The first full week of December is traditionally the time when national Hand Washing Awareness Week is celebrated, and it seems like it always comes at a perfect time. With the country in the middle of a holiday season that is coinciding with a rise in respiratory viruses including Covid, influenza, and RSV and also an uptick in gastrointestinal outbreaks, a reminder about proper hand washing is helpful for everyone.
Even if you think hand washing isn’t something that’s all that important in the face of all the germs circulating, it’s actually one activity that, when done effectively, can reduce the chances of catching or spreading germs and infections in any setting.
From working in a healthcare setting to coming home from the grocery store, thorough hand washing is an important step in taking care of yourself, those in your care, and the wider population.
What exactly makes one hand washing routine better than another? According to the CDC timing and technique do make a difference. Here are some essential times to focus on washing your hands thoroughly:
after using the bathroom or changing diapers
before, during, and after cooking (especially if you are touching raw meat)
before and after seeing a patient
when you return home from being outside or in a public setting such a store
It might seem like you’re washing your hands endlessly, but as you pick up germs on your hands throughout the day, a good cleaning is needed. It’s easy to forget to wash your hands. No matter how ingrained it may be, a hectic work day, returning home and unloading groceries, and an unexpected interruption can all disrupt your normal routine. Repitition is key to helping you associate certain times and activities with paying attention to your hands and that routine is key.
As a nurse, being obvious with hand washing is reassuring to patients and helps set a standard of practice in your unit. As a nurse leader, making hand washing a priority for you and your team will help protect them and is also an important step for patient safety. Hospital acquired infections including staph infections and C. difficile are easily spread through contact, so keeping your hands clean at work is critical.
Since so many healthcare organizations use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, most nurses are used to that quick disinfectant when they are on the job. And while hand sanitizers are great at killing most germs, sometimes soap and water will be necessary. When your hands are heavily soiled, have a chemical on them, or what you are doing requires hands that are as sterile as possible, then soap and water is the best option. Soap and water helps you remove dirt, germs, and anything on your hands because you can lather up, scrub, and then rinse it all away.
For such a simple task, hand washing is an outstanding way to stop the spread of germs and help promote health among your team, your family, and your patients.
Hospice and palliative care nurses work in a care giving space that is often difficult and foreign for most families, friends, and other caregivers. With a compassionate approach, experience gained from helping others who are at the end of their lives, and valuable professional knowledge, hospice and palliative care nurses become a guide for patients and their loved ones.
According to the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts, patients may choose to have hospice and palliative care when their life expectancy from a terminal illness is six months or less. Hospice care’s goal is different from the other medical care that a patient has been receiving for their illness. Shifting from a treatment-oriented approach to a comfort-based and dignity-focused care model, hospice aims to make the patients remaining days as comfortable as possible.
Hospice and palliative care nurses work with patients at the end of their lives, developing close bonds with the patient and the patient’s loved ones. Although hospice and palliative care nurses work with people during their very last days, it’s most helpful if they become involved as early as is possible. Even if a family is familiar with hospice and palliative care, each patient’s treatment, medical needs, and expectations are different. Nurses in this specialty help families plan for specific aspects of care and anticipate the patient’s needs. With this kind of planning, the patient’s quality of life is higher, families are more prepared for what will happen, and more time can be spent with personal interactions.
Nurses in this career path or who are interesting in working as a hospice nurse can find excellent career resources through the Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association, Hospice & Palliative Nurses Foundation, and the Hospice & Palliative Credentialing Center. Whether looking for a course to boost skills or knowledge or a community of other hospice and palliative care nurses, these associations are dedicated to elevating this nursing practice. Depending on your focus area (pediatrics or adult) and your background (RN or APRN), nurses may also find information about how to become certified. Certification brings a professional expertise to a nurse’s work and allows providers to offer the best possible nursing care. Through these associations, nurses can attain leadership positions, connect with fellow hospice and palliative care nurses, or even listen to (or create your own!) podcasts.
