Think back to your most recent educational experience. Whether you were sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture on infectious disease or doing online simulations of proper aseptic techniques, you likely encountered the material in several different ways.
Now, think about which method taught you the most. Some people are verbal learners who prefer lectures or textbooks, while others are visual learners who prefer videos and diagrams. Almost everyone, however, learns from hands-on experience. That is why it is crucial for nurses to provide care to underserved communities and gain first-hand experience.
Underserved communities are most commonly characterized by poverty and a lack of access to resources. For example, in the United States, most people in underserved communities live below the poverty line, belong to a minority demographic, and suffer from increased risk of serious medical conditions.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), people in underserved communities are far more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis, cancer, diabetes and infant mortality. These issues stem from root causes such as a lack of access to education; living in food deserts where nutritious, affordable options are scarce; lack of medical insurance; and poor coping skills (like drug and alcohol use) that exacerbate medical issues.
Reach Populations You Will Not See in a Hospital
According to a report from U.S. Census Bureau, 33 million people in the United States cannot afford healthcare. Â Reaching out to underserved communities gives you an opportunity to learn about an entirely different subgroup of the population. Poverty, for example, is rampant in underserved populations, and it causes a host of medical complications that often go untreated. By providing care to underserved communities, you will encounter new areas of need and new methods to deliver care to patients in need.
Understand the Needs of Underserved Communities
Not only will you have new experiences by providing care to underserved communities, you will also learn to empathize with those in need. For example, many people living in underserved communities struggle with poor nutrition, diabetes, chronic pulmonary conditions and injuries that have healed improperly. While you provide care for these issues, look for patterns and common complaints from your patients. As you do so, you will begin to understand how these problems develop and how to help people avoid them.
Develop a Vision for Your Future
When you understand the challenges people face in underserved communities, you can begin to enact change. These experiences can be life-changing for nurses, who sometimes decide to take their careers in new directions. By providing care to underserved communities, you may find that you want to get more involved, perhaps by volunteering regularly, raising awareness, or starting a fundraiser.
How to Get Involved
There are many ways you can help underserved communities. Begin by looking for volunteer opportunities in your community. Even if you live in a city that seems to lack underserved communities, you may be surprised when you begin looking. Talk to professors at your college or university and ask if they know of any outreach opportunities. Such opportunities could range from performing lice checks at a nearby homeless shelter to providing free exams to women at a domestic violence shelter. Many youth centers offer dental checkups for children and provide parents with nutritional advice.
If you are looking for more long-term opportunities, begin by joining a professional organization with goals that align with your own. The Health Career Connection, for example, helps nursing students and professionals find opportunities to intern or work in underserved communities. The Nurses for America program recently launched a similar program and can help match you with a site. Also, Nurse Corps connects nurses with great opportunities while also offering student loan reimbursements of up to 60 percent after two years of service.
If you want to be a well-rounded, informed nurse, consider providing care to underserved communities. Not only will it expand your medical knowledge and your understanding of the world, it will also make a significant difference in the lives of those you treat. Nurses are helpers, healers and heroes. There is a whole world of underserved populations counting on their help.
Learn more about UTA’s online RN to BSN program.
Underserved populations struggle with poverty, disparities in health care. (2010, August 3). http://www.aafp.org/news/inside-aafp/20100803ntlconf-rodgers.html
Mobile free clinic brings health care to US’s most underserved areas. (2013, August 22). http://thehealthwagon.org/hwwp/2013/08/22/mobile-free-clinic-brings-health-care-to-uss-most-underserved-areas
Karnezis, J. (2016, June 1). Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Nurses.
Orlovsky, C. (n.d.). Nurses for American Program Launches to Aid Underserved Popuations.
Give Back, Serve Underserved Communities. (n.d.). http://www.healthcareers.org/about-us/give-back
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.