International Nurses Day: Providing a sustainable future

Fri, 07 May 2021 16:19:00 BST
Jen's love for the environment came from her childhood in the Lake District
Jen's love for the environment came from her childhood in the Lake District

A GCU Nursing student is keen to raise awareness within her profession of the dangers of climate change and benefits of sustainability.

We caught up with final year MSc Nursing Studies Adult (Pre-registration) student Jen Blake, as part of International Nurses Day, which is celebrated annually on 12 May.

This year’s theme is, ‘Nurses: A voice to lead - a vision for future healthcare’ and we wanted to hear all about Jen’s pathway to GCU and her hope for the years to come.

Tell me a bit about your background – how did you find yourself on this programme?

“Both my parents work in healthcare. My mum’s from a nursing background and my dad’s a paramedic, so I grew up in that sort of environment. It wasn’t something I’d always wanted to do – it came to me a bit later on.

My background is in wildlife biology and my undergraduate was in animal biology through in Edinburgh - I’ve always been passionate about wildlife and the planet.

I worked for a couple of years with the RSPB and I did a project where I was trying to get people healthier by being outdoors and interacting with nature. Through that, I was doing a lot of health promotion and I’d always loved science at University. It got me thinking if there was something I could do around it because I was really passionate about it all.

I started volunteering at the hospital my mum works at and shadowed my aunty - who’s a practice nurse. I just thought it was brilliant and really wanted to do something that was helping people. That led me towards nursing and when I saw GCU were offering the postgraduate programme to do a Pre-reg but also furthering your academic studies, it just sounded perfect.”

You mentioned you were passionate about wildlife and the planet – where did that passion come from?

“I grew up in Cumbria and had the Lake District on my doorstep. I was always out in the outdoors and was really aware of the environment around me - which meant I had that love of wildlife. I grew up watching David Attenborough and have always felt a real need to protect that.

We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful planet that provides us with the resources to live and it’s therefore our duty to protect and conserve that. There are so many ways that we can co-work with our environment and use it to our benefit but it’s also our responsibility to nurture it for future generations.

Having it as my playground has made me want to protect it. I want to address avoidable human impact around the world - there are so many things we can do to better the environment around us.”

Why is climate change so important and what can be done within nursing to help address it?

The Lancet series of papers announced that climate change was the biggest global health threat of the 21st century, so the effects on health are going to affect most populations in the next decade. This would put the life and wellbeing of billions of people at risk. That statement really hits home for me, because when you say the words “climate change” the first things that come to mind are a polar bear on an ice cap surrounded by melting glacial ice, or deforestation, or flooding. All these things are absolutely right but there’s not a lot of emphasis on the impact that it can have on health.

Climate change has a massive impact on air and water quality and also the amount of infectious diseases. As temperatures increase, the prevalence of diseases increases as well, so we’ll start seeing more transmittable diseases which previously wouldn’t have existed in our climate.

Nurses are frontline workers and account for about 50% of the world’s healthcare workforce. We therefore have a responsibility to try and mitigate the impact of climate change on health.

Similarly, healthcare itself is actually a large contributor to climate change. It uses a lot of energy and resources through single use equipment. This is obviously needed in a lot of situations; however, I feel there is a lot of work that can be done there.

There’s a definite need to move towards sustainable healthcare, where we’re managing the resources that we need but not compromising future generations, the environment or natural resources. Since we as nurses use so many of these products, we’re in a brilliant position to really make a positive change.”

How are you looking at making a change?

“My dissertation focused on how nurses can improve their contribution to sustainability.

I looked at previous research and drew aspects from that in order to think about what we can do as the next steps. I’m hoping to get it published, which is really exciting!

I’ve also been working with David Barber and Val Ness to think about how we can get sustainability into the nursing curriculum, so that we can help raise awareness to link climate change, health and the importance of sustainability in practice.

This will mean nurses that are going through their training are able to implement this knowledge or even just think about it when they’re out on placement. Hopefully that way of thinking will inspire them to make changes that will benefit the world around us in future.”

What’s your vision for the future of healthcare?

“I think the future is really exciting and it’s a great time to be starting as a newly qualified nurse.

Through the pandemic there’s been more and more recognition of the role of the nurse, the responsibilities that we have and the diversity that comes with it. We’re definitely now moving away from the stereotypical image of what a nurse is.

It’s such a diverse job and there are so many different routes you can go down. There are a lot of different opportunities to get further training and to work in a multi-discipline environment.

In terms of climate change, there are more and more people getting on-board with it and it’s definitely becoming more recognised. The connotations that come with the phrase “climate change” will hopefully start to include health and wellbeing and the impact that it actually has on us personally.

Again with the diversification of the nurses role, we can have such a big impact in contributing to the health and wellbeing of our natural world, as well as the health and wellbeing of patients.

I’m hoping that momentum continues to drive from the Greta Thunberg protests and the amazing work she’s advocating. Fingers crossed that everything will start to snowball and society will look at the ways we could potentially make a green recovery from Covid-19.”

By Ross Clark 
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