On November 3, 2013, an event called Public Health Nursing: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow! was held by the Quad Council of Public Health Organizations in the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel to honor Quad Council’s 90th anniversary. The Quad Council is made up of the following associations: the Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN), the Association of Community Health Nursing Educators (ACHNE), the Public Health Nursing Section of the American Public Health Association (PHN-APHA), and the American Nurses Association Council on Nursing Practice and Economics (ANA). The Quad Council’s mission is to “provide(s) leadership, voice and visibility for public health nurses through setting a national policy agenda on issues related to public health nursing,” carried out through the improvement of public health structure, expansion of public health and care services, advancement of public health nursing education, promotion of public health nursing leadership, and establishing research studies within the public health nursing practice. In remembrance of the purpose of public health nursing, the Quad Council hosted a panel of experienced public health nurses who recounted and reflected on their ongoing public health nursing journey to impart their wisdom to the other nurses in attendance.
During this event, a panel of public health nurse leaders, namely Ruth Knollmueller, Carol Easley Allen, Cheryl Easley, Betty Bekemeier, and Diane Gallagher spoke about the past and current narratives of public health nursing, as well as their hopes and visions for its future. They shared stories about the development of public health nursing from the 1960s, during which Medicare, Medicaid, Roe v. Wade, and the Community Mental Health Act of 1963 were debated but were topics of importance. Although the prime years of their careers were trying times for public health nursing, they emphasized the importance of pressing on as positive transformation is almost always brought on by a period of uneasy changes.
Carol Easley and Cheryl Easley-Allen continued the conversation and spoke of the importance of cultural sensitivity, especially because of the diverse nature of the community of the United States. They spoke of the hurt that communities of diverse backgrounds experienced due to the grave inequalities in the past history of healthcare, and encouraged the nurses in the audience to continue their role as healing hands. They believed that these healing hands were only possible by being able to care for the patient in the context of their whole person, taking into consideration the differences in culture and letting go of personal biases.
As the night went on, it became more evident that the nurse leaders on the panel spoke with urgency. They called for the nurses in the audience to speak up, not just in that room that day during the discussion, but in their workplaces. They shared their concern of nurses still being too timid to speak up even though they know that they have the knowledge and right interventions on their floors and within their specialties. One of the Easley sisters, for example, spoke of an experience wherein a medical doctor proposed that bringing care to the houses of the people would be beneficial to the community’s health. This seemed to suggest that public health nurses are not getting the adequate recognition in their skills in the field. They implored for each and every nurse to come together and create a transformative and collective voice in order to genuinely and effectively advocate for the nursing profession and the patients. It has not been easy, especially in the 1960s for the nurses of color in the panel, but they continued to believe in the cause of public health, specifically providing equal opportunity of care for all.
Overall, it was fascinating to hear about the evolution of public health nursing through the voices of individuals who were the evolution’s vessels themselves. What I took away from Public Health Nursing: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow! was not merely the historical nuggets that the nurse leaders shared with the crowd, but rather the wisdom they imparted from their experiences.
The message that these nurse leaders shared with the audience profoundly resonated with me as I prepare myself as a senior in the Connell School of Nursing this year. Each one of the panelists showed passion for their profession. More importantly, however, they showed deep care for their patients and the communities they have represented through their nursing careers. The values these nurses hold are values that I myself hold important. As I become a nurse next year, I would like to look up to these influential individuals and incorporate and develop their sincerity in their profession and be the healing hands that they have always been.