How One Nurse’s Public Health Journey Started with Two Feet

Nursing | Amy Knowles PhD, MPH, RN| August 26, 2020

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Read about EBSCO Nursing and Allied Health Section Editor, Amy Knowles PhD, RN, MPH, and how her experience as a nursing student inspired a professional passion for public health.

Toes … splintered toenails at the end of calloused bare feet that walked miles along a dirt road filled with rubble and trash. I worked in a hot, humid, sweltering concrete building that stood as a beacon in a city of rubble, a remote, rural medical clinic in Haiti. This experience, which occurred 25 years ago, solidified my calling as a nurse and helped plant a seed of passion that would resonate throughout my nursing career. I had my opportunity to travel to Haiti as a young, impressionable nursing student and experienced my initial awakening to extreme poverty. Little did I know that this global experience would set the trajectory for my nursing career.

Growing up in a household where my mother worked in the healthcare field, I proudly proclaimed that I wanted to be a nurse from the onset. I used to “play nurse” in my preschool years and often carried a “doctors kit”. Upon graduation from high school, I declared nursing as my major in college and never altered from that path.

I was certain that I wanted to become a nurse however I stumbled into my area of practice. Throughout my studies, I found plenty of clinical experiences that I tolerated, while few that I loved or felt “called” to. The opportunity to take a medical mission trip to Haiti in college opened my eyes to health inequities and led me to choose a path to public health. Our team served at a rural hospital that was providing care to destitute patients, many with co-morbidities such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. I was tasked with trimming toenails, washing feet, and providing wound care. Although this task may seem small, it was monumental for the patients and myself. The patients walked barefoot for miles to receive medical care and were appreciative and gracious. I managed to somehow get through my assigned task even though I have a significant distain for feet in general. Yet through this experience, I was introduced to the idea that compassionate care, no matter how large or small, makes an impact on patients.

Yet through this experience, I was introduced to how compassionate care, no matter how large or small, made an impact on patients and was truly my calling.

I started working at a local health department after graduation, which led me to obtain a master’s degree focusing on community health education in public health and ultimately guided my PhD dissertation. The call to compassionate care in nursing on a global scale has brought me through some incredible experiences — serving in Haiti, conducting research in Japan with atomic bomb survivors, promoting health and well-being in rural Appalachia, working to build critical health infrastructure in Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, and the DR Congo. I witnessed the impact that culturally competent and patient-focused care has on an individual, family, community and nation. This serves as my professional passion — advocating for health equity among vulnerable populations, particularly in countries with a lack of resources. This passion has guided and driven my nursing career and serves as a central component as to why I continue to work as a nurse.

This is the beauty of the nursing profession, and one of the characteristics that I love most about this career — there are so many avenues in nursing. Whether it be critical care, medical/surgical, hospice, emergency and trauma, mother/baby, dermatology, primary care, pediatrics, oncology, long-term care, ambulatory care, or public health — the options are endless. There are numerous possibilities for nurses to intersect with patients and make a difference in their lives. Nurses have the incredible opportunity to interact with tiny, pink, newborn toes, to toes covered in dirt, to toes at the end of journey on this earth — a privilege that will never be lost on me.

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Amy Knowles PhD, MPH, RN
EBSCO Clinical Decisions Section Editor

Amy Knowles, PhD, MPH, RN, is a doctoral-prepared registered nurse with 25 years of experience in a variety of ambulatory care settings. Amy oversees the transcultural care, ambulatory care and infectious disease collections for EBSCO’s Dynamic Health. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with her husband, daughter and goldendoodle Lucy.

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