Although hospice and palliative care nurses work with patients who aren’t expected to live more than six months (although some do live much longer), many say the work they do is sad, but also filled with meaning. Because this is their focus, hospice and palliative care nurses are able to guide patients and families through the unfamiliar process. They learn how to navigate the emotional, physical, and spiritual landscape that comes with an intensely personal journey. With their expertise and knowledge, they are able to educate those who are caring for, visiting, or otherwise interacting with the patient. But this period in a person’s life also allows the nurse/patient bond to grow strong, even in a shortened time frame. This kind of rewarding work is one that offers nurses the ability to make the kind of change they hope for when they first begin their nursing careers.
Earning an advanced degree offers nurses immediate career benefits, including skills and knowledge they’ll apply to their work long before graduation. But advanced degrees, including the designation as a nurse practitioner (NP), also offer study nuances that propel careers forward and present opportunities that weren’t available before.
Nurses who pursue an NP with a master’s of nursing degree find, in particular, that the additional credential offers a level of autonomy leading to career paths that could include direct patient care, nurse leadership roles, research, business, academia, or the diverse potential in entrepreneurship.
As nurse practitioners branch out to explore entrepreneurial pursuits, new roles that blend bedside and leadership, or new research models, the beneficial impacts on public health and approaches to healthcare are widely visible.
“The NP workforce is in a constant state of growth to keep up with the rising demands of the healthcare system,” says Paula Tucker, DNP, FNP-BC, ENP-C, FAANP Clinical Associate Professor and Interim Director of the Emergency Nurse Practitioner Program Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory University. “NPs frequently operate in regions where access to healthcare services is limited and providing care to vulnerable populations. This experience equips NPs with invaluable skills for providing care to diverse patient groups and addressing healthcare disparities.”
The COVID pandemic brought significant changes to the nursing practice and workforce and, in many ways, paved the way for NPs to expand their career paths. And because their experience and expertise were crucial to in-the-moment patient care scenarios, public awareness about nurse practitioners increased. “NPs have demonstrated their leadership capabilities by pioneering innovative care models that adapt to these changes,” says Tucker, who also holds a volunteer leadership position for the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. “This experience in healthcare innovation is an asset for nurses contemplating diverse career avenues.”
Miranda High MSN, APRN, FNP-C, works as a Certified Mobile Research Nurse/CMRN and a nurse practitioner for PCM Trials. When she started on a nursing path, High says becoming a nurse practitioner was her goal because it would allow her to work as a provider. Working as a mobile research nurse wasn’t a path she was initially aware of. “I thought this was a role where I could potentially help people have access to treatment options that they may not otherwise have due to several factors, including traveling restrictions and financial obstacles preventing people from making follow-up visits at the site,” says High. “I felt like being able to take ‘the site’ to them allowed them the ability to be a participant in a clinical trial to not only help themselves but to be part of something bigger than just themselves. Being part of something that could potentially help so many other people in the future was what led me to discover the excitement of this role.”
Tucker says that identifying goals, developing a passion for a specialty, and gaining new skills are all effectively leveraged in diverse roles. “The key is to find one’s passion in caring for patients and allowing that passion to drive creativity, giving back to the community, and fostering innovation as a change agent in healthcare,” she says.
Alita-Geri Carter, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC CEO and founder of The Commission for Health, LLC, says she decided to become an NP when she was 14, a path that began when her younger sister spent weeks in NICU. Carter’s entrepreneurial approach allows her to provide various nursing services rooted in her passion. “Nursing is a significant part of who I am, and my nursing perspective also plays a critical role in each decision I make,” she says. “As a nurse entrepreneur, you must be able to pivot and meet the needs of your consumers to remain relevant.” Carter has shaped a career that lets her use her nursing skills to provide patient advocacy and resource coordination education, healthcare provider and school-based provider training, curriculum development, public speaking, communications and public relations consultant services, and legislative advocacy for children and youth with special healthcare needs.
For High, a mobile research nursing role brings her into the homes of subjects participating in a clinical trial, and needs follow-up data obtained as required in-home visits. “On these follow-up visits, any number of nursing tasks can be performed, including labs, EKG, obtaining information, reviewing logs, etc.,” she says. In High’s other role, as an NP with PCM, she is part of the clinical interview team conducting clinical interviews with potential NPs to discuss clinical competencies since the initial recruiters are not clinically trained. “We discuss their skills and abilities as they relate to the nurse practitioner’s scope of practice,” she says. “After the candidate interview, I help to determine if they are eligible for hire based on their clinical competencies.”
