The windshield survey

Image: ssuaphoto | Veer

It took me an hour and a half to drive to my first official day of public health nursing. In the pouring rain.  Not exactly the type of morning I like starting off a clinical on, especially a clinical I’m already anxious about. But after bumper to bumper, stop and go’s on the parking lot of the 405 freeway, I finally found my way to the not-so-nice part of LA where the public health clinic stood – another gray building against a very cloudy sky.

I had to text my mom right away to let her know that I got there safely. And yes, I say that proudly because after an hour and a half, I was pretty relieved to have made it there alive myself. And, like I said, we’re not exactly cruising along the streets of Beverly Hills here. But I digress. Anyway, so I texted my mom, found my friends, and eventually we made it inside where we were paired up with public health nurses and told that we would be going to complete strangers homes (strangers with TB and syphilis none-the-less) to give them information about how to take care of themselves. Lovely. And like the first day of my psych clinical when we got a lesson in self defense, I got that uneasy feeling when they gave us the “don’t leave anything in your car – people will break in for a dime!” lesson. Maybe I’m being a little sensitive here, or sheltered, but really, this is not the area I want to be driving up to people’s houses in.

After a small orientation, we had to find our nurse’s census tract on the map (oh, by the way, the “Thomas Guide” is a recommended textbook for this class). We were then told to drive around that census tract and do what’s called a “windshield survey.” I, of course, texted this to my mom who wrote back and said, “What’s that? Do you go around and count the broken windshields?”  She later explained that she thought maybe there had been a study about the relationship between the maintenance of cars in a population to the maintenance of that population’s health. A good guess, but missing the mark a bit. We had to drive around and assess the community. What do you see? What kinds of services are available, who do you see walking around, what kind of shops are there?  Well, let me tell you. There are a lot of bars on the windows, no major grocery stores, middle aged men loitering in front of liquor stores and hair salons in every other shop. Oh, and the Burger King has bullet proof walls so you can place your order for a BK value meal with the same protection as depositing a million dollar check. Yeah. That was our windshield survey. I get the point of the assignment, obviously, we’ve got our jobs cut out for us, and yes, we get to serve the underserved population. But really, I am not embarrassed to be the first to say that I am NOT in any way ready to walk into these houses, with or without a nurse, no-way, no-how, nuh-uh!

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Ani Burr, RN

I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.

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7 Responses to The windshield survey

  1. Sean Dent

    Ahhhh yes. The good ole’ windshield survey. Good times. LOL

  2. Terry

    In my ten years as a nurse, I have never done any conventional type nursing – my first nursing job was in an out patient drug treatment center (methadone clinic), second was in a community health center, third was in a “locked” in patient facility for women for alcohol and drug treatment-court ordered; I have worked in the Federal prison; currently I am a visting nurse – most of my patients are psychiatric – I wouldn’t trade one of these jobs to work in a hospital or a nursing home!

  3. Carrie

    I had to do a windshield survey for a Community Nursing class. Interesting.

    A question to Terry and other readers, is it career suicide to NOT do two years acute care nursing in a hospital before venturing out to other jobs? I would just like some feedback before I make any decisions.

  4. jro327

    Believe me,I dont think anyone would accuse you of being sensitive and sheltered. More like insensitive and shallow. Even patients who dont live on the beautiful streets of Beverly Hills deserve unbiased and nonjudgmental care.

  5. terry

    Carrie – In nursing school you will be exposed to many different areas of nursing. I was lucky enough to have had many different clinical experiences. I believe you will see during that time, where you feel you belong…… but Carrie, by all means, follow what your heart tells you to go. There are MANY different areas in nursing – and they all need someone!!!

  6. Ani Burr

    @jro327 – yes, this blog does come across as very insensitive and shallow, I’ll admit that. It was written when I got home after a very long day of public health clinical, and a LOT of traffic coming home. But i am not going to lie and say, “i was being over dramatic” or that “i take it back.” I know that I am not an insensitive person, but I am not comfortable in my public health clinical. YES, this community needs public health nurses, and support, and help, but that doesn’t mean that I am ready to be waltzing in to their houses to give them some material on STDs and TB. It may be shallow of me, but I am being honest. This is how I am feeling about this. That also doesn’t mean that I am going to be unprofessional about it. Nursing school brings us these challenges for a reason, and while I may not be comfortable with it, I’m going to do it, and I am going to do it to the best of my ability, because i love nursing and what it can do for the communities. And, as our instructor told us just yesterday, you can have your thoughts, beliefs, ideas, but you leave them at home. And that is exactly what i intend to do. I leave them behind so that I CAN give unbiased and non-judgmental care. So, my apologies if this blog offended anyone, it was not my intention, I’m just laying down my feelings.

    @Carrie – I posed this question in a different blog, you may want to check it out. My feeling: go with what you love, because that’s when you’re really going to put your heart and soul into it! Good luck! Check it out here:

  7. Mellisa

    And this is why there are so many choice in the profession of nursing. I do not see myself (currently in nursing school) working in the community setting or in many of the facilities I am visiting now during clinical rotation. Fellow students of mine are interested in these positions and there are people out there who have the compassion that is needed to go into the homes of others to support and help patients.
    I am glad to have read your blog and I cant wait to read more about your experiences soon. Best of luck!