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Los Alamos County’s new community health nurse has been looking for this job for several years.
“I think public health has always been in my heart since learning about it in college,” Felicia Branch said. “I have a little bit of education in community health, and I just love the fact that we get to work so much with the community and the public health nurse gets to play a really important role in the community. So it drew me in immediately. I always knew that this was something I wanted to do.”
Branch took 12 hours of community health classes while pursuing her B.S. in nursing from the University of New Mexico. After graduating, Branch took a job in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Presbyterian Hospital in Santa Fe.
A little over three years ago she accepted a position in the Intensive Care Unit at the Los Alamos Medical Center, later transferring to LAMC’s Endoscopy Center.
But Branch kept her radar out for a community health-related position.
“I’ve always had my eye out for this,” Branch said. “And I really got lucky, because it’s a small office. The opportunity opened up and I jumped, I really did.”
Branch started on Dec. 31. Much of her first three months was devoted to training.
“I’m working with other nurses and seeing how they interact with the clients in their offices. We’re in a region, so we have other clinics in our region, and we all have certain practices we follow, certain protocols,” Branch said in an earlier interview. “So right now I’m learning through them, I do a lot of classroom trainings, I’m doing Internet training, basic trainings. You want to be prepared for everything, so they really focus on training you well and correctly.”
Branch’s hiring fills an important gap in community health services. The position was vacant for several months.
Another nurse was coming up twice a month to provide services, but the office was largely serving as an information source, with many people being redirected to other offices such as Santa Fe for nursing services.
The focus of the Los Alamos branch of the New Mexico Public Health Office is family planning, STD (sexually transmitted diseases) testing and treatment and WIC (the special supplemental nutrition program for New Mexico Women, Infants & Children).
“It’s not a lot, but I think we really focus on the important points we need here in our community,” Branch said.
The office holds family planning clinics twice a month and WIC classes twice a month.
“What I really like is the interaction with the community,” Branch said.
“The public health nurse plays such an important role in the community and for the clients. It’s our job to really educate the public. We focus on getting everyone informed.”
Branch is now fully trained and seeing a steady flow of clients.
“Everyone is really excited that there’s someone here all the time to provide services,” Branch said.
Branch’s goals are simple.
“I just hope to maintain a good relationship with the clients that we have here, and to earn their trust, because I am new to this office and they were used to another nurse,” Branch said.
“I just hope to really help educate them to the best of my ability and play a vital role in the community.”