According to Tucker, the NP credential means nurses have experience with using advanced clinical skills, making complex medical decisions, and, particularly, developing effective communication with patients, which fosters teamwork and interprofessional collaboration. Both High and Carter say the NP expanded their career options. Because the NP background gave her an understanding of how to interpret the patient findings she was reporting to physicians as a registered nurse, High says being an NP has helped her expand on how she helps people and the number of kinds of people she can serve. “It gave me the opportunity to potentially be a provider to people to the underserved community who may not have access to care in any other way,” she says. “As an NP, I can help them with preventative and chronic health needs in a way that many MDs do not practice. I firmly believe that having my NP allows me to bridge the gap in healthcare disparities.”
Carter’s entrepreneurial approach relies on the NP’s experience as a provider with prescribing, diagnosing, and authorization responsibilities. “I can understand the healthcare system more intimately,” she says. “There is something to be said about the firsthand experience. I have the unique experience of working as a nursing assistant, registered nurse, nursing administrator, and nurse practitioner. It creates a well-rounded perspective of patient care, outcomes, provider scope, and access.”
Nurse practitioners can open doors they never knew existed, and that’s often a starting point to a meaningful career. “The NP path offers a gateway to a world of opportunities,” says Tucker. “Being part of a community of NPs who serve as catalysts for change within the healthcare system facilitates personal and professional growth, positively impacting the lives of patients, families, and communities. For nurses considering this path, being part of a trusted profession, the ability to adapt to various healthcare settings, experience in serving diverse populations, and contributing to innovative healthcare interventions makes it an immensely promising and fulfilling career choice.”
Military nursing is a career path that offers professional opportunities, a sense of family, and a commitment to meaningful service. Military nurses are especially proud of their profession on Veteran’s Day. Andrea C. Petrovanie-Green, MSN, NC, RN, USN, AMB-BC, CAPT(Ret) and a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) says nursing is a calling. “It is a gift to help in ‘shaping care where life happens,'” she says. “Personally I am committed to paying it forward and mentoring current and future nurses to realize their full potential.”
CAPT Petrovanie-Green was born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised by her maternal grandmother until she was 13. At that age, she and her brother immigrated to the United States to live with her mother, stepfather, and sister. But Petrovanie-Green never forgot the important lessons from her grandmother. “She was wise beyond her years,” she says. “I learned early on the importance of service and reaching back to help those less fortunate.” Her path to a military nursing career began with those embedded principles.
Petrovanie-Green says she seeks out ways to give back and is currently finishing up a medical mission in Guyana to help promote health and wellness in communities that have limited access to healthcare and resources. After that, you can find her training for the St. Jude half marathon in December and raising money to help end childhood cancer. “This is my 15th year participating and thus far I’ve raised almost $5000,” she says.
How did you find your career path to nursing and to the Navy? How did they merge? I was fortunate to attend a high school that offered a practical nursing program, and it was there my nursing career journey began. In addition, I volunteered at a local hospital as a candy striper and as soon as I was able to work, my first job was serving gourmet dinners to new parents at St. Vincent’s Medical Center on Staten Island, New York.
During high school I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant at a local nursing home and home health aide. Upon graduation I successfully passed the Licensed Practical Nursing exam and was promoted to Charge Nurse. While attending Wagner College, I was selected for a Navy nursing scholarship, and following graduation I was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy in 1993. I retired in May 2023 after 30 years of honorable and faithful service to our great nation.
You are a long-time member of AAACN. How does that help you as a nurse? I was encouraged to become a member of AAACN by my mentor Dr. Wanda Richards who is a retired Navy Nurse Corps Captain. At the time, I was working in orthopedic clinic and immediately began preparing for the certification exam. During my first conference, I felt a strong sense of this is exactly where I want to be. The passion, energy, and commitment to ambulatory care nursing was palpable during every session and with each encounter. The focus on health, wellness, and disease management aligned with the military health system.
As a professional nurse, becoming certified demonstrates your commitment to your specialty and more importantly your patient population. AAACN has been an unwavering supporter in helping chart the course for ambulatory care nursing in the military. I am grateful for the many opportunities such as this to serve as a voice for the future of nursing.
What nursing and professional skills are most essential in your role? As an ambulatory care nurse, developing a partnership with patients and their families is most essential for building trust and improving health and well-being. According to a Gallup poll in 2022 nursing was rated the most trusted profession for 21 years in a row! The art of listening and effective communication is critical in further enriching these relationships to achieve desired outcomes. When patients feel valued and heard they are more willing to be a an active participant in their health care and decision making. As a reminder to myself, I often reflect on Dr. Maya Angelou’s quote “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What would you like other nurses to know about a career in military nursing? Military nursing is very unique and offers a plethora of opportunities for advanced training, education, and leadership early in your career. Wearing the cloth of the nation and the opportunity to care for our fellow comrades and their families is a rewarding and life-changing experience. In addition, if traveling and living in different countries appeals to you, then serving in the military may be a good fit. To be fully transparent there are many sacrifices such as being away from family and loved ones as well as physical requirements. Coming from a small family, I especially appreciated the relationships, camaraderie, and lifelong friendships.
Why is it so essential to have a diverse representation of nurses in the military? In caring for Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and their families, it is essential to have a diverse representation of military nurses. In addition, global engagement with deployments and humanitarian missions strategically position military nurses to provide care to diverse cultures and backgrounds. Training on cultural competence focusing on nursing implications is a prerequisite with annual review and update as needed.
What do you find most exciting or most meaningful about your career and what you have accomplished? Most exciting about my career was having the opportunity to serve onboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort when we embarked on our first humanitarian mission to Latin America and the Caribbean. My experience working as a member of the medical operations team was outside my comfort zone, and I was excited for the challenge. I learned valuable skills in communication and coordination and the relationships developed with our host nations was truly humbling. The highlight of our mission was returning to my home country of Trinidad and Tobago serving as an ambassador for the United States. Reflecting back on this experience always brings a sense of grace and gratitude.
By spotlighting both the nurses who care for patients with bladder and urology conditions and awareness around the physical and emotional aspects of bladder health, patients and nurses can gain and share information.
Urology nurses treat patients who can have conditions as varied as kidney failure, bladder cancer, incontinence, vasectomies, and kidney stones. Urology nurses treat adults and children and can specialize in one area. Nurses in this specialty are also able to find a career path that matches their working style–whether that is a steady schedule in a physician’s office, a varied home care schedule, a trauma unit, or a surgical center.
By using information to spread awareness and promoting the importance of bladder health, the Urology Care Foundation highlights Bladder Health Awareness Month. Nurses and patients will find resources to help with different health concerns. The organization is highlighting different conditions each week of November including interstitial cystitis, neurogenic bladder, and bladder infection/urinary tract infection; bladder cancer; incontinence, overactive bladder, and stress urinary incontinence; and bedwetting, nocturia, bladder exstrophy and other bladder conditions and diseases.
Access to information that’s accurate and up to date is essential for many reasons including ensuring patients are receiving the best treatment and care possible. But this access also helps patients normalize urology-associated problems and conditions. Frequently, patients are reluctant to talk about issues like incontinence. The more they can understand that bladder health issues can be managed with treatment from medication and lifestyle modifications, they will have a better quality of life.
Nurses in this specialty have several resources to increase their knowledge, gain connections, share information, and strengthen their leadership practice. The Society of Urologic Nurses and Associates (SUNA) is the professional organization for urology nurses and established Urology Nurses and Associates Week. SUNA holds an annual conference and works tirelessly on advocacy for urology nurses. Their efforts help ensure that urology patients get the best care possible and that nurses achieve excellence in their profession.
Nurses who work in pediatrics can find resources and a network through the Pediatric Urology Nurses and Specialists. In addition to an annual conference, this organization offers resources for nurses through webinars, pediatric-focused resources, and even special interest groups in biofeedback, research, education, and urodynamics.
After working in the field and establishing a solid foundation as a nurse and a desire to achieve expert status, nurses can work on one of three certifications through the Certification Board for Urologic Nurses and Associates. Depending on their specialty and career path, nurses may choose from three certification options: CURN® – Certified Urologic Registered Nurse, CUNP® – Certified Urologic Nurse Practitioner, or CUA – Certified Urologic Associate.
Nurses and patients can work together for the best possible urology-related outcomes.