Dorothy Smith Conference Addresses Health Disparities
There is a real and documented lack of affordable, accessible quality health care for many people in the U.S. and across the globe. The UF College of Nursing’s fifth biennial Dorothy M. Smith Nursing Leadership Conference, “Health Care for All: Addressing Health Care Disparities Locally and Globally,” in February focused on current issues in global health and the role that nursing plays in removing existing inequalities in the health care system. About 500 nurses, students and faculty members participated in this two-day conference.
Many studies have shown that nurses are committed to providing care for poor and otherwise underserved populations, and that advanced practice nurses are more likely than other providers to work with these groups.
Keynote speaker Marilyn “Lynn” Sawyer Sommers, PhD, RN, FAAN, the Lillian S. Brunner Professor of Medical-Surgical Nursing and Director of the Center for Global Women’s Health at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the cultural challenges of providing high-quality health care.
“Health is a right and not a privilege; No one should be at a disadvantage to achieve health potential,” Dr. Sommers said. “Nursing science has a mandate to develop and test interventions and social policies that maximize people’s health potential through scientific inquiry.”
Following Dr. Sommers, an interactive panel addressed the existing challenges in global health. The panel featured Michael Perri, PhD, current Dean of UF College of Public Health and Health Professions; Sally Bethart, MSN, ARNP, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Nursing; Esther Moring, MN, RN, an active participant with Doctors Without Borders and other global disaster response groups; and Sheryl Zwerski, MSN, CRNP, the Acting Program Director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Division of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (DAIDS) Prevention Sciences Program.
Panelists noted how fragile health systems plague populations by providing health services that fail to meet their needs. Suggestions included increasing the number of basic nursing and medical education programs as well as improving the training for community health workers. Data from areas in Africa demonstrate that when physicians’ tasks are shifted to nurses, nurses produce the same outcomes as physicians in many areas of practice.
The panel also discussed guiding principles for global health practice that focus on understanding the local culture and adapting medical techniques that would most profoundly improve the local health care system.
Role of Nurse-Managed Clinics in Addressing Health Disparities
During day two of the conference, keynote speaker Sally Lundeen, PhD, RN, FAAN, a Professor and Dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, high-lighted the role and potential influence of nurses in addressing health disparities in the U.S.
The major influences of health disparities are not only social health determinants such as income and education level, but also discrepancies in health care delivery, Lundeen noted. Nurses can play a role in filling this gap, she said.
“Nurse practitioners provide care of equivalent quality to physicians at a lower cost, while achieving high levels of patient satisfaction and providing more disease prevention counseling, health education and health promotion activities than physicians,” Lundeen said.
Lundeen pointed out that nurse practitioners cared for 85,000 uninsured or underinsured patients in 2009, illustrating nurse-managed clinics’ impact on the most vulnerable populations in the United States.
Improving the Health of a Community
The final interactive panel featured the College’s own nurse-managed practice, Archer Family Health Care, as a model of how to improve the health of a community. The panel featured M. Dee Williams, PhD, RN, College of Nursing Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs; Denise Schentrup, DNP, ARNP, Clinical Assistant Professor and Lead Nurse Practitioner; and Jennifer Cassisi, MSN, ARNP, 2011 UF MSN graduate of the Family Nurse Practitioner program.
The panelists discussed the history of the practice, including the strong community partnerships as well as the public and private funding received through the years. The panel also focused on the center’s recent move to a state-of-the-art electronic health record system that was made possible through a collaborative agreement with the Alliance of Chicago and membership in a consortium of 30 safety-net health centers across the nation. They also illustrated the challenges of providing care to a mostly underserved population.