How do we educate nurses who will minimise the resources they require?

It is increasingly accepted that health cannot be considered in isolation because wider social and environmental issues affect people's health now and into the future. It is appropriate and even necessary therefore to ensure that health professionals entering the workforce are conscious not just of the need to practice sustainably but understand what that means and how to do it.

Emma Collins, Dr Jean Ross, Josie Crawley and Raeleen Thompson, lecturers at Otago Polytechnic's School of Nursing, looked at what more could be done to help nursing students to consider the place of sustainability within the nursing context. The starting point was to examine what sustainability meant in relation to nursing. They identified that sustainability entailed the use not only of environmental resources but also of financial, human and material resources.

The team have integrated training in sustainable practice into the three year Bachelor of Nursing programme:

  • In year one, students are encouraged to be considerate about resources and begin to think about the impact on others.
  • In year two, students need to start being mindful about resources as they begin nursing practice.
  • In year three, students are expected to engage more critically with issues of sustainability, considering the global to local perspective on the use of resources.

By way of example, the use of linen in the hospital environment needs to take into account not only the hygiene implications for infection control but also the environmental impact of producing and laundering the linen, the human resource to wash and change the linen, and the financial and material resource in the supply of linen. Another example is the expectation that in their community health projects nursing students develop a sustainable solution  that addresses a health issue relevant for the community with which they have been working.

Enveloping sustainability in nursing theory and practice will ensure that nurses in future will be increasingly able to practice their profession sustainably.

April 2018