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A call to wellness

Monday March 5, 2012
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As nurse leaders, we’re familiar with employee wellness and illness prevention programs that consider everything including feeling and looking better, prevention and early detection of disease and health education. We may even have such programs in our own organizations. But in January, the American Heart Association told us that’s not enough and called for the creation of “cultures of health” built on best practices in a report titled, “A Call to Action: Creating a Culture of Health.”

Nurses working in healthcare organizations likely will take the lead in driving the design and management of wellness programs and influencing their counterparts in other businesses to do the same. At the same time, it may be nurses who will benefit most.

It’s no secret we experience our share of illness and injury, from, “Oh, my aching back!” and plain old fatigue that can lead to careless mistakes and breaks in safety to serious medical illness and accidents. Nurses are the largest group of healthcare workers, and in many ways the most vulnerable and likely to need wellness and disease and injury prevention services. The professional career choice we’ve made involves a great deal of dedication and long hours. Its personal rewards are numerous, but certain health risks associated with what we do can’t be overlooked.

As the primary contact between patients and healthcare services, nurses face a greater chance of exposure to illness or infection than other employees. A small injury from a sharp object can put you at risk for infection by a bloodborne pathogen; treating a patient with a hazardous drug can lead to a chemical exposure; a patient event can cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Healthcare leaders above all others should know their employees’ wellness needs and how to develop programs to meet them. They must know how to get employees involved, how to deal with the financial considerations and challenges they’ll encounter, how to design programs so employees stay well and productive, and how to reduce costs, illness and illness-related absenteeism in the process. They’ll have to calculate the time and manpower needed to do it all and to educate their employees and the public.

Studies leading up to the report’s publication indicated real and lasting change and improvement could be achieved by putting these initiatives in place nationwide — and once again nursing leaders will be at the heart of the movement.

We must set the standards for wellness promotion programs and “take the wheel” in the drive to improve employee health. It must be nurses who ensure everything from diet and exercise to blood and biometric screenings and the programs that provide them is in order. We must ensure wellness promotion is part of the primary care model that nursing will lead in healthcare reform, and we must get the message out in our healthcare education.

Health promotion and disease prevention is key to our nation’s healthcare outlook. It’s up to us.


Eileen P. Williamson, RN, MSN, is senior vice president and chief nurse executive of Gannett Healthcare Group. Post a comment below or email specialty@nurse.com.