Health promotion is a popular phrase. What does it mean, really? How does someone promote health? I’m going to address the concept of health promotion from my perspective as a Registered Nurse in Ontario. Nurses play a huge role in illness prevention and health promotion. We, as nurses assume the role of ambassadors of wellness. Yes, I do believe that nurses play just as an important role in caring for the well as they do in caring for the sick. Perhaps caring for the well is the more important role. In this day and age of budget cuts, cost reduction and staffing shortages, health promotion makes sense. If we can preserve wellness, we reduce the number of times a person needs to enter the health-care system, thus reducing costs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health promotion as a process of enabling people to increase control over and to improve their health (WHO, 1986). To facilitate that process, we must provide people with appropriate information. Nurses have a key role in providing that information in the form of health teaching. Nurses are highly educated, experienced health professionals who are accessible through many settings. Telehealth Ontario is a great example of how anyone can access the expertise of a nurse. Anyone can call in with a question, concern or health issue and gain information while being advised of a plan of action right over the phone. Of course, without being able to use hands-on assessment skills, this can be limiting when it comes to dealing with an acute scenario. Telehealth is not for resolving situations that require immediate attention. Nurses can direct people to local resources and give out health and wellness information. Telehealth would be useful when parents seek well-baby/well child information, information on vaccines, smoking cessation, addiction counseling, adolescent mental health resources, nutrition information etc. These are examples of situations where access to accurate health information can assist people in staying healthy.
There are an increasing number of web pages with good health information available to the general public such as the Healthy Ontario website which is run by the Ontario government and has links to various health related resources. We must be aware that internet searching poses the threat of inaccurate, outdated information. Part of the role of a nurse is to assist clients to decide which websites and what information is indeed suitable. Nurses can use the internet resources to expand their knowledge about specific conditions or treatments, retrieve materials to integrate into teaching or to help patients use the internet to self-educate.
When nurses are working within a health promotion model, every interaction with a client can be an educational intervention (Rankin 2005). For example, while changing the dressing of a diabetic foot ulcer, there is the opportunity to discuss blood sugar testing and diabetic control. When in a clinic or doctor’s office, if a patient comes in with a cut, it’s the perfect time to check the chart for the last tetanus booster. During a home visit to discuss newborn care, it is the perfect opportunity for the nurse to discuss the childhood vaccine schedule, recommended vitamin supplements or even the developmental milestones of an older sibling. Nurses are practicing health promotion strategies constantly. Recognition of these subtle yet effective interactions is important in giving credit to the significance of nurses as health promoters.
Everyone will interact with a nurse at some point in their lives. I challenge you to make the most of the expertise of a nurse. Nurses are high level thinkers with exceptional skills and considerable ability to communicate, negotiate, coordinate, and collaborate in order to deliver care (Sullivan, 2004). I am proud to be a part of such a dynamic, caring profession. The next time you are in the presence of a nurse, read a health-care article or are part of a health related discussion, think about nursing and the impact the occupation has on the health and wellness of our society. Ask a nurse a question about his or her career, daily tasks, and routines and ask questions about how he/she can assist you to achieve your goals for health and wellness.