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Meanings of Community in a Community Health Center


Address correspondence to Denise Drevdahl, University of Washington, Nursing Program, Box 358421, 1900 Commerce Street, Tacoma, WA 98402–3100. E-mail:


As health care organizations make communities the targets for their interventions, connections between “community” as theory for practice and community as setting for practice require examination. This study's purpose was to explore meanings given to community in a newly formed community health center, with particular emphasis on the relationship among women, community, and health. Using interpretive and emancipatory methodologies, interviews were conducted with clinic administrators and staff, and women who used the clinic. Data analysis revealed discrepancies in meanings of community. Clinic personnel referred to community as the target for their services, while clinic users spoke about community as the process that made feeling connected with others possible. Health center staff and administrators described the community they were serving as having limited economic, educational, physical, and psychological resources and saw little which could be labeled a community strength. Health center users however, spoke primarily of their abilities to support each other. These contradictory understandings of the meaning of community rendered different expectations regarding health care services. Meanings given to community may de-personalize, homogenize, and objectify, and ultimately distance nursing from those intended to be served.