How Does Global Health Impact Local Nursing?

Like no other time in history, nurses are on the forefront of unprecedented challenges as the world faces the global coronavirus pandemic together. Nurses are not only demonstrating their expertise in patient care and selfless compassion, but also their creativity, ingenuity and resilience in meeting ever-changing healthcare demands. Today’s nurses are more essential to our global health than ever before.

What Is Global Health?

Global health issues transcend national boundaries and require “global cooperation in response, planning, prevention, preparedness, and care that reflects health equity issues among nations.”

Dr. Deborah Benes, a professor of nursing at Fitchburg State University, explains why it is important for nurses to understand how global health impacts their practice.

“Population health and global health really need to be on the forefront of what we’re providing for our students”, she says. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) identifies population health as “critical to improving the nation’s health,” and emphasizes the importance of the nurses’ role in addressing this need.

How Does It Impact Local Nursing?

“Food insecurity, social justice, racial inequities, all of these things don’t stop at our border. They’re just as prominent here as they are elsewhere in the world.”

Deborah A. Benes, PhD, RN

Health issues do not stop at the border, requiring nurses to consider the interdependence of our world and issues that impact global health trends.

While some examples of global health issues, such as infectious diseases, are more apparent in their impact on local nursing, other factors such as culture, resources and social justice issues abroad can help nurses understand needs in their own community.

Correlated Health Trends

Issues like food insecurities are more pronounced in developing countries, so students can analyze the conditions abroad and apply their conclusions to the situation in the United States. Food security is just one example – maternal mortality is another good indicator of global health.

“It’s pretty well known that African-American maternal mortality is much higher than Caucasian maternal mortality in our country, and it’s also much higher around the globe,” she says. By encouraging students to look at developing countries as case studies for health trends in the United States, students are able to get a better perspective on holistic patient care, and use critical thinking skills to analyze why “we [are] still seeing some of those statistics at elevated levels here in the United States.”

Infectious Diseases

In the case of epidemics, diseases can cross national borders very quickly and spread within a matter of days or weeks. As our world becomes increasingly interconnected through international travel, migration and technological advances, it becomes clear how quickly a crisis in one country can affect other countries. Nurses need to be aware of this interconnectivity and assess patients accordingly, by being sure to include their personal, family and social history. In the event of a pandemic, the role of the nurse continuously changes to adapt to meet needs of patients, families and the healthcare organization.

How Can Nurses Prepare for Global Health Issues?

Improve Cultural Competence

“One of the things that we do in this course is … bring out topics like infectious disease, maternal and infant mortality, and end of life care … how do different cultures approach that compared to what we do here? Why is that so impactful on the type of care that you should be providing? That’s what this course helps nurses to do — take a deeper dive into global health concerns.”

Deborah A. Benes, PhD, RN

Nurses work with people from diverse backgrounds on a daily basis. Dr. Benes says incorporating the patient’s culture into their care plan is vital to providing holistic care. Nurses need to be aware of cultural differences, as this helps them better understand each patient. Dr. Benes’ course, Nursing in a Global Community, equips nurses to provide competent care in the face of challenges arising from a number of patient differentiators, including language, race, health beliefs and sexual orientation.

Embrace a Global Perspective

Just as a patient’s culture influences their overall health, so do socioeconomic factors. In Dr. Benes’ Healthcare Policy and Finance course in the online RN to BSN program, students gain a better understanding of policies with an impact on global health and social justice issues. Students research case studies from around the globe to get a holistic picture of how sociopolitical factors impact the health of their own population. By studying examples abroad, she says, students can apply the findings locally.

As is evident from numerous outbreaks over the last decade — coronavirus, Ebola virus, H1N1 influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) — the health of the United States depends on the health of other nations and vice versa. Healthcare organizations are forming partnerships and mentorships abroad to empower nurses to examine resources, education and consistency in practice to improve global health. National nurse leaders are providing a voice on several government task forces to advocate for patients. Each nurse joins in the mission to make a positive difference in healthcare, not only in their own community but also across the globe.

Learn more about Fitchburg State University’s online RN to BSN program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Population Health Nursing – Curriculum Improvement

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Healthy People – Global Health

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Emerging Global Health Issues – A Nurse’s Role

World Health Organization: Nursing Now Campaign – Empowering Nurses to Improve Global Health

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