Public Health NursingMay 15, 2014
Explore A Career As A Public Health Nurse
The responsibilities of a public health nurse are quite different from that of other nursing specialties. While most nurses care for individual patients one at a time, public health nurses care for entire populations. They work with whole communities, improving community health and safety, increasing access to better care and educating people about basic health issues.
Instead of waiting for patients to come to the hospital with an illness, public health nurses go into communities to help people improve their health and prevent disease. For people who don’t have access to care, they may also provide direct health care services, including screening services, health education and preventive care. Responsibilities of public health nurses include:
-Monitoring health trends and identifying health risk factors that are relevant to specific communities
-Educating and providing direct health care services to vulnerable and at-risk populations
-Designing and implementing disease prevention and health education campaigns such as screenings and immunisations
-Improving access to care by making communities aware of locally available health care programs and services
-Advocating with local, state and federal authorities to improve access to health services for underserved communities
Health education is often the primary focus of public health nurses, especially in poorer, uneducated communities. Drawing on their training as registered nurses, these nurses give the community useful, practical information about the steps they can take to protect their health. In presentations at community groups, schools, senior centres and other local groups, they explain proper nutrition, promote early detection of common diseases, demonstrate effective safety practices, show people how to care for ill or disabled family members and inform the community about other important health issues. The goal is to make health information easy to understand, so people can take greater control over their well being.
Public health nurses often work for non-profit groups, community health centres, government agencies and other organisations that aim to improve health at the community level. They may work alone or on multidisciplinary teams, either locally or anywhere within the country or abroad.
Besides working with communities, some jobs may involve working behind the scenes assessing the effectiveness of public health programs, planning health related activities and managing budgets.
You must first train as a registered nurse (RN) and pass a national licensing before you can practice as a public health nurse. Earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing at an accredited four-year college will increase your employment chances, although there are some communities that employ public health nurses with associate’s degrees.
If this is a specialty that interests you, the best way to get some clinical experience is volunteering with a community group or hospice or working with a local neighbourhood association. Working with health advocacy groups is another way to learn about public health issues.
Public health nurses are dedicated to improve community health and access