All across the country, there is a growing movement of committed nursing professionals who bring excellent health care to vulnerable communities. They treat illness, but also promote health and well-being. Nurses help patients to understand the issues and situations concurrent with their health problems and offer comprehensive care, counseling, and other supportive services. Nurse-managed health centers are a remarkably effective means of providing people with accessible, affordable, high quality health care.
Nurse-managed health centers, often referred to as nurse-managed health clinics or NMHCs, are run by nurses – many with advanced practice degrees who serve as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse midwives, and public health nurses. Nurses have the expertise to diagnose illness and prescribe medication, to make referrals to specialists, to provide pre-and post-natal care, and to offer a wide variety of other primary health care services.
NMHCs focus on underserved communities and partner with them to design programs that meet the unique needs of these vulnerable populations. Nurse-managed health centers work with service providers across disciplines to solve complex problems and to ensure patients receive comprehensive and holistic care. NMHCs are often located in places that traditionally lack access to quality health care: public housing, urban and rural communities, Native American reservations, homeless shelters, older adult centers, elementary schools, storefronts, and places of worship. Wherever there is need, nurses make health care work!
While today's nurse-managed health center traces its immediate roots to changes in national health care laws begun in the mid-1960s, the nursing model of holistic health care that integrates health promotion with primary care and focuses on serving vulnerable populations dates back to the late nineteenth century. As far back as the 1890s, visionaries such as Lillian Wald who founded the Henry Street Settlement for the sick and poor of New York City and later Margaret Sanger, who opened the nation's first birth control clinic, were instrumental in establishing the public health movement in the United States. These nurses, and others like them, drew their inspiration from the needs of their communities.
Since those early days, nurses have always approached health care as a compassionate profession that focuses on the special needs of society's most vulnerable people: the poor, the aged, those suffering from social injustice, and those living in areas without access to adequate health facilities.
Their quiet courage and dedication takes nurses to the frontlines of every war, just as today, it takes them to the inner city, to rural communities, to homeless shelters and Native American reservations, and any community where disease is aligned with poverty, racism, and injustice. This focus on healing and on health equity places nursing at the forefront of the public health care movement in the United States. Nurses constantly innovate by combining the latest in health care and health promotion science with the traditions of community leadership, social vision, and personal courage.