Center formalizes nurses’ role in Global Health initiative

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Center formalizes nurses’ role in Global Health initiative

School of Nursing program aims to give more voice in policy and research decisions to caregivers with front-line experience abroad
Bobbi Nodell

In response to huge demand by students and faculty, the University of Washington School of Nursing has launched a center to elevate and promote global health nursing activities both locally and abroad. 

Global Health nursing event
invitation to attend public launch of the UW Center for Global Health Nursing

The center is led by Pamela Kohler, UW assistant professor in psychosocial and community health nursing, and Sarah Gimbel, UW assistant professor in family and child nursing. It already has generated interest and the enthusiasm among those who view nurses' role as crucial to promoting community health. The directors sat for a Q&A; here is a condensed version of that conversation. 

How did this center come about?

Kohler: When she came to the university, Dean (Azita) Emami held meetings with faculty and students about their interests. It was clear global engagement was very important, so we started a strategic planning process. We realized we had a lot going on in global health nursing, but no structure to identify and support it. 

Gimbel: We received a lot of buy-in for this center, as our nurses are already working internationally and locally in global health. In the U.S., they are working in local tribal areas, in high-risk, high-poverty settings such as with homeless populations and with refugee groups. Internationally, nursing faculty are working in South America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – primarily in HIV and maternal, newborn and child health. 

What is nurses’ role in global health? 

Jennifer Slyker
Pam Kohler discusses a study about adolescent strategies for HIV testing in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2016.
(Click to enlarge.) Pam Kohler discusses a study about adolescent strategies for HIV testing in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2016.

Gimbel: Nurses provide 90 percent of care globally. We felt it was critical to make sure the nursing perspective is brought effectively into global health research and policy discussions. Globally it’s going to be frontline health workers who are going to make proven interventions work, and those workers are nurses.  

How do you think research and policy decisions might differ with more input from nurses with frontline experience?

Gimbel: We have learned that this notion of "health-system strengthening" comes down to the work on the ground. Those on the frontlines know best where the challenges lie and they also often have the most feasible, efficient and creative solutions to recommend. Without our voices at the table, the tremendous investments in global health run the risk of not translating into tangible, sustainable improvements. 

What exactly will this center do?

Kohler: We have four objectives:  Promote and communicate the role of nursing. Emphasize and maximize nurse research in addressing issues of health globally and locally.  Update curricula to include degree opportunities, coursework and clinical opportunities for students. Establish partnerships with key local and international institutions that reflect core values. 

Abson Chompolola, University of Zambia
(Click to enlarge.) Sarah Gimbel presents research results at the Gavi Full Country Evaluation annual meeting in Kampala, Uganda, in July 2014.
picture of Sarah Gimbel presenting research results at the Gavi Full Country Evaluation annual meeting in Kampala, Uganda, in July 2014.

Gimbel: The center is ultimately about improving health outcomes. Nurses' status in resource-limited settings is generally not as strong as it is in the United States, so we want to promote nursing schools, nursing associations, institutions and so on in developing countries. If nursing as a profession is stronger and nurses have a greater voice in developing policy, it translates to better services and ultimately better outcomes for patients.

What excites you most about this center?

Gimbel:  We have a clear mandate to move forward. We also have engaged and excited students and a number of generous donors who are eager to support us. Initially we hope to build signature projects that build on our schools' strengths – such as aging-workforce issues and non-communicable diseases, effectively engage faculty and staff and ensure financial sustainability to the center. We're also eager to strengthen our relationship with other schools and departments, including of course the Department of Global Health. 

Kohler: Nurses have a rich tradition of global and public health service, advocacy for social justice, and science.  I’m excited to see this represented at the University of Washington.