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Professor Calls for Nurses to Be Informed, Prevent Stigmatization of Ebola

Nurses must balance their concerns about personal safety with their responsibility to be informed about Ebola, in order to prevent the spread of misinformation and panic. That’s the message contained in a commentary authored by American Sentinel professor Eileen Thomas, Ph.D., MSN, RN, for ADVANCE for Nurses. It’s a must-read for all working nurses, who are being faced with a deluge of media reports and rapidly changing clinical guidelines.

Will history repeat itself?
In a thoughtful and engaging style, Dr. Thomas has crafted a compelling comparison between the spread of Ebola today and the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. With both diseases, she says, as the number of cases increased, so did reports of related stigma and fear – resulting in the widespread mistreatment of both patients and at-risk populations. In the case of HIV/AIDS, people who feared they had been exposed to the virus then became reluctant to seek testing and/or treatment, allowing a dreaded disease to gain a foothold and spread across the globe. We cannot let history repeat itself, says Dr. Thomas.

Instead, we should look to history for reassurances that we can safely deal with Ebola while maintaining a high level of compassion for patients. Dr. Thomas points out that while nurses feared HIV/AIDS through the mid-1990s, in some cases refusing to care for infected patients, their apprehension faded as knowledge increased. “Over time,” she wrote, “through education regarding information on how this virus is spread and how to take proper precautions to prevent contracting or spreading the virus, fears and attitudes among nurses towards caring for patients with HIV/AIDS were changed.”

Armed with knowledge, nurses can break the cycle
Dr. Thomas points out that, according to Gallup polls, Americans consistently rank nurses as the most trusted profession. With this trust comes accountability. Nurses have a professional responsibility to learn the facts about the Ebola virus, she says, and should be held accountable for relaying accurate information about Ebola. Since nurses make up the largest component of the healthcare professions, they can negate health-related stigmas. They can help ensure that Ebola does not become the next tragic pandemic, and that fear does not trump common sense.

What do you currently know about Ebola? What concerns do you have? After reading Dr. Thomas’ commentary online, we suggest this piece by epidemiologist Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, titled Ebola: A Nurse Epidemiologist Puts the Outbreak in Perspective.

American Sentinel University has also compiled a list of reliable resources, so you’ll have the facts at your fingertips.

About us
American Sentinel University is proud to have Dr. Eileen Thomas on our nursing faculty. Dr. Thomas is an accomplished educator who has taught across all levels of nursing at several universities. Her interests in global health lead her to develop and teach a global health nursing course for undergraduate and graduate nursing students. She believes that knowledge is the key to managing Ebola patients and preventing an outbreak within a hospital, community, or worldwide.

Are you interested in keeping patients and providers safe from pathogens in a hospital environment? If planning, implementing, and evaluating infection prevention and control measures appeals to you, consider making this in-demand field your career specialty. As a first step, you can develop new skills and empower yourself with knowledge through an online RN to MSN degree with a specialization in infection control from American Sentinel University, an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.

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