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5 reasons to be a nurse in an underserved area

Nursing in an underserved area

If you’re inspired by the idea of giving flu shots to a family of four camped at a homeless shelter, or having the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, you might consider being a nurse in an underserved area, helping people who do not normally have access to care or who can’t afford it.

Liz Dietz, who has been a volunteer at the American Red Cross for 30 years and teaches in the master’s in nursing program at the University of Phoenix Bay Area Campus, offers five reasons to choose the career path of a community health care worker:


Job autonomy

Unlike many nurses who work in hospitals under large administrations or in strictly supervised clinics, community health care nurses, who often work for government agencies or nonprofits, have much more independence in their jobs, Dietz says.

“Low-income populations are not in acute-care hospitals” she notes, because they often can’t afford it. “And when you’re treating them,” she adds, “you’re often working with just one colleague.”


More challenging cases

“When you work with the underserved, you’re dealing with vulnerable people at a time when they are most vulnerable,” Dietz says, “and this is challenging. Many times, you are treating people who don't have homes and are living in shelters or their cars.”

Because these patients often have chronic conditions or undiagnosed illnesses, she adds, “you are called upon to use all the stuff that you ever learned in nursing school, as well as your sense of humor, to provide the best care you can.”


Daily variety

Nurses working in large institutions can be pigeonholed into one specialty role. But community caregivers often have an opportunity to provide a much wider range of services to patients.

Depending on the agency, your daily duties might include treating superficial wounds, working with children to assess whether their living conditions are sanitary, caring for geriatric patients who may require new prescriptions or helping individuals enroll in government assistance programs.


The chance to give back

So many people on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder lack basic care. When you work with lower-income patients, Dietz says, you might be the first one to recognize a symptom. Your help can have a significant effect on the quality of their lives.

In addition, she notes, you can work for faith-based community outreach organizations to provide care through health-screening clinics set up for the underserved on days of worship.


Professional fulfillment

If you’re seeking a high level of job satisfaction, providing care in an underserved area is hard to beat, Dietz says.

When you work eight hours at a diabetes or asthma day camp for kids, for example, you can help hundreds of children in just one day, she notes. Spending the time teaching kids appropriate ways to use inhalers, as well as providing them with fun camp activities, she adds, “It’s hard to feel inconsequential.”

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