America’s Nurses: Emerging Leaders of Sustainability
By Julie Graham RN/PHN
May 12 is internationally recognized as Nurses’ Day. I thought it would be a fitting opportunity to recognize professional nurses and acknowledge the potential they have to contribute to sustainable change. Nurses have a natural fit with sustainability. They dedicate their professional lives to making the lives of others, and their communities, better. Healthier.
Nurses are highly trained professionals whose doctrine is founded in Holism. Nursing has a long history of identifying maladaptive behaviors and manifestations in individuals and communities, and planning, then evaluating, measures for continual improvement.
Shortly before the turn of the 21st century, I graduated from nursing school. Full of excitement and high aspirations. As a tree-hugging, rainforest-saving, Amnesty International-supporting college student, I remember the heartbreak I felt, standing in the middle of a dark ICU one night, when the realization of the incredible amount of waste surrounding me really sunk in. Disposable supplies, plastic and paper. Bandages, isolation gowns and masks. Sharps waste, medication vials. Easily one or two bins of trash, per patient, per shift (and that’s not counting the laundry). As heartbreaking as this was, I had to eventually accept, that this was price we were paying for safety, for infection control, and for improved patient care outcomes. I was conflicted, but nursing was the only thing I knew how to do, and I loved it. And with time, I became complacent. But eventually, my conscious caught up with me. I wanted to contribute to a better way. However, I felt I was alone.
Much to my wonder and amazement, we have come a long way. Organizations like Healthcare Without Harm, Partners in Green Health, The American Hospital Association, and the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, are dedicated to sharing ideas for resource reduction, an environmentally preferable supply chain, and alternatives for energy and diversion of waste. It’s an easy sell. Sustainable initiatives in hospitals save money, contribute to improved patient outcomes and improved employee engagement, as well as fit the value system of those invested in this resource intensive industry. It’s catching on. And if you consider that Healthcare contributes more to the economy than any other industry, it has a tremendous potential to impact a green economy.
As the backbone of hospital operations, nurses engaged in sustainable initiatives have a lot of power to influence. There are more than 2.9 million nurses in the U.S. who care about perpetuity and generativity. Their power to affect change doesn’t stop with the business of healthcare. In the developing world, the urgent and growing need for nurses is unprecedented. In these communities nurses are necessary for sustainable development. Injecting nurses into a third world region is the number one strategy to meeting the U.N.‘s Millenium Development Goals .
According to the Center for Nursing Advocacy, there is a “vast gap between what nurses really do and what the public thinks they do.” A sufficient supply of nurses in a developing community translates into population control, control of infectious disease, improved maternal child health outcomes, and the education or women. All indicators necessary for healthy community development. As well, there are opportunities for microfinance as these practitioners are emerging professionals.
So, on May 12th, recognize a nurse in your community, and know that nurse cares about you, your community, and your future generations.
I would like to dedicate this article to Ted Tieves, RN, on his retirement. Thank you for taking a chance on this broken down nurse, just at the time she felt ready for the landfill. You helped me more than you can ever know.