Opinion: Journey to a Healthy Environment

By | 2021-05-28T17:46:43-04:00 October 5th, 2009|0 Comments

In her 2005 article “Pioneering the Environmental Health Frontier,” in Maryland Nurse, Barbara Sattler, RN, DrPH, FAAN, describes “early explorers” who are emerging within the nursing profession.

They are “inquisitive souls” who have recognized the impact of the environment on health, she says, and “want to comprehend the science, consider the practice implications, and … how it might affect their patients, their families and the community.” Sattler also is describing her own respected place in the movement. Years before it was part of the cultural zeitgeist to “go green,” Sattler began the journey to lead the nursing profession into the environmental health frontier.

Sattler is director of the University of Maryland Environmental Health Education Center, the first environmental health nursing graduate program in the U.S. She also holds leadership roles within nursing associations, federal advisory committees, and multidisciplinary advocacy groups such as Health Care Without Harm.

Sattler is keenly aware that it takes more than one leader to make the needed changes to solve the complex problem of environmental insults on human health. In a recent telephone interview, Sattler explained her role as “helping to provide the tools and resources to create nurse champions around the country who embrace environmental healthcare as part of their work — the OR nurse interested in making sure her hospital built sustainability into the OR suite, or the public health nurse or pediatric nurse who incorporates environmental risk assessments when taking patient histories.”

The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is Sattler’s latest venture. Sattler was one of 50 nurse leaders who convened in Racine, Wis., in December to develop a strategic plan for environmental health nursing. The outcome was the creation of ANHE, whose mission is to “guide the nursing profession by strengthening education, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice and influencing policy to promote healthy people and healthy environments.”

ANHE was launched on Earth Day — April 22, 2009 — via a new Web site, e-commons.org/anhe. Sattler came up with the idea to have a site people “co-own and co-create,” that serves as a gathering place for people who share the same need for information, training, and tools. Nurses can join ANHE by signing up for one of four active work groups: policy/advocacy, education, research, and practice. Each group holds free monthly teleconferences, and minutes are archived online.

In the book, “Quantum Leadership: A Resource for Health Care Innovation,” authors Tim Porter-O’Grady and Kathy Malloch describe good leaders in the healthcare industry as those who “live in the edge land between now and the next and are able to engage folks in the journey of the whole across the landscape of a preferred and optimistic future.” Sattler is engaging the nursing profession with her vision of environmentally aware nurses taking action for the benefit of their patients, communities, and the planet. Her message is clear and compelling.

“Learn to value the only environment we have,” she says. “See the implications of damage to human health now and for the next generation. See your roles as citizens and professionals and take action. Don’t be paralyzed by the enormity of the problem. Take action, however small or modest. To do nothing is not allowable.”

Donna Novak, RN, MSN, CRNP, is Director, Nursing Communications & Initiatives for Gannett Healthcare Group. Write to her at [email protected]

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