused on. Today, nurses are more highly educated, and their knowledge and expertise can be utilized in other industries such as manufacturing, consulting, non-profit and community-based work, among many others.
That being said, I certainly don’t discourage nursing graduates from going to work in a hospital. I wouldn’t trade my hospital experience for the world! But there really is a broad spectrum of opportunities in the workforce that new nurses might not want to rule out.
-Laura Wenger, RN, and executive director of Practice Greenhealth in Chicago, Ill. Wenger has been a nurse for 18 years.
Q. What was your biggest challenge starting out as a nurse?
A. My biggest challenge as a new nurse was finding my own voice. I didn’t feel comfortable delegating to the nurse technicians and would avoid it at all cost, which led me to staying late and being overwhelmed. It’s important for new nurses to remember that mental health is important – although it is hard to find the work-life balance at times, it can be done.
Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting your career?
A. I wish I knew that I really couldn't save the world – that at some point one of my pediatric patients may die and my job is to provide comfort and support; that deep breathing and a calm attitude can get you through most crises; and lastly, that it is okay – and encouraged – for the tears and feeling to flood once it is over.
-Charlotte Wallace, RN, pediatric nurse and sustainability coordinator at Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) in Annapolis, Md. Wallace has been a nurse for 19 years.
Amazing Nurses 2013
Coming in May – Amazing Nurses 2013
Do you know a nurse that goes above and beyond? Has a colleague inspired you with their skill, comfort and care? Join us next month as Amazing Nurses 2013 kicks off for a third year with a call for nominations. Help us celebrate amazing nurses across the nation by sharing your story about a nurse who has touched your life.
Johnson & Johnson/AACN Expand Minority Nurse Faculty Scholarship
Diversity in the workplace is vital to a thriving workplace, and the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future is proud to support the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and its national Minority Nurse Faculty Scholars program to help achieve that goal. This collaborative effort provides financial support, mentoring and leadership development to minority graduate students committed to teaching in schools of nursing after graduation.
The partnership between the Campaign and AACN began in 2007 to help full-time students in minority communities with an interest in teaching, and invites applications from students in doctoral and clinically-focused master’s programs who will serve as nurse faculty after completing their degrees. To date, the partnership between AACN, the Campaign and other partner organizations has resulted in more than $29 million in scholarship funding for minority nursing students.
AACN is currently accepting applications for the next round of awards. The deadline to apply is May 1, 2013, and new award recipients will be announced in August 2013.
To learn more about the Minority Nurse Faculty Scholarship or to download an application, visit www.aacn.nche.edu.
More Men Becoming Nurses, Census Bureau Reports
In 2011, there were 3.5 million employed nurses in the U.S. and 78 percent were registered nurses, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report. The report, Men in Nursing Occupations, presents data from the 2011 American Community Survey, which measured the percentage of men in each of the following nursing occupations: registered nurse, nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse.
The survey findings show that the percentage of male registered nurses has more than tripled since 1970, from 2.7 percent to 9.6 percent in 2011. The male proportion of practical and licensed vocational nurses has also increased during the same period, from 3.9 percent to 8.1 percent. Additionally, the survey found that nurse anesthetist jobs have the highest concentration of men across all nursing occupations, with men holding 41 percent of nurse anesthetist positions.
To access the full results of the study, visit www.census.gov.
News You Can Use
Safe Kids Day 2013
Join Safe Kids Worldwide and founding sponsor Johnson & Johnson to celebrate Safe Kids Day on May 18! Communities across America will host Safe Kids Day events to raise funds and promote awareness to protect children from injuries, the number one killer of kids in the United States.
Safe Kids Day is an initiative of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization with a mission to protect children from preventable injuries. Safe Kids works in partnership with more than 600 local organizations in the U.S. – including many coalitions led by nurses – and 23 countries around the world to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, falls, burns, poisoning, sports injuries and more.
To learn more about how you can get involved, visit www.safekids.org. For Safe Kids research and statistics, unintentional injury fact sheets and brochures on critical injury risks, visit the Safety Professional Portal at www.safekids.org/nurses. And be sure to check out the August 2012 issue of Nursing Notes for a Safe Kids profile, which includes information about the signs and symptoms of a concussion after a child has experienced a bump or blow to the head during a game or practice.
Tweets of the Month
Highlights from The Campaign's Twitter Conversation
For regular Campaign updates and to keep up with the latest nursing news, be sure to follow us @JNJNursingNotes.
This month, several of our followers attended the National Student Nurses’ Association 61st Annual Convention in Charlotte, N.C., and shared some of their favorite happenings at the Campaign’s “Healthy Haven” room at the convention:
- @Jinel8: Check out the Portrait of Thanks Mosaic, a digital Mosaic of nurses & student nurses at the @JNJNursingNotes Healthy Haven room! #NSNA
- @Simpli-Dee: On Sat had a professional headshot taken at the @JNJNursingNotes Healthy Haven room at #NSNA #studentnurse #nursingcareer
Here are some additional highlights from the conversation this month:
- @AmandaMerced: 6 #SoMe rules everyone should follow RT @jnjnursingnotes: Social media has changed #nursing more than many realize: http://ow.ly/jyCov
- @podmedic: Nurse Philanthropy Interview With Lynn Erdman | Nursing Notes Live http://bit.ly/11Nlgsx @jnjnursingnotes
Coming to Nursing Notes in May
The May issue of Nursing Notes will celebrate nurses and the nursing profession, and highlight the kick-off of Amazing Nurses 2013. If you are a nurse who has a story about a time when you went above and beyond your call of duty for a patient or colleague, and would like to be interviewed for our May issue, please send your statement of interest and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, May 3.