Public health nurses serve a critical role in their communities and other environments. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which required rapid response by public health nurses, the demand for this nursing specialty was on the rise.
As public health continues to face increasing challenges such as obesity, healthcare disparity, opioid addiction and misconceptions surrounding vaccinations, public health nurses have the opportunity to make a significant impact.
What Does a Public Health Nurse Do?
The American Public Health Association defines public health nursing as, “the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.” Public health nurses support policy, advocate for particular groups and provide much-needed education to several different communities.
As such, they work in varied settings — both public and private:
- City or county health departments
- Community health clinics
- Government organizations
- Schools and other educational institutions
- Nonprofit organizations
- Home health agencies
- Research facilities
For example, a public health nurse working in (or with) a school might organize immunization clinics. Those same nurses are often sensitive to signs of potential abuse among students in their care.
Serving in a community clinic, public health nurses typically spread awareness about community-specific health issues or illness prevention strategies. Outreach represents a sizable portion of public health nurses’ duties.
They have an important role in analyzing population data and identifying community health issues and risks in a research capacity. From that data, they can then advise other healthcare professionals and community leaders about initiatives that will best overcome those issues — and prevent future decline.
Overall, public health nurses are knowledgeable about emergency response protocols, whether that’s addressing natural disaster devastation or preparing for a potential disease outbreak.
Characteristics of a “Good” Public Health Nurse
While public health nurses undergo the same education as other registered nurses (RNs), specific characteristics make an individual a “good candidate” for pursuing this path. One is being able to work well with large groups without hesitating to take charge. Public speaking is also often required, which is not everyone’s strength.
It’s also crucial that public health nurses are sensitive to cultural differences in the populations they serve, supporting diversity and championing inclusivity. Many of the communities that need the most help face healthcare disparities and social determinants of health.
Public health-related organizations commonly have lean budgets, so anyone who can be creative and make the most out of scarce resources will be valuable. Of course, as with any nursing profession, public health nurses need to prioritize self-care so as not to burn out.
Benefits of the Public Health Field
Public health nursing can be a gratifying career. Nurses working in clinics and hospitals operate to advance health one patient at a time. Public nurses do the same, but they can also impact healthcare on a grander scale.
Imagine the lasting impact of inspiring an entire community to adopt healthier eating habits, which often has generational patterns, or influencing the proposal and enactment of legislation that benefits individuals and communities at large. There’s much to be accomplished, and public health nurses can be drivers of change.
Aside from the personal and professional fulfillment, financial compensation may also be enticing. ZipRecruiter reports the national average salary for public nursing at $61,379 per year — with potential for up to $114,500 annually. Indeed lists the average salary slightly higher at $69,325 and additional overtime of $11,250 per year.
Nurses who want to specialize in public health will need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, as it is required for public health nurse certification. Certainly, that shouldn’t be the only reason to go through a BSN program, as the coursework prepares RNs to be better nurses overall.
That said, obtaining certification gives RNs a competitive edge. The American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) currently offers the following certifications:
- Certified Public Health (CPH)
- National Healthcare Disaster Certification (NHDP-BC)
Will You Be Part of the Solution?
There will always be a need for public health nurses in communities around the globe. However, by investing in your education — and this career — you can be an active solution to the small and large health issues in a variety of communities.
Learn more about The University of Texas at Arlington’s online RN to BSN Program.