Academic journal article Nursing and Health Care Perspectives

TAKING Environmental Health Education SERIOUSLY

Academic journal article Nursing and Health Care Perspectives

TAKING Environmental Health Education SERIOUSLY

Article excerpt

FACED WITH AN EXPLOSION in the number and complexity of environmental risks to health, nurses must broaden their view of the environment to include the intricate interplay of human life with physical, chemical, biological, and social forces. Increasing students' awareness and knowledge about the basic principles and concepts of environmental health can be achieved through minor expansion of curricular content.

* This article describes how Howard University incorporated environmental health into a nursing curriculum through stimulating, innovative relationships with three nonacademic agencies.

URBAN AND RURAL ENVIRONMENTAL threats pose significant exposure risks to individual and community health, especially in vulnerable populations. For example, Chemical hazards, which account for a significant portion of environmental and occupational exposure, individually or in combination, place children at great risk (1-3). Knowledge of basic environmental principles concerning exposure sources, environmental pathways, doses, and toxicity is needed to provide a framework in which exposure problems may be understood.

Preparing today's nursing students for practice requires an environmental orientation, as well as exercises in critical thinking that enable students to grapple with the practical implications of environmental health problems. Nevertheless, faculty continue to "educate our students as if there were no planetary emergency" about environmental matters (4, p. 9). Although Orr has urged a reinvention of higher education that prizes a reordering of thought, perceptions, imagination, and loyalties (4), a review of the nursing literature demonstrates the absence of practical efforts within the academic arena.

A Mandate for Educational Change In 1993, the Institute of Medicine, with approval from the National Resources Council, established the Committee on Enhancing Environmental Health Content in Nursing Practice to study the role of nurses in occupational and environmental health. The committee report recommended enhancement of environmental health content in nursing practice, nursing education, professional development, and nursing research. The committee made several specific recommendations (5):

* That environmental concepts be incorporated into all levels of education.

* That licensure and certification examinations include environmental health content.

* That expertise in various environmental health disciplines be included in the education of nurses.

* That environmental health content should be an integral part of lifelong learning and continuing education for nurses.

Several environmental health competencies for nurse generalists were recommended, including basic knowledge and concepts; assessment and referral; advocacy, ethics, and risk communication; and legislation and regulation. The report supported the "importance of increasing environmental health awareness and content for all nurses regardless of their particular field of practice or educational preparation" (5, p. 4) and suggested ways to incorporate appropriate content into existing undergraduate and graduate curricula. Experiences at Howard University have led to practical strategies for initiating curricular changes that focus on environmental health.

THE UNIVERSITY AND GOVERNMENT AGENCIES

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The EPA Office of Pollution Prevention implemented its Campus Program at Howard University to encourage the promotion of environmental science programs and the development of curricula that address environmental justice issues relating to urban, household, industrial, and agricultural chemical exposures. The EPA provided an overview of major environmental issues including safe water, radiation hazards, carcinogenic agents in food and soil, lead and mercury contamination in soil, water, and air, and organophosphate poisoning in soil and underground water. …

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