Monday, October 19, 2009

How I Became an Environmental Health Nurse

by Janel C. Parham, RN, MS, O.R. Liaison Nurse, General Operating Room, Sinai Hospital

I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was in the third grade, so it was no surprise when I graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. During my undergraduate clinical rotations, I’d fell in love with maternal/child health and that’s where I started my career. Back then, I had no idea that my path would eventually lead me to Environmental Health Nursing (EHN). I had never even heard of EHN and wasn’t thinking of health problems related to exposures to toxins.

It wasn’t until I left the hospital to work in community health that I found a new area of interest. I was not only able to care for my patient, but play a role in preventing health problems. My work in community health led me to pursue a master’s degree in Community/Public Health from the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

One of the requirements for the master’s degree was a course in Environmental Health Nursing. The course, taught by Dr. Barbara Sattler, both intrigued and frightened me. It was a lot of information to process, learning the everyday exposures that everyone encounters. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. It seemed that the toxins were everywhere- our food, water, air, clothing, cosmetics - the list was endless. At first I felt there was nothing to be done - how could anyone escape toxins? - but what I came to realize was that the knowledge was actually empowering. I was able to use my resources to reduce my exposure and I was excited to share what I learned. I eventually went on to get post-master’s in EHN. Even better was the information could be used in conjunction with my other passion- maternal/child health. I looked at how all these toxins effected female reproduction and fetal development.

I eventually went on to work for Dr. Sattler in the Environmental Health Education Center at UMSON in addition to teaching a clinical course in community health nursing, with a focus on the health effects of environmental exposures. Even though I’ve since moved on from the academic world, I still teach everyday with patients and coworkers.

My current position at Sinai Hospital is O.R. Liaison Nurse. I work as the coordinator for/and between the various areas within Peri-Operative Services (O.R., P.A.S.S., Pre-Op/ Holding, and PACU) I also provide support to waiting family members of our surgical patients. As the Liaison Nurse, I often attend meetings with other hospital departments as a representative for Peri-Operative and serve as the co-chair for our Education and Practice Committee. On the LifeBridge Health Green Committee, I use my clinical and advanced training to offer input on some of the green initiatives that directly effect patient care areas, including working closely with Reduction in Motion to help implement the blue wrap and saline bottle recycling program programs in the Operating Rooms on the fourth floor.

The Environmental Health option prepares nurses to address the human health effects associated with environmental risks. Special vulnerabilities of children, pregnant women, older adults, minorities, and the chronically ill are explored.

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