Are nurses ready for a large-scale radiological or nuclear incident?

Students involved in hands-on exercise in the Advanced Radiation Medicine course

November 24, 2020

Researchers at REAC/TS are working collaboratively with Tener Veenema, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing to respond to this question.

The nursing profession plays a critical role in the effectiveness of the medical response to any disaster or public health emergency. This holds true if there is a large-scale release of radioactive materials into the environment. Nurses comprise the largest component of the U.S. health care workforce with more than 2.9 million active registered nurses.

Currently, U.S. schools of nursing are not providing educational content on ionizing radiation-related emergencies, with 75 percent teaching zero or less than one hour in the entire curriculum. Much of the current nursing workforce may not have received adequate education and training on how to respond to and care for patients and communities in the event of a radiological or nuclear emergency, according to Veenema. Federal and state radiological/nuclear preparedness plans may be built on false assumptions of nurses’ readiness.

The clinical care of patients will be nurse intensive. Nursing assessment and intervention include wound care, fluid management, infection control, administration of medical countermeasures, community screening for radiation exposure and contamination, decontamination and the provision of supportive emotional and mental health care.

This study, funded by the ORAU-Directed Research and Development Program, is exploring nurses’ current knowledge and skills regarding medical response to radiological/ nuclear events. An environmental scan has been conducted to identify existing radiation education and training programs and to articulate gaps. The data collected will be used to inform the development of an evidence-based, competency-driven educational program for nurses.

The results of this study will be shared through peer-reviewed publications and via presentations at nationally recognized conferences, symposia and other forums.

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