The Public Health Nurse Role in Bioterrorism/Disaster Preparedness
The roles of a public health nurse after a natural disaster or bioterrorism event are essential to the successful outcome and rehabilitation of the community. In the past, nurses have been utilized in emergency shelters for first-aid skills, medication administration, and implementation of organized systems to track individuals and disease occurrence. However, as more emphasis is being placed on population-based public health and disaster/emergency preparedness, more opportunities for nurses to apply their skills in these areas are emerging.
Nurses possess a vast array of skills that may serve a vital role at the population-based level of care in emergency/disaster preparedness. Knowledge about a community’s baseline health status, demographics, environment, and existing resources provides the PHN with a “unique awareness of the vulnerable populations in the community, who may be at particular risk in times of disaster. They are also aware of the diverse community resources and gaps in community services”22. Such valuable information about a community’s resources and potentially vulnerable populations may assist in identification of specific barriers within the community that may encumber effective community response to disaster.19
A PHN’s clinical background knowledge regarding disease pathophysiology in conjunction with his/her community assessment skills can serve a crucial role in emergency preparedness planning, bioterrorism syndrome identification, and in surveillance system development and implementation.19 PHN are capable of identifying populations at risk to disease, recognizing deviations in the health of populations, and in extracting clinical relevant data to discern the difference between “true findings warranting further investigation and simple statistical aberration."19 Rapid detection of a bioterrorist event is essential to the health of the population. PHNs are in prime position to detect bioterrorist events “because nurses are so familiar with normal patterns of health and illness in the communities they serve, they’re well positioned to recognize deviations in them.”19
Classroom and clinical activities in nursing school focus on the importance of effective communication between disciplines such as doctors, physical therapists, respiratory therapist, the patient, etc. that must occur in order to heal individuals. As a result, nurses become well versed and experienced in effective communication and realize the importance of collaboration in healing the public. These skills may transcend into public health where collaboration among a diverse health field is equally important. While performing a comprehensive community assessment, PHN may establish critical relationships among the community’s health care workers and institutions. The relationships formed between a local health department and other organizations will enhance vital communication necessary for effective development and implementation of emergency planning and response.19 Through contact with multiple groups and agencies, PHNs may also possess the ability to organize coalitions that are needed to mobilize community resources during a public health emergency.19
Disaster nursing is a new emerging field that will be very important to the future of nursing practice. Also, click on bioterrorism nursing competencies to discover the roles and responsibilities of nursing during a bioterrorism event. Follow the link nursing during a disaster for more examples of emergency nursing roles.
Population Based Services: Epidemiology >