Pump and Circumstance

Nothing beats a person of action. Thinkers are well and good; with them is where I’m most comfortable. But at the end of the day, I’ll put my money on the individual who does something, anything, to push an idea forward or to bring about good things. Especially when it comes to science. I’m a sucker for theory, experimentation, and reproducible results. Those words are thrilling when they leap from the page and get some flex in the real world.

This is one reason I’m a public health nurse. I’ve always been bowled by the boldness of John Snow and Edward Jenner, the two Englishmen who birthed the foundations of public health without even realizing it. They just did. Snow removed that pump handle and protected his corner of the world. Jenner lanced the cowpox blister and helped promote the shift from passive suffering towards a furtherance of self-preservation. When science moves in a straightforward trajectory and solves problems, everyone wins.

Things aren’t so simple these days. The milkmaid and the well pump have gone. Modern science demands rigor, training, exactitude, convergent validity, all to a fine degree. Political leanings cast vagaries into the mix. Yet, the principles of public health remain staggeringly simple and unclouded, bolstered and continually enhanced by good science. Prevention of and protection from disease is the dual mandate for public health nursing. Nothing more, and nothing less.

The practice of public health nursing requires varying degrees of patience and stamina. Patience for systems, protocol, and order is a must; stamina for flexibility in demand and the will of the public has to be built in. There are some things you can count on when you choose public health as a career. Your patients won’t be sequestered in rooms stretching down one side of a hallway; they will be spread all over town. Your patient is anyone who comes through the door or who telephones with a question or an illness. They range from newborn to the elite elderly and most days hold a mixture of both. Your patients’ needs won’t usually require oxygenation – in other words, they won’t always be ailing or searching within traditional nursing terms. But their needs are no less acute. People sickened or poisoned with norovirus and lead require intervention and action. Not to mention investigation and attention to detail.

One of the finest beauties of nursing is its simple responsiveness, whether that involves starting an I.V. or giving immunizations. Public health nursing affords a professional opportunity to meet any situation with some of the world’s best resources. It’s tempting to think that John Snow and Edward Jenner would be right at home in the world of modern public health. They and their modern successors have made disease prevention a reality; public health nurses help make that reality a daily event.


This blog isn’t about my nursing practice. It’s more or less a sidebar for thoughts about reading. I’m trying to respond to a request from Braden at http://20outof10.blogspot.com/


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