As a nursing student and a BUNDLE Scholar at Emory University, I come across the words “Public Health” more times than I can count on any given day. I first became acquainted with this term in my Community Health course, where it was defined as “the promotion and protection of the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play.” But what does this exactly mean? How does it play in the real-world as one’s job, duties and community outcomes? I did not truly understand the importance of Public Health and the value its entities hold until my Capstone Clinical experience in Gainesville, Georgia.
Since February of this year, I have been learning about the duties of a Public Health Nurse (PHN) at the Department of Public Health (DPH) under the mentorship of David Donalson. As the designated PHN for District 2, David plays many roles and holds various responsibilities that I am fortunate enough to observe. On a typical day at the DPH, I learn how to answer emails and phone calls, track disease surveillance, observe emergency preparedness simulations, perform data analysis assistance and read about current guidelines and policies pertaining to Public Health matters. DPH in Gainesville particularly focuses on notifiable diseases and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s), such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis and HIV, because of the increasing prevalence of preventable cases. This trend has been attributed to poor access to health care, poverty, and language barriers among the underserved populations clustered in the 13 counties located in Northeast Georgia. I received first-hand experience of how Public Health officials can overcome these challenges and promote good health and well-being.
Likewise, I have been introduced to real-life examples and uses of resources and tools such as Online Analytical Statistical Information System (OASIS), State Electronic Notifiable Disease Surveillance System (SendSS) and Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS). While these programs were just abstract ideas in my Population Health course, in the field I saw health care professionals such as Epidemiologists, Data Analysts and PHNs use them to identify patient’s trajectory and the following-step in the process of preventing disease outbreaks. What was particularly intriguing for me was learning about the expanded role of PHNs as defined by the Statute O.C.G.A. § 43-34-23. Under specific protocols, PHNs can perform screenings and physical exams, diagnose a condition, implement a plan, dispense and administer medications, and even follow-up with treatment management and symptom reduction. This allows for a broad scope of practice and application of skills and knowledge among PHNs, which is not otherwise available in the career path of Registered Nurses with a BSN.
Entering this position, I hoped to learn more about the purpose and duties of PHNs. Connecting principles that I learned in class to actual practice made me realize the importance of Public Health and led to my interest in this field. As a novice, beginning a career in healthcare, I feel more confident and prepared because of this unique experience. I look forward to tackling challenges and contributing to the future of Public Health.
Sheryl Matthews is a senior, undergraduate student looking forward to graduation this May. In addition to pursuing a future in Public Health, she is also interested in Critical Care and graduate programs in research and innovation. She is an Oxford College continuee, BUNDLE Scholar, Student Ambassador for the School of Nursing, and the treasurer of Savera, Emory’s Indian classical and fusion dance team.