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The Role of Nurses in Environmental Health


The primary focus of environmental health is the relationships between humans and their surroundings. The understanding of the factors that relate to environmental health is an important field in health care delivery. According to the American Public Health Association (2017), knowledge about environmental health is used in improving the health and wellbeing of humans. Through this knowledge, public health officials and other professionals are in a position to understand environmental factors that impede or improve health. As such, it is through the systems of environmental health that clinicians, epidemiologists, and other professionals can understand disease-causing factors, calamities, and human practices that can be improved to eliminate hazards. Based on this understanding, the following paper will explore the factors that affect health and the roles of nurses in improving or eliminating environmental barriers to health.

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Environmental Factors that Impact Health

Environmental factors have different implications for the health of humans. The effects can be both positive and negative. For example, the type of housing is an environmental factor that can influence the health status of the inhabitants. For instance, it can act as a hazard or a health-improving component (Granbom, Iwarsson, Kylberg, Pettersson, & Slaug, 2016). Positive environmental factors are those associated with promoting the well-being of humans. These factors predispose people to good living conditions and practices that prevent disease-causing agents (Granbom et al., 2016). Examples of the positive environmental factors that improve health include the presence of safe water, protection from harmful UV, surroundings with good sanitation, proper nutrition, good housing, clean water, and unpopulated air.

On the other hand, there are negative environmental factors that are hazards to health. These are the factors that increase the vulnerability of people to infections and physical injury. For instance, some of the factors that lead to infections are surroundings that favor reproduction and growth of disease-causing vectors which may be endemic or exotic. A case in point, environments with poor sanitation can harbor invasive biotas such as harmful bacteria and viruses. Also, natural calamities like disruptions of the human-environment balance by droughts, floods, storms, and earthquakes are some of the environmental factors with a negative impact on health (Warren, Walker Jr, & Nathan, 2002). Besides, there are human practices that create conditions that favor diseases such as activities leading to the pollution of the surroundings, poor housing, sanitation, and nutrition.

Role of a Nurse in Improving/Eliminating Environmental Barriers to Health

The environmental barriers to health are the negative factors that can lead to diseases or injuries. This normally takes place if there is sustainable exposure to agents that cause diseases or alter the existing balance in the environment. As noted, the knowledge about environmental health factors is integral to the diagnosis, treatment, and planning of interventions. It is, therefore, the mandate of nurses to interrogate the root cause of a disease to help in designing prevention measures. As it has repeatedly been saying, “prevention is better than cure.” However, it is worth noting that not all illnesses have environmental etiology. In the healthcare system, the American Nurse Association (ANA) stipulates that nurses have restorative, supportive, and promotive roles. This implies that they have a mandate in every stage of health care provision, i.e. curative and preventive. Therefore, the measures required to address the factors that affect health are within their scope.

First, a nurse has a role in improving or eliminating an environmental barrier to health by working as an investigator who liaises with the policymakers and implementers. Today, environmental health threats have been on the increase. Various factors have been attributed to threats such as personal and environmental practices. It is important to note that environmental factors are correlated with morbidity and mortality. As a result, there is a need for health professionals, policymakers, and other health stakeholders to know the role of the environmental factors in disease causation and prevention. This should form the basis of planning for the delivery of healthcare. For example, it is through a better understanding of health components associated with environmental health that nurses can develop better diagnoses which are imperative in the treatment of various infections. The alertness to the factors gives physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals the clues to the treatment and better utilization of health services (The National Academic Press, 2017). For instance, in the course of assessment, nurses can notice patterns of co-morbidities in communities which can be suggestive of environmental factors’ effects on health.

Nurses also play the role of health educators. The knowledge and experience they have to place them at an advantageous point to advise the general public about the environmental hazards that lead to diseases. According to The National Academic Press (2017), if nurses take a proactive approach, they can enlighten people about environmental hazards. For example, the environmental risks which exist in media such as water, air, and food have been identified as the major disease-causing agents in many communities. Therefore, they need to design campaigns that target the more vulnerable populations. The effect of the hazards varies from one person to the other based on the dose of exposure. However, it is important to note that they are modulated by different factors such as psychological and genetic in which nurses are in a better position to educate the general public.

The nature of the work of nurses necessitates their role in policy formulation. In America and other parts of the world, some of the environmental factors’ effects on health can be addressed through a policy process. As a result, nurses have adequate data that they obtain in the course of assessment and care for patients. The data can be used to influence decision making, and hence result in policy frameworks that uphold the promotion of better living practices to avoid disease-causing agents. Besides, they can improve or eliminate environmental barriers to health through interventions. In their restorative and promotive mandate, they are expected to come up with projects that prevent or alleviate infections and injuries. Also, they have the mandate to collaborate with other caregivers to promote good nutrition and sanitation. Also, nurses can eradicate environmental barriers to health through advocacy. Nurses carry out advocacy by putting into consideration the interconnection between the environmental factors with social and political practices (The National Academic Press, 2017).

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As pointed out in the paper environmental health threats have been on the increase. This necessitates nurses to take a leading role to improve or eliminate the barriers to health to ensure safer communities with reduced disease burdens. Nurses can achieve these roles by embracing their roles as investigators, educators, policymakers, and advocates.


American Public Health Association. (2017). Environmental health. Web.

Granbom, M., Iwarsson, S., Kylberg, M., Pettersson, C., & Slaug, B. (2016). A public health perspective to environmental barriers and accessibility problems for senior citizens living in ordinary housing. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 772.

The National Academic Press. (2017). Nursing practice and responsibilities in environmental health. Web.

Warren, R., Walker Jr, B., & Nathan, V. R. (2002). Environmental factors influencing public health and medicine: policy implications. Journal of the National Medical Association, 94(4), 185.

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