In many isolated areas around the United States, nurses play a significant role in ensuring rural communities have access to quality healthcare. Rural nurses typically work in critical care nursing, trauma, labor and delivery, as well as in typical nursing duties like attending to patients who are sick or injured. For Beth Jensen, DNP, FNP-BC, CNE, a faculty member at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) College of Nursing in Charleston, S.C., working with rural populations has provided a unique opportunity to make a big difference in a small community. We recently spoke with Beth about her career path and why she loves being a rural nurse.
Nursing Notes (NN): Can you share a little bit about your nursing career journey?
Beth: For 20 years, I served in the Navy Nurse Corps, initially as a registered nurse (RN) and then as a nurse practitioner. My staff nursing experiences included positions in med-surg, obstetrics, informatics, ambulatory care and management. About halfway through my career, I became a family nurse practitioner and began working in a family practice setting.
NN: How did you become a nurse working in rural areas?
Beth: After I retired from the Navy, I went back to school for a doctoral degree in nursing practice (DNP) so I could teach. At MUSC, where I currently teach, one of the faculty practice clinics is through a partnership with a community outreach organization. Initially, I worked in a suburban setting, but there was a need for a similar clinic in a rural community in Huger, S.C., that is not too far from where I live.
NN: Did you always want to work with rural populations?
Beth: I have never had a preference about where I work. Primarily, I just like making a positive difference in people's lives and get great satisfaction from helping others.
NN: How did you eventually find yourself working with rural populations?
Beth: I grew up close to many rural areas and have always felt comfortable in a rural environment. When the opportunity came up to help start a clinic in this rural environment, it felt like the perfect fit for me.
NN: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as a rural nurse?
Beth: My responsibilities are very similar to responsibilities for nurse practitioners in regular primary care practices. However, I don't have any other medical personnel working with me, so I conduct all the check-up procedures, like vital signs, height and weight. I then discuss the patient's concerns, complete a focused physical, identify diagnoses and, in conjunction with the patient, devise a treatment plan.
NN: How is this different when compared to other nurses’ experience?
Beth: Though I have a supervising physician within about 20 miles, I am quite autonomous. One thing I don't have is cell phone service, which is always kind of humorous when my family needs to communicate with me.
NN: Are your patients mostly children, adults or families?
Beth: My patients are all uninsured adults. Children and older adults are able to benefit from Medicaid and Medicare, younger adults don't have many options. Because the patients live in a rural setting and some have difficulty arranging for transportation, there aren't many job opportunities through which to obtain medical insurance.
NN: Is there something unique to rural nursing in South Carolina, as opposed to a rural community in another state?
Beth: Like many southeastern rural communities, those in South Carolina have a high prevalence of hypertension, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The population that I serve is significantly affected by social determinants of health, which are the conditions under which one is born, lives, grows, works and ages. This puts them at a greater risk not only of having one of these diseases, but also in managing disease states effectively.
NN: What is your favorite part of your job?
Beth: My favorite aspect of my job is when a discussion with a patient leads to their commitment to change even one thing about their lifestyle (diet, exercise, smoking, stress-management, etc.) in order to improve their health.
NN: What do you wish people knew about providing healthcare to rural populations?
This is the most appreciative population I have ever worked with. I get lots of hugs!
For another perspective from a rural nurse, watch the Campaign’s “Day in the Life” video featuring Steve, a family nurse practitioner who practices in Big Sandy, Mont., a rural agricultural town of about 600.
To learn more about the responsibilities and educational requirements for rural nurses, visit DiscoverNursing.com.