Improving the health of women can not only save lives, it can contribute to the overall health and economy of a nation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in areas of the world where women face economic, societal and cultural inequalities, they are also more likely to develop significant health issues, which can negatively impact their quality of life and promote a cycle of poverty and disease for both women and their families. Nurses can help communities improve women’s health by providing education, healthcare services, health supplies and increased awareness of key issues.
Wendy Grube, Ph.D., CRNP, is the director of the Center for Global Women’s Health and the director of the Women’s Health Gender-Related Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. For more than 34 years, Grube has been involved in advancing women’s health in the U.S. and around the world. Grube believes nurses are tasked with not only providing health solutions, but also identifying the ways in which the community would be most receptive to changes in the local healthcare practice.
“Modern nursing is more than providing service. It’s examining the healthcare beliefs and decision-making in the cultural context of a particular community,” said Grube. “As nurses, we listen to and respect the concerns of community members, creating collaborative efforts designed to reconstruct healthcare services that meet the needs of the most vulnerable populations, which in many cases comprise of women.”
Some of the most common issues ailing women’s health are maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, gender discrimination, lack of education, violence toward women, reproductive cancers, and restricted access to healthcare. One of Grube’s areas of focus is the prevention of reproductive cancers, specifically cervical cancer. Cervical cancer, a preventable disease, is the fourth most common cancer in women. It disproportionately affects those living in impoverished communities. Fortunately, there are some simple methods for screening and treating women with precancerous conditions.
Grube has worked to research and prevent cervical cancer in rural Appalachian communities. Her research found that cultural bias and lack of communication between providers and patients made engaging in preventative health practices, such as routine Pap smears, difficult. This research led to the development of a community collaboration called the West Virginia Service Learning project in which graduate students from the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner and Midwifery programs at University of Pennsylvania volunteer their clinical skills to provide free breast and cervical cancer screening at a federally-funded screening site for uninsured women in rural Appalachia.
When developing the program, her team encountered numerous challenges due to the rural location. They had to contend with limited access to resources including money, time, equipment and manpower. However, according to Grube, the biggest challenge was making sure the team was truly working with the community.
“Sustainable community collaboration, founded on the needs and led by the direction of the community, is the most rewarding type of work,” said Grube. “Sometimes, the biggest challenge is making sure that you’re on the same page as the people you are researching and working with. In this project, because we understood the cultural context of the community, women were willing to come for screenings with the encouragement and support from their community and care provided by nurses.”
Grube is also working on the development of a training program in southern India that helps health care providers bring primary healthcare to rural communities. She notes that in some rural parts of India, chronic diseases can go untreated due to a lack of resources or access to healthcare, sometimes resulting in sequelae, or additional conditions that are complications from the original illness.
Although Grube works closely with an interdisciplinary team of specialists and healthcare providers, she feels that the perspective of the nurses is important in developing sustainable projects.
“Nurses advocate for the communities. They are knowledgeable about social determinants of health,” she said. “Nurses can understand the patient’s perspective and work to make sure the programs that are put in place empower communities and improve the lives of women throughout the world.”
One collaborative community project is the Global Moms Challenge, which supports delivery of crucial healthcare services to mothers and children around the world. With a community of more than 150,000 people and 35+ partners, the Global Moms Challenge is helping families through raising awareness and creating calls to action to support maternal and child health globally. Learn more at GlobalMomsChallenge.org.
Find out more about public health nursing, a nursing specialty that works with communities to help provide care to underserved populations. Read more about public health nurses on DiscoverNursing.com.