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A Nebraska Methodist College (NMC) faculty member has been selected to take part in a first-of-its-kind Environmental Health Nurse Fellowship program.
Kiley Petersmith, MSN, RN, CPEN, CPN, the college’s Childhood Lead Program director, is one of 30 fellows from across the United States chosen by the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) for the yearlong fellowship.
ANHE designed the program to train nurses to work with communities in tackling serious environmental health threats, including toxic chemical pollution, water contamination and climate disruption. Funded by the Kresge Foundation, the program focuses on environmental health equity and justice, specifically addressing the disproportionate impact of environmental exposures on vulnerable groups.
“This is a groundbreaking opportunity to learn about environmental justice issues,” Petersmith said. “We have a large gap in health care in our ability to address environmental determinants of health and their effect on population health. Through this fellowship, I have the opportunity to work with leading environmental health experts across the nation and learn about not only environmental issues but also how we, as nursing professionals, can address the issues, create change and bring justice to populations.”
The fellowship’s 2019-2020 cohort has members from across the United States who are diverse in age, nursing specialty and expertise, education, race and ethnicity, gender, and background – reflecting the diverse nation and communities they serve. Paired with expert environmental health nurse mentors, the fellows will conduct projects in their communities to address a community-identified environmental health need and build support for community-driven solutions. Fellows also will work to educate health professionals and colleagues in their communities about environmental health in order to expand their knowledge and engagement on critical environmental health issues.
“Many nurses interested in addressing environmental health issues want to work at the local level but may have difficulty identifying community needs or groups to work with” said Katie Huffling, ANHE’s executive director. “Similarly, community-based organizations have identified a need to partner with nurses to collaboratively address environmental challenges that communities are dealing with. This fellowship will connect nurses with communities most impacted by environmental injustices and increase the capacity of nurses doing this crucial environmental health work that improves the health of communities nationwide.”
Petersmith is no stranger to environmental health initiatives. As NMC’s Childhood Lead Program director, she has overseen the college’s partnership with the Douglas County Health Department to implement point-of-care testing for lead exposure in vulnerable child populations. With the help of NMC students, the partnership screened over 1,100 children in 2018 and is on track to screen over 1,500 this year. In the long term, Petersmith wants the program to reach more children and become a model that can be used across the state.
The ANHE fellowship gives her the opportunity to improve the health of even more people.
“Through my work at Nebraska Methodist College and this fellowship, I will partner with a local community organization to create a healthy homes toolkit for vulnerable children and families that will focus on education, access to resources and solutions to create a healthier living environment,” Petersmith said. “As a nursing professor in a community-based curriculum, I am uniquely positioned to impact the health of communities at every clinical opportunity. I find passion in empowering students to advocate against disparity, marginalization, exposures to environmental toxins and unequal access to health care, shelter, quality food and clean water.”
The fellowship kicked off in June with a transformative meeting in Philadelphia, where the nurse fellows learned about environmental health and environmental justice from nurse experts and community leaders. Over the next year, the fellows will interact and learn together in monthly webinars and meet in person again next spring.
“I brought home so many resources and ideas of how to implement this project in Omaha but also confidence that I have the support and resources to truly bring change to populations of disparities,” Petersmith said.
To learn more about the ANHE Environmental Health Nurse Fellowship and the program participants, visit https://envirn.org/anhe-fellowship/.