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The FNP’s Role in Disaster Nursing and Emergency Preparedness

June 11, 2021  |  Category: Nursing

A nurse measures a patient’s blood pressure in an ambulance.

Natural disasters don’t take place on a schedule; while scientists can sometimes predict them, they usually descend with little warning. More than 400 natural disasters struck in 2020 alone, according to insurance brokerage firm Aon. Natural disasters include tsunamis and floods, large-scale earthquakes, cyclones and storms, extreme droughts, fires, and other adverse events that cause loss of life and a significant amount of damage.

Disasters, both human-made and natural, can cause severe damage to communities and cities. However, registered nurses and nurse practitioners can plan ahead, strategizing how to help families recover.

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs), in particular, can play an essential role in emergency situations since the negative effects of disasters often hit families especially hard. While earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and completing clinical education through a Family Nurse Practitioner Track, students can learn about disaster nursing and emergency preparedness. Core MSN courses, as well as practical experience, prepare FNPs for disaster nursing.

What Is Disaster Nursing?

Disaster nursing refers to a situation in which a health professional, usually a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, responds to a crisis situation by volunteering with an aid organization or volunteer responder organization. If a natural or human-made disaster threatens the health or safety of a large number of individuals, a community, a city, or even a state, aid organizations will travel to the crisis location to provide relief support. For instance, members of the American Red Cross respond to approximately 64,000 disasters each year.

Types of Disaster Nursing

Family nurse practitioners interested in responding to natural disasters can consider registering to be a volunteer with an organization such as the American Red Cross or the International Medical Corps. Once a human-made or natural disaster hits, volunteers provide the following types of disaster nursing:

Responding to the Disaster

When a crisis hits, volunteers travel to the location and administer on-site or on-call assistance. These responders typically don’t provide emergency services, surgeries, or treatment.

Setting Up a Shelter

Volunteers set up a shelter where they can help prevent and control infections, arrange primary care services, administer medications, and monitor patients.

Offering Mental Health Services

Mental health specialists and nurses with certain credentials can offer mental health services to individuals, families, and workers affected by the crisis.

Volunteering at Local Hospitals

When natural disasters have negatively impacted the infrastructure or lives of staff members working at local hospitals, volunteers can help by delivering supplies or equipment to those facilities as well as volunteering to help treat patients.

Helping Relieve Local Nurses

In emergency situations, medical personnel may end up working around the clock to meet patients’ needs. Nurse practitioners can help relieve those nurses by meeting with and caring for their patients.

The Role of FNPs in Disaster Nursing

The involvement of nurses in emergency and disaster care is essential, as they comprise the largest percentage of healthcare professionals in the nation. In fact, about 3,096,700 registered nurses held positions in the United States in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). More specifically, approximately 290,000 professionals worked as nurse practitioners as of 2020, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

While registered nurses can help in a crisis situation by joining a disaster action team or volunteering at a shelter, they don’t have a lot of autonomy when it comes to providing primary care. On the other hand, family nurse practitioners often have their own practices and provide independent medical care. In fact, according to the AANP, about 90% of NPs have primary care certifications, and 69% deliver primary care.

In a crisis, patients may not have access to their doctors, physicians, and primary care providers — for instance, if roadways are closed, a hospital burns down, or a physician’s office is flooded. Perhaps a family can’t contact its primary care provider because phone lines are down. Family nurse practitioners can meet in emergency shelters with patients who need critical care; they can also order medications, create treatment plans, or contact medical facilities to transfer patients.

FNPs are often on the front lines of care in crisis, stepping in to take over emergency care whenever needed. If a patient needs dialysis or chemotherapy but can’t reach their doctor, a family nurse practitioner intervenes and helps connect them with resources. If a doctor is unavailable or out of contact, a family nurse practitioner is a next option.

The Importance of Disaster Preparedness Nursing

Disaster nursing helps connect nurses with individuals and families who have been displaced from their homes and need medical attention. Most nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, as well as healthcare organizations and nursing programs, consider disaster preparedness an essential aspect of nursing, as it can help save the lives of individuals and families walking through traumatic situations. Many nursing programs have created and integrated courses on disaster nursing and emergency preparedness into their curricula to prepare the next generation of nurses.

Nurses register to be volunteers with aid organizations before a disaster hits to be part of the communication network of medical professionals before the chaos occurs. Since disaster nursing includes traveling to the location of the disaster with little notice, nurses who volunteer should always have some sort of emergency kit, supplies, and luggage with clothes and necessities easily accessible at any time.

Family nurse practitioners who volunteer as disaster nurses have the ability to save the lives of individuals and families negatively impacted by a natural or man-made disaster. By providing emergency and primary care services, they can help communities begin the process of healing.

Pursue a Career as a Family Nurse Practitioner

Prospective students and current nurses who are looking to participate in disaster nursing can consider becoming family nurse practitioners. AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program, which offers a Family Nurse Practitioner Track, helps prepare nurses to work within a collaborative team to respond to natural disasters or events.

Specialized courses help nursing students develop skills related to disaster nursing and emergency preparedness. Learn how the program can help you reach your goal of becoming a family nurse practitioner who helps communities in need.

Recommended Readings
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner vs. Family Nurse Practitioner
Role of Nurses During Disease Outbreaks
How to Become a Nursing Instructor

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet
American Mobile, “Disaster Nursing: 6 Ways Nurses Can Help After Disasters”
American Nurses Association, Disaster Preparedness
Aon, “Aon finds climate-influenced weather is key driver of $268B global damage from 2020 natural disasters with 64% uninsured”
Society for the Advancement of Disaster Nursing, About
Statista, Natural Disasters in the US – Statistics & Facts
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses