Beyond the Slogans: Understanding the ecological consciousness of nurses to advance ecohealth knowledge and practice

Presented at Nursing Explorations 2018, Montreal, PQ on November 30, 2018.

Introduction: We are observing unprecedented environmental changes across the globe resulting in ecosystem destruction, biodiversity loss, widespread chemical contamination, and multiple human health effects. Despite this context of crisis, and advances in nursing knowledge and education, the conception of environment within the discipline and integration of knowledge into nursing practice has, for the most part, remained restricted. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) chose Environmental Health as their Centenary theme in 2008, affirming that every nurse should be applying environmental health principles in their practice, and creating a series of webcasts and on-line tools for nurses to use in practice. A decade has passed, and environmental health remains marginalised in nursing education and practice, with nurses struggling to get beyond the slogans to arrive at practical applications.

Methods:Methods: An online, qualitative survey was distributed to Canadian nurses and nursing students in May 2018 to explore their knowledge and views on environmental health and nursing and the integration of this knowledge into their practice. Respondents received the survey though membership lists of CNHE, survey monkey, and the CNA Associate group newsletter, as well as through colleagues. Participants were asked about factors that influenced initial consciousness of ecohealth, how this eco-consciousness affected them as nurses, and how they integrated this into their practice.

Results: The 40 respondents included 32 nurses in education and practice, in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, and 8 student nurses from Quebec. Six main themes were highlighted: Awakening consciousness, finding opportunities, limitations, conclusions, and moving forward. In particular, students expressed a need for early integration of environmental health teaching into their curriculum.

Conclusion: Results of the survey illustrate the ongoing knowledge-practice gap and highlight the frustration and dismay of nurses whose efforts remain marginalized. Conclusions from this research provide insights on the motivations and opportunities for nurses to undertake an expanded role in adopting environmental health as central to the discipline and practice of Nursing. As curricular approaches are expanded, further inquiry is proposed regarding the role of both early experiences and nursing education to transform the response to the ecological crises of our times.

Keywords: Environment, Health, Ecological Consciousness, Pedagogy, Curriculum


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