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Nursing News HighlightsNurses Leading Innovation

Nurses Leading the Way in Community Health Initiatives

Elderly man playing harmonica
By providing bedside care, nurses often have unique insights into the needs of specific patient populations.

We recently spoke with Vivian Low, MPH, RN-BC, FPCNA, manager of special projects, chair of nursing research, at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif. Vivian has a passion for coordinating community resources and developing unique programs to address specific health factors. We discussed her approach to finding solutions for patients and the importance of nurses leading the way in healthcare innovation.

Can you share a little bit about your nursing background and how you became involved in community health?

After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 1973, I received training in pulmonary intensive care, pulmonary chronic care, and coronary care. After working in intensive care units, I found an opportunity to work in the outpatient and community setting of cardiac rehabilitation. It was a perfect blend of my inpatient care knowledge with the ability to learn the other side of care – preventive education and lifestyle management. The more I enjoyed that work, the more I was motivated to gain further knowledge, so I went back to school and got a master’s degree in Public Health with a focus on Community Health Education. From there, I worked in the community health side of cardiac health for more than a decade, running a cardiac rehabilitation program, which ultimately led to my career at El Camino Hospital.

Can you tell us about your current role at El Camino Hospital?

My current role at El Camino Hospital is Manager of Special Projects and Chair of Nursing Research. In 2006, I formed the Nursing Research Council (NRC) as part of El Camino Hospital’s Magnet Hospital exemplar work. The NRC promotes a culture of inquiry to support the purposeful use of evidence-based nursing practices. We support nurses working to evaluate existing practices for improvement and discover new knowledge through innovation and investigation. When nurses are motivated to have an impact on the science of good patient care and demonstrate measurable outcomes to prove their actions are effective, it’s very rewarding.

Can you give us a few examples of the innovative community health initiatives you have implemented?
I have implemented a number of community health initiatives, including:

Harmonica for Health — an innovative approach that encourages Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients to practice vital breathing exercises while learning a new skill.

Laughter Yoga — a program focused on reducing stress in cardiac/pulmonary/cancer patients that combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing.

WomenHeart Support Groups — an onsite support resource that empowers female heart survivors to become educators and play a role in helping others who are living with or at-risk of developing heart disease.

What inspired you to launch these initiatives?
The patient is at the center of everything we do. Innovative projects are sometimes ideas that patients have requested or nurses have heard about at their professional conferences or through journal readings. Sometimes, initiatives are at the invitation of other professional groups who want to collaborate on multi-site research, or are proposed by staff who have identified problem areas that they want solutions to address.

For the harmonica program, a patient told us about his experience with harmonicas and encouraged us to explore it as a therapy. We were fortunate that there was a harmonica expert in our area who was familiar with some of this work. For laughter yoga, we were able to find an expert nurse in our area who had worked extensively with patients.

You wouldn’t think that either of these concepts would fly in a traditional hospital setting, but in fact they provide patient and staff satisfaction AND reduce stress! You just have to be open to ideas as they are presented and diligent in your follow through, especially when you have staff who are excited about making a positive change for their patients – you don’t want to lose that. These are golden opportunities to capture with a win-win for all involved if you can guide and mentor projects to positive outcomes to improve patient care.

Why is it beneficial to have a nurses’ perspective when developing these types of health initiatives?

Front line nurses deal with patient care issues with an immediacy and knowledge that brings an understanding of the complexities that are present in healthcare delivery. They often are aware of so many more of the variables that are in place. Nurses see on a daily basis what is important to patients and what their frustrations are. They play an important role in identifying priorities for new knowledge and innovation.

To learn more about Vivian’s story, visit the El Camino Hospital Newsroom.

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