Nurses on Preparing for the worst

one opinion,
what’s yours?
of Attention
Preparing for the worst
Nurses on
the front line
A f i r s t - p e r s on c olu m n by L i n da S pe n ce r
In everyday life, public
health nurses seem almost
invisible as they work in
communities to promote
health and prevent disease.
But in times of emergency,
these nurses assume leadership roles to create strategies and find resolutions
to imminent challenges.
Trained as a disaster nurse, I volunteered at the Red Cross Center on
Monroe Drive during Hurricane Katrina,
helping process and get aid for victims of the storm. In all, approximately
120,000 people flooded Red Cross
Centers in Atlanta, seeking aid. The first
casualties arrived by plane from New
Orleans hospitals, some with no diagnosis, no treatment plan, and no medicine.
Some of the patients included unaccompanied children. We found beds in
local hospitals for the sick and set up
shelters for those who were mobile and
Normal Red Cross policies stop short
of providing medical care. However,
many of the people in the shelters had
health problems that needed attention,
so the Red Cross allowed us to bring
in Emory physicians to treat hypertension, diabetes, and all manner of chronic
problems. Emory nursing faculty and students also provided 24/7 support for the
Salvation Army shelter on North Druid
Hills Road and in Emory’s own hospitals
Emory Health Sciences
Winter 2007/2008
On Point
one opinion, what’s yours?
to handle the influx of evacuees.
nontraditional settings to large numbers
cal hours in the community with agen-
of patients under stress. Nurses trained
cies such as the American Red Cross,
tions such as Katrina has long fallen
in disaster preparation are essential in
CARE, The Carter Center, and state and
in the disaster nurse’s portfolio, but in
managing mass smallpox vaccination
local health departments.
recent years, with threats of bioterror-
sites, administrating medicines from the
ism, impending pandemic flu, and the
Strategic National Stockpile, or assist-
an MSN in Public Health Nursing
recurrence of Category 5 hurricanes, the
ing with health care in the aftermath of
Leadership and may complete 32 addi-
need for nurses trained in emergency
a community contamination by a toxic
tional hours in the Rollins School of
response has escalated. Recognizing this
substance or infectious agent.
Public Health leading to a dual MSN/
Responding to emergency situa-
need, the U.S. Department of Health
Biologic or chemical terrorist attacks
Graduates of the program receive
MPH degree. They go on to work in the
and Human Services provided a grant
require more sophisticated response
community, such as two recent gradu-
to the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School
than that provided by traditional health
ates who were hired straight out of
of Nursing to design a program to train
care delivery systems. Because release of
school to be assistant chief public health
nurses to handle a wide scope of emer-
a biologic agent may fail to be identified
nursing officers for Georgia.
gencies. The resulting master’s program
immediately, victims may be scattered
When Katrina struck in the fall of
in Public Health Nursing Leadership is
far and wide before the first symptoms
2005, Emory was already training nurses
the only one in Georgia and one of only
appear. Public health nurses are key
with an emergency preparedness focus.
a few in the country to offer a detailed
players to assess patients during such a
One of the students, assigned to disas-
focus on emergency preparedness.
crisis. However, recognizing a chemical
ter health services at the Red Cross,
The U.S. government has made
attack and working for and in the com-
walked headlong into the middle of
preparation for terrorism a priority,
munity under such circumstances would
Katrina’s chaos and finished his clinical
yet until recently the health care sec-
challenge the resources of most nurses.
hours with on-the-job training in one of
tor was left out of these preparations.
The Public Health Nursing Leadership
the worst national disasters we’ve ever
Input from health care professionals is
Program at Emory takes on this chal-
experienced. Since that time, the nurs-
critically important in developing plans
lenge by having students complete
ing school has trained 20 students, with
for response to disasters and terrorism.
three semesters of courses in topics
eight more in the pipeline, a small but
Public health nurses in particular can
such as epidemiology, environmental
growing cadre of nursing professionals
contribute significantly to the design of
health, health policy, terrorism and pub-
trained to mitigate disasters. These pub-
disaster response. For example, if nurses
lic health preparedness, disaster nurs-
lic health nursing leaders will be on the
had had proper training in disaster prep-
ing, and public health nursing. Students
front lines when the next catastrophe
aration before 9/11, they could have
spend one class suiting up in biohazard
played a larger role in the emergency
safety suits to see
response to that national catastrophe,
what it is like to
communicating with disaster manage-
deliver CPR or give
ment teams and helping with standard
a shot under such
conditions. In addi-
Leadership in tumultuous times
Disaster nurse
Linda Spencer
shares her expertise with students
who are training
to respond
to health care
needs during
tion to core mas-
requires creativity. And public health
ter’s level work in
nurses call on creativity and training to
the classroom, they
provide care with limited resources in
complete 500 clini-
Emory Health Sciences
Winter 2007/2008