Tavonia Ekwegh, DNP, APRN, PHN and CEO of the I-Help Foundation, uses her nursing skills to help struggling communities gain health and wellness equity through access, education, and even the ability to grow their own fruits and vegetables in some urban food deserts.
“I-Help Foundation started with a vision my husband [Timothy Ekwegh] and I had for helping people, hence the name I-Help Foundation,” says Ekwegh. “We started with a focus on the transient population and providing them with homemade meals and hygiene packets every single weekend for three years.” After taking a break to concentrate on her educational pursuits, Ekwegh and her husband found the drive to help people offered a fulfillment they needed.
Ekwegh recently shared some insights about health inequities, starting initiatives, and I-Help’s role in making a difference.
What makes I-Help distinct?
I-Help is distinct in the sense that we are comprised of a team of upstreamists who truly believe that health can be improved by addressing the root causes of social determinants of health. I-Help Foundation works closely with stakeholders on a variety of social injustices and health inequities. Our approach is more at the community level while maintaining our relationship with the local and national health sectors. By working closely with community stakeholders, I-Help Foundation has been provided with insight into health disparities and possible root causes. This insight has led I-Help Foundation to where it is today, with a new mission and vision that focuses on remedying health inequities by taking action on the social determinants of health.
I-Help seems to adapt to the changing health needs of communities. Why is adapting to those changes is so essential to the health of community members?
I-Help Foundation works within communities to both identify and advance solutions that assist in removing stigmas and barriers, and to promote the overall health of the economically and socially disenfranchised. We pride ourselves in building a foundation of knowledge by way of research so that we can better prioritize to the changing needs of the community. On-going community health assessments have proved that the needs and the environment of communities are ever-changing and social determinants can either assist or prove to be a barrier to an entire community trying to make healthier decisions.
Are some communities at a health disadvantage? How does I-Help work with community partners to change the outcome or implement programs or activities that will begin the process of improvement?
I-Help Foundation believes that some communities are at a health disadvantage for copious reasons such as social, economic, political, and logistical reasons. I-Help Foundation is committed to addressing the root causes of health disparities by working in collaboration with communities. We empower the community stakeholders such as young people and adults to advocate for their health and identify needed changes in their neighborhoods. Then we help develop and support the community’s vision of health by cultivating partnerships to deliver unique and customized programs and services that are empathetic and inclusive.
Can you please give an example of an I-Help success story of which you are most proud?
I-Help Foundation is most proud of our Farm up 4 Health, which is an urban farming program geared toward teaching young people in economically disenfranchised communities how to farm and cultivate sustainable organic non-GMO fruits and vegetables. We do this by providing them an opportunity to gain a practical farming experience by working on an urban farm every weekend. We accomplish this by providing them with the necessary equipment, seeds to grow, and harvest crops year after year.
I-Help Foundation Farm up 4 Health provides communities access to organic and healthy fruits and vegetables in otherwise inaccessible neighborhoods. In certain communities where food deserts are prevalent, these community gardens provide a nutritional avenue for families. Communities learn how to grow fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which are new to their palate, while mentors provide information about healthy eating.
What made you decide on nursing as a career choice?
I was introduced to nursing at a very tender age by way of my mother who is a registered nurse. I watched my mother’s career trajectory from nursing assistant to becoming a registered nurse later on in life. Some of my most profound memories of nursing came from going to work with my mom when she worked at a nursing home and a physician’s office. I can recall interacting and forming relationships and bonds with many of her patients. I remember one elderly patient that I fell in love with at the nursing home; she was probably in her late 80s or 90s, she had no family and my presence brought her so much joy. Although I was not allowed in the patient’s room, I would sneak and visit her, read her books and provide her companionship for the time I was there. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to meet the physiological and psychosocial needs of individuals. I believe nursing is my calling, and even in the capacity of president and CEO of a non-profit organization, I can still exemplify the tenets of nursing.
What is your personal goal as a nurse?
My personal goal as a nurse is to become a game changer for my profession and generations to follow. I would like to see I-Help continue to improve and advocate for the overall pursuit of health and wellness for our communities.
What makes health equality so important to communities on a micro level but then also as a sign of national wellness?
Health equality is a fundamental human right that is paramount to communities being able to thrive on both a micro and macro level. Without health equality, we will continue to see disproportionate levels of disease, poverty, and limited access to healthcare and public services. The health and wealth of a nation is also contingent upon the ability and willfulness to provide equitable access to healthcare for all.
So you think you are ready to start a job search? If you are ready to switch jobs, organizations, or nursing paths, here are a few things to consider.
What’s the goal?
- Know what you want from a new role.
- Decide if you want to stay local or move to a new area.
- Determine how much of a commute you want and what kind of shifts you’ll work.
- Investigate a salary range.
- Be ready to try something you never considered before.
Are you prepared?
- Update your resume and LinkedIn profile.
- Clean up all your social media accounts.
- Have a few personal and professional references you could call on to attest to your character and working history (do this before you fill out an application or have an interview).
- Polish your networking skills.
- Make sure necessary certifications are current—make a plan if they are not.
- Understand any educational requirements. If you don’t have them, know what might work in place of a specified degree.
- Have an interview outfit ready to go.
Have you investigated?
- Have an idea of the type of organization you want to work in—hospital, clinic, private office.
- Read up on the nursing industry to identify pain points or trends.
- Identify the nursing leaders in the area you are considering.
Can you explain your strengths?
- Craft a two-minute elevator pitch to explain your strengths.
- Ask those close to you to explain your best qualities.
- List both your technical skills and your soft skills.
- Look up other resumes with a quick online search to see if yours explains your work experience enough.
- Do not underestimate what you do.
Does your job search fit your plan?
- Know how a job move will help you advance in your career.
- Decide if this is a stepping stone or a long-term move.
- Envision how this new position will fit in with your personal and family obligations.
- List how this move will contribute to your personal satisfaction (more or less responsibility, greater impact, higher salary, more service opportunity).
Use these as starting point to make sure your job search starts off on the right foot. The more you have considered, the better your focus will be.
Today marks Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Day to educate the public about a condition that can strike anyone. PTSD, an often-misunderstood ailment, is treatable but can have lasting impacts if people don’t recognize it in themselves or in others.
Nick Benas QMHC and Michelle Hart LICSW are authors of Mental Health Emergencies, a book that examines how anyone, but particularly medical and emergency professionals or those in roles such as teaching or human resources, can respond to a mental health crisis including post traumatic stress disorder. Providing the proper response and supports can open up the patient to a wide range of effective and needed treatment without the stigma they often feel in their daily lives.
Michelle Hart answered a few questions from Minority Nurse to help promote understanding of this condition, its causes, its treatments, and the sensitivity needed to help people who have it.
Please tell me how PTSD develops. Does it impact all ages?
PTSD develops after an exposure to real or perceived threat and/or witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Vicarious trauma can occur by listening to another’s detailed account of a traumatic event. It can impact all ages and babies have been born with high levels of cortisol, which is an indication of PTSD, after having a parent while in utero experience PTSD. The level of a person’s resiliency is a factor whether or not the effect of a trauma will eventually lead to PTSD.
Is there effective treatment for PTSD?
The most effective researched based therapeutic approach to PTSD is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, DBT. However, many aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) have been proven to reduce symptomology.
How can nurses recognize signs of PTSD in patients or in those close to them?
One of the most common signs of PTSD is derealization or depersonalization. Examples of this include the following:
- The inability to experience a range of natural occurring emotions
- Lagging mind/body connection
- A person who is injured who does not experience pain in accordance with the level of injury
- A flat affect of emotions, not able to cry or laugh when situationally appropriate
- A person who stares off into space when discussing an event or appears to be re-experiencing the event when telling story
- Heightened awareness or hyper-vigilance in a safe environment
- Sleep disturbance, either not able to sleep or frequent nightmares, is a common occurrence with individuals experiencing PTSD
Finally, if a person actually states they feel traumatized they should be acknowledged in any event. It is usually not a major event that happens, but it can be small events over a period of time as well. Listen to a person when they are reporting the above stated symptoms.
How can nurses help someone with PTSD? In an emergency? In a non-emergency?
Being self aware is the major point of helping someone in an emergency with PTSD. Other important ways to help include the following and this all holds true for emergency and non-emergency situations. :
- Move with intention and do not make sudden movements.
- Explain and paraphrase what is happening during the emergency.
- Listen to an individual and do not argue.
- Allow a person to speak without interruption.
- Do not ask for details that do not matter.
- It is not effective to relive or retell the event as a matter of helping someone.
- Keep your voice calm and do not become over animated.
- Ask the person what they might need to feel safe for that moment.
- Keep the person safe and do not allow them to be alone in the midst of a panic attack associated with PTSD.
What are some common misconceptions about PTSD?
The biggest misconception of PTSD is that you have to be involved with something major. PTSD is individualized and can be compounded by many factors. The event which leads to the PTSD diagnosis might not be the overall cause. Bear in mind that negative childhood experiences can factor into a person who experiences PTSD. Certainly we hear about the large scale events which cause a person to experience PTSD, but never rule out a person experiencing PTSD based upon ones own thoughts of how traumatic an event was for them.
What gives those with PTSD hope?
PTSD is a treatable ailment. Most clinics have a variety of specialists who can help with PTSD. Help a person understand that the emotions and the things they are experiencing are real for them. Allow them to understand they are not alone and help them give a name to what they are experiencing. There are effective treatments available to help with the treatment and lessen the symptoms of PTSD. Have local resources available to give to patients and/or help them get in contact with assistance.
How can nurses spread that message?
The best way to help everyone is to DESTIGMATIZE PTSD. It is not an us-or-them diagnosis. Everyone in their lifetime will experience an event that could possibly cause PTSD. Allow others to have their own experiences without personal bias. We are not here to judge, just allow others to heal.
Lots of nurses get into the field because they like to help people and they get deep satisfaction from the nursing duties that allow them to do that. Many nurses are also fascinated with science and with always advancing their own knowledge to help patients or to discover how nursing can impact lives in the most helpful and positive manner.
With so many nursing career choices, those who are especially inclined to dig into the scientific background and facts around nursing might consider a role as a nurse researcher.
According to the National Institute of Nursing Research, “Nursing research develops knowledge to:
- Build the scientific foundation for clinical practice
- Prevent disease and disability
- Manage and eliminate symptoms caused by illness
- Enhance end-of-life and palliative care”
Nurse researchers are typically removed from daily patient interaction, but their skills are no less crucial. Using their knowledge and education, nurse researchers build a career designing, carrying out, and/or interpreting the results from studies. Researchers may follow their own interests to find out how to best advance care or cures or they might fulfill the research needs of their organization.
Beyond a nursing education, nurse researchers must have advanced training in research methodologies so they know how to design studies and interpret the results in an unbiased and accurate manner. This training is often obtained during MSN studies or even in a PhD curriculum (researchers are often funded for their PhD work). You’ll be able to explore your interests by focusing on specific areas, whether that is a disease, pharmacology, a body mechanic, or medical devices.
Nurse researchers are an important piece of the healthcare puzzle as they are able to establish the building blocks to help patients have a better quality of life, to cure disease, or to make the tasks of medical professionals easier, more efficient, and more effective. With your research skills, you’ll be able to examine how to improve the lives of individuals, groups, communities, and specific populations to bring to light new information or to interpret old information in a new and groundbreaking way.
If you are particularly interested in the science behind nursing, finding our more about a career as nursing researcher can set you on an ideal career path. Associations like the Eastern Nursing Research Society or the Midwest Nursing Research Society are great places to start investigating.
So many people know of someone touched by brain disease that this month’s designation as Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month is especially relevant.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s, a severe form of dementia, are devastating brain diseases that impact families across the world. As people live longer, the prevalence of brain diseases increases because the risk of developing dementia and similar diseases rises with advancing age.
Your career as a nurse means you can have a direct impact in your personal and professional life on the ravages of this disease. As a nurse, you can learn more about how patients with Alzheimer’s might react in unfamiliar situations (like a health care facility or hospital) so you can offer them even more effective care. You can also learn more about the signs and symptoms to help people who might be concerned about loved ones’ behavior or lapses in their own memory. You can also ease fear by debunking some of the common myths of Alzheimer’s (like that Alzheimer’s is only something elderly people get).
In your personal life, your authority as a nurse can help others in your life who might come to you privately with concerns. You can offer the reassurance and guidance that comes from learning more about brain diseases.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these are a few warning signs to notice:
- Memory lapses that disrupt daily life
Lots of people forget where they put the car keys. It’s troublesome if they can’t remember what the keys are for.
- Trouble completing normal tasks
It’s normal to forget how to get to the restaurant you only go to once a year. Getting lost while heading to the regular supermarket should be a red flag.
- Distinct mood changes
Getting a little grouchy at the end of a long day with family is okay. A sharp, noticeable change in normal mood is something to pay attention to.
- Confusion about time and place
In your office, a patient might not remember they are due for a tetanus shot. A patient who can’t tell you why they are in your office is showing warning signs.
As a medical professional, you always focus on prevention, but there is no proven treatment to prevent Alzheimer’s. However, it’s never too late to encourage activities that are good for overall brain health including a healthy diet rich in antioxidants, exercise, social interaction, and remaining interested in many activities whether that’s an interest in a certain historical period, trail walking, kickboxing, building model airplanes, or learning the intricacies of the stock market. Keeping your brain busy is good for your brain health.