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Public health nursing: a class act with long history of service.

As we pay tribute to nurses around the world as part of National Nurses Week this month, I wish to take special note of the contributions of public health nurses, a group to which I am proud to belong. Nursing and public health nursing developed in this country at the end of the 19th century, just in time to be part of an era of sanitary reform and progressive change.

The lasting imprint of public health nursing on the overall discipline can be seen in the way behavioral science and teaching has been integrated into nursing's body of knowledge and skills. It was public health that first took nurses into the university for education beyond the apprenticeship hospital-based training that characterized our early years. Public health practice broadened our concern from the hospital and the home sick bed to an expanded scope of practice that included communities, schools, factories, housing developments and clinics.

Through the work of social reformer Lillian Wald and her fellow nurses at the Henry Street Settlement in New York City, public health nursing emerged as an arm of county and municipal governments, and public health nurses participated in the myriad programs for uplift and social justice.

I treasure the memory of my beginning years in public health nursing, when in a blue uniform and with my trusty bag in hand, I traveled through my district to make home visits for preventive and sick care and to staff clinics and a neighborhood school. Later, I was privileged to introduce students to public health nursing practice and see them grow in their ability to provide comprehensive care to families and develop commitments to the poor and disadvantaged.

Public health nurses are Cheryl Easley, PhD, RN in-depth generalists in nursing practice across the lifespan, with a focus on the family, group and population as units of service. Their work in developing home visits as a way of providing service was pioneering. It is sadly ironic that now as the value of home visiting is being more fully recognized, many agencies no longer employ sufficient public health nurses to implement home visiting more widely. And although public health nurses continue to practice in the most demanding and exciting places, from urban inner cities to the remote villages of my home here in Alaska, we are impacted by the worldwide shortage of nurses.

Within APHA, the Public Health Nursing Section provides a forum for public health nurse practitioners, educators and researchers and has contributed numerous APHA leaders over the decades. The PHN Section defines and describes the essence of public health nursing and works effectively with other related nursing organizations to advance the field.

An early public health leader is reported to have remarked that the two most significant contributions of the United States to the field of public health were the conquering of yellow fever and the public health nurse. I hope that all of us will have some opportunity--this month especially--to show our appreciation to the public health nurses we know for their history of public health service.

Cheryl Easley, PhD, RN
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Title Annotation:VITAL SIGNS: Perspectives of the president of APHA
Author:Easley, Cheryl
Publication:The Nation's Health
Date:May 1, 2009
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