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The Role of Nurses in Community Outreach (04:49)

“We have a lot to learn from nurses,” says Consuelo Wilkins, Executive Director for the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance. Nurses are very important to community outreach and community involvement in health care. Wilkins does a lot of work with community-engaged health research, and if sees a community engagement program that does not involve nurses, “they’re not doing it right.”

“In most communities, nurses are much more embedded in the community than physicians and researchers or others in the health care system have ever been,” she says. “We still don’t value some of the frameworks and infrastructure that have been put in place by nurses. We really do need to tap into those resources, and they should be at the table leading a lot of this.”

“Good health communication and compassion have been cornerstones of nursing,” adds Russell Rothman, Vice President for Population Health Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. As with clinicians, there are variations in communication quality among nurses and room for improvement. “We work very closely with nurses from many different disciplines around communication issues, but I think they play a tremendous role in helping us engage the community,” he says.

“It’s more than just the nurses and the doctors,” adds NEJM Catalyst Leadership Board Founder Tom Lee. He describes a conversation he had with Adrienne Boissy, Chief Experience Officer for the Cleveland Clinic, who told him how the Clinic’s senior executives pair off with a randomly selected employee and spend the morning doing their work with them. Boissy was assigned to work with someone from escort service, who moved patients around the hospital. “She said that it was completely eye-opening for her, that escort person’s relationships with the patients and with the other personnel. She’s been there 25 years, and this guy knew people so much better, and there were so many warm, wonderful interactions — people were happy to see him,” he recounts. “The trust and respect and communication stuff is not just with patients, but is with our colleagues, as well, and it’s not just doctors and nurses.”

Wilkins adds community health workers and promotores to that list of other health care personnel. “They are very important to our health system in its evolution,” she says. “If we don’t begin to embrace them in a way where we can build a workforce that will help to reach beyond that of the clinicians, we’re definitely not going to evolve into the system that we need.”

From the NEJM Catalyst event Expanding the Bounds of Care Delivery: Integrating Mental, Social, and Physical Health, held at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, January 25, 2018.

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