Nurses, who have first hand knowledge and understanding of how to live healthy and how to take proper care of themselves, are far better equipped to teach others about these concepts. Certain populations can benefit greatly from prevention, especially those who are prone to specific types of diseases or conditions.
One of the most common behaviors that leads to many chronic and often very damaging health conditions is smoking. Smoking can cause a multitude of diseases and conditions from emphysema to heart disease to lung cancer (Chapman, 2007). The list goes on and on. But smoking is 100% preventable and nurses need to understand not only how to treat these smoking-related diseases but how to more importantly discourage and prevent people from smoking in the first place. Many nurses agree that this behavior leads to many of the worst case scenarios for people with pre-existing chronic conditions. It is therefore important for nurses to first understand the effects of smoking in order to be able to properly and successfully educate patients about them. Once an understanding occurs, nurses must have the initiative to educate the public about the ills of smoking as well as the discipline to understand that they lead by example and that as a healthcare professional they should not take up behaviors and habits that could lead to chronic health conditions in the future (Chapman, 2007).
Once the problem here is specified, as it has been with smoking-related diseases, it can therefore be attacked through a couple of different avenues. Patients need to first feel empowered themselves to be able to change their behavior (Tesoriero, 2010). Whether that means keeping a non-smoker from smoking or helping a lifelong smoker to quit, this empowerment is a very key piece of the nursing field as well as in other healthcare professions. Patients need to conceptualize the problems in order to understand them, and nurses can help do so. Next, nurses must also understand that this empowerment process has different parts to it. These parts include self-learning and development skills as well as analyzing the relationship between themselves and their own authority (Tesoriero, 2010). Patients tend to listen to nurses as healthcare professionals so nurses need to recognize their own authority in the healthcare field. Through promotion of participation and the psychological authority that nurses possess, it is possible to positively empower and influence people's decisions.
The three different types of approaches discussed by Tesoriero (2010) also fall into separate categories in the nursing profession. Just as nurses are tasked with education and being a positive role model, these approaches are part of the nursing agenda and can be seen quite clearly as three separate avenues in approaching the problem of smoking and smoking-related conditions and diseases. For many people who are already smokers, the main mode of treatment is medical or high risk. These types of treatments include surgery to remove a tumor in their lung to heart surgery or bypass surgery. These procedures while relatively commonplace currently, are high risk and represent the last resort in the process of evaluating a patient's options and acting accordingly (Rice and Stead, 2006). Nurses are trained to assist with these procedures and to help patients both prepare for and recover from them. But the other two approaches to this problem seem to be much more effective when it comes to prevention of disease.
The behavioral or multi-risk approach tends to yield better results overall in large populations than the medical approach. This behavioral approach allows nurses to empower patients by first identifying the problem (smoking) and then creating a solution to their problem (Tesoriero, 2010). People need to feel as though they can control their behavior and that the nurse is telling them something worthwhile and valuable. This is where the authority of a healthcare professional comes in once again. The nurse has the authority to make an impression on the patient (Rice and Stead, 2006). Behavior changes may include cutting down on smoking or quitting altogether. Others may have a hard time not smoking when others around them are doing so, and nurses should recognize this and encourage them to surround themselves with non-smokers if it is going to become an issue.
The final approach to this problem is the socioenvironmental or community approach. Nurses need to recognize that they are part of a larger whole, or team that is helping to both educate and empower people to make positive and healthy decisions (Tesoriero, 2010). Nurses are certainly not alone in trying to keep people from engaging in risky or unhealthy behavior such as smoking. There are other resources and communities that can help in the fight to both prevent people from smoking and help those who have already started to quit. Nurses can use a person's family or community to help them understand the ills of this particular behavior as well as the risk factors involved (Rice and Stead, 2006). This is an excellent example of primary care, and is much less risky than removing a lung from a patient who has been smoking for decades.
One of the most intriguing and important questions that is often asked about healthcare promotion is whether or not mental health promotion is different from health promotion as a whole (Tesoriero, 2010). This question is likely answered by understanding that the nurse's role is holistic, and is not comprised of treating the body exclusively. In order to change a behavior like smoking, which often involves physical, mental, and emotional addiction, nurses need to be able to successfully deal with the mental and emotional aspects of the behavior in order to combat it. Since addiction is clinically diagnosable, nurses need to be familiar with its characteristics and also need to be able to work toward a solution (Rice and Stead, 2006). Prevention is the easiest way to combat addiction. If a substance like nicotine is known to be addictive, nurses can educate their patients about these substances and keep them from even putting them in their bodies in the first place. It is impossible to be addicted to something without first trying it.
Nurses have other tools by which their effectiveness in fighting or preventing smoking related diseases and conditions can benefit. Nurses need to understand their own role and place within the system. Hospitals and clinics are often very political places, and the nurse needs to understand that in order to accomplish something within a political system, they may need to behave according to the value sets and political structure of that system (Tesoriero, 2010). This occurs through a process of action, refection, and action. A nurse's action will have a result, and this result is often not exactly what the nurse as intending. So once a nurse can reflect upon the effects of their action and what it has done to the environment around them, they can re-evaluate their previous action and plan again for their next. This happens on both a nurse to patient level as well as a community level between healthcare professionals. Within this system, nurses also need to recognize that they are part of a team or larger whole.
Since collective action contributes to a sense of belonging (Tesoriero, 2010) nurses can collaborate as a group with much more effect than they can as individuals. Also, when a team is focused on one specific goal, in this case prevention, often that goal is met very quickly and solutions surface that otherwise might have not had nurses been working individually on the issue. Making choices and taking risks are part of the everyday experience in all healthcare professions and nurses in particular need to realize that they possess a particular skill set and knowledge base that allows them to act in an informed, educated, and sure manner to treat their patients. Being assertive and sure of oneself in the hospital environment is often tough and challenging, but nurses, like other healthcare professionals need to realize that they are an integral part of the healthcare community and that their efforts to help prevent diseases through empowering and educating their patients are just as important as the efforts made by doctors, surgeons, and other specialists (Rains and Wiles, 2007). This translates to nurses not having to bear the entire prevention burden on their own, and recognizing that there are other members of their team willing to help bear the prevention load with them.
Nurses hold an extremely important position in the healthcare field. Within this position lies the responsibility to not only treat people's diseases and conditions but to help encourage healthy living and to prevent diseases from occurring in the first place. The example of smoking quite dramatically illustrates the nurses role as educator as advocate for healthy lifestyle choices. It also shows that nurses can exist within the realm of mental health professionals when it comes to understanding and combating the ills of…