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Nurses Can Benefit from Working With Underserved Communities

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. This is one reason why it is crucial for nurses to provide care to underserved communities and gain first-hand experience.

Underserved Communities

Underserved communities are most commonly characterized by poverty and a lack of access to resources. For example, in the United States, many people in underserved communities may live below the poverty line, belong to a minority demographic, live in areas without quality health services (whether urban or rural) and suffer from increased risk of serious medical conditions.

Studies have shown a correlation between social determinants of health — such as those experienced by people in underserved communities — and disproportionate levels of negative health outcomes like a higher risk of diabetes and higher morbidity rates. The COVID-19 pandemic shed further light on health disparities that impact underserved populations.

These issues stem from root causes such as a lack of access to education; living in food deserts where nutritious, affordable options are scarce; a lack of medical insurance; inadequate access to quality healthcare; poverty; and systemic racism. Pervasive and persistent disparities and inequities in healthcare access and outcomes have driven widespread efforts to achieve health equity for all underserved populations. In fact, health equity underpins one of the three overarching goals of the Healthy People 2030 initiative.

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Reach Populations You Will Not See in a Hospital

According to 2021 research from Gallup and West Health, about 46 million people in the United States cannot afford quality healthcare. Working with 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 and advocate for patients in vulnerable populations.

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.

If you are enrolled in a nursing education program such as a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program, you could ask your professors 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 (HCC), for example, helps nursing students and professionals find opportunities to intern or work in underserved communities.

Incentives also abound to encourage and support nurses working in underserved communities. In 2021, the White House directed billions of dollars toward the National Health Service Corps and the Nurse Corps in order to “help grow and diversify the nation’s healthcare workforce, and bolster equitable healthcare in the communities that need it most.” Currently, the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program connects nurses with great opportunities, offering student loan reimbursements of up to 60% after two years of service or 85% after three years of service in underserved communities.

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 The University of Texas at Arlington online RN to BSN program.

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