Each community has unique health needs. While one area may struggle with a higher occurrence of diabetes, another may experience a greater number of preterm births. Nurses who complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program may choose to pursue employment in public or community health nursing. In these positions, nurses play an integral role in evaluating a community’s specific health needs and investigating how illness and disease affect the population. Through advocacy, education and preventive measures, they are an essential component in strengthening a community’s health.
Public and Community Health Nurses
The American Nurses Association (ANA) defines public health nursing as “the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.” Sometimes also referred to as community health nursing, this type of nursing focuses on population-based care and serves specific geographic areas or communities.
Community health nurses may find job opportunities with a number of different organizations, including hospitals, schools, correctional facilities and county or state departments of health. They use a multifaceted approach — evaluating criteria such as mortality rates, social factors, disease processes and access to quality healthcare services — to determine the most prominent issues affecting a population. Since their scope of practice extends beyond clinical care and into the areas of advocacy, education, policy development and preventive treatment, community health nurses use those tools to develop campaigns to address a community’s health concerns.
The specialties of public and community health have grown more popular in recent years following the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the resulting emphasis on preventive medicine. In 2013, the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP) identified public health nurses as the “key to our nation’s health” and reiterated the important role these nurses hold in each community. Many BSN online degree programs now incorporate public and community health coursework to prepare nurses for these crucial positions.
The Importance of Community Health Programs
Public health nurses use many different resources to develop programs and initiatives that actively engage a community and minimize or prevent the impact of illness, disease or disaster. They frequently partner with healthcare organizations and community leaders to extend a campaign’s reach or to develop policies to improve access to care and health outcomes.
For example, a public health nurse employed by the county department of health may partner with area hospitals to raise awareness about childhood obesity or drinking and driving. Educational campaigns — ranging from formal seminars to simple informational mailings — may update the public regarding a variety of topics, including infant nutrition, prescription medication disposal or postpartum depression. They may also organize free or reduced-cost clinics or health fairs to distribute vaccinations and flu shots or to perform health screenings for high blood pressure or cholesterol.
Community health nursing is vital to the success of disaster planning as well. Nurses ensure a community is ready for natural or manmade disasters, and they may coordinate disaster training efforts with first responders and community volunteers. Following an emergency or disaster, public health nurses may assist with cleanup and care for the sick or injured, or they may establish protocols to prevent the spread of illness, infection or disease.
Emerging health issues fall under the expertise of community health nurses, too. Their partnerships with local businesses and healthcare entities allow them to quickly disseminate information about developing health concerns like the Ebola and Zika viruses, for example. Nurses can educate the public about what preventive measures to take as well as when to seek treatment.
Community health nursing is instrumental in identifying health challenges for at-risk populations and implementing ongoing health initiatives, such as educational and preventive medicine outreach. Public health nurses work with partners throughout the community to ensure that medical services are accessible and can meet the unique needs and challenges of all residents.
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