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How to Educate Yourself on Vulnerable Populations in New Locations

For certain populations across the United States, access to healthcare is limited due to expense, availability, and lack of medical insurance. These populations often exhibit high rates of untreated and potential undiagnosed conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and mental health disorders.

If you're a contract nurse beginning an assignment in an unfamiliar region, you might find yourself at a disadvantage when working with the most vulnerable populations in the area. By educating yourself on the unique needs, beliefs, and challenges of these groups, you can provide more effective treatment and can make a difference in the lives of these at-risk populations.

Identifying Vulnerable Populations

Vulnerable populations aren't limited by geography, and contract nurses visiting both urban and rural areas see at-risk groups. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, these groups may include:

  • People who are disabled or chronically ill
  • Low-income and homeless individuals
  • Geographically isolated people
  • The very old and the very young
  • The LGBTQ+ population

For some of these populations, healthcare issues may be exacerbated by illiteracy, fear of discrimination, ineffective communication skills, and a lack of transportation or stable shelter, factors which may make it even more difficult for individuals to seek out medical care and follow through with prescribed treatments. The growing nursing shortage may also be a contributing factor in access to care.

The Importance Of Education

Contract nurses serve an important role when it comes to vulnerable populations. By adding valuable staffing to regions suffering from nursing shortages, they're creating care opportunities that may not otherwise be available.

Still, understanding these at-risk groups is vital to ensuring that every patient gets the care he needs. That's one reason why education is so important for contract nurses who may be working with vulnerable populations. Educating yourself in advance of your assignment can mean:

  • Increased sensitivity to patient needs
  • The ability to react appropriately in an emergency situation, particularly when religious beliefs are in conflict with medical procedures
  • The opportunity to direct patients toward essential, possibly life-saving, social and medical services
  • Increased follow-through on the part of at-risk patients

Educational Essentials

While it's impossible to become an expert in all aspects of vulnerable populations, particularly on short-term assignments, you should make your education touches on several important areas.

Available Services

One important part of treating vulnerable populations is being able to steer patients toward services designed to defray healthcare costs, arrange transportation and housing and provide low-cost mental health services. Because programs can vary widely among regions, it's vital to understand what services are available to these populations and how to help patients navigate the complicated pathways to receiving them.

Religious Considerations

Many regions are home to religious communities with beliefs that can potentially conflict with life-saving treatments. As a contract nurse, it's vital to learn how to care for patients while respecting their belief systems. This may include researching what treatments are acceptable to the religious community and how to communicate with sensitivity so you can be an effective liaison between the physician and the patient.

Lifestyle Factors

For many vulnerable populations, lifestyle factors can increase the risk of diseases or injury. For example, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the LGBTQ+ population may be at higher risk for psychiatric disorders due to discrimination and societal stigma. For a homeless population, lack of stable housing and proper hygiene can lead to unchecked infection and illness. It's important to understand the effects their lifestyles can have on the health and well-being of at-risk populations before you can provide effective treatment.

Regional Elements

Regional elements can include the availability of clean drinking water or chronic exposure to pollutants and other toxic substances. This is especially true in communities where the livelihood of many citizens revolves around mining, working in chemical factories, or the handling of other hazardous substances. It can also mean understanding the risks involved with natural elements, including injuries associated with bodies of water or contact with area wildlife.

Where To Find Education

There are many ways you can educate yourself when embarking on an assignment in an unfamiliar region. Resources include internet research, outreach to community centers, and discussions with local social workers, who are often intimately acquainted with these vulnerable populations.

Begin your search for a rewarding position in contract nursing by visiting the comprehensive database of current jobs at AMN.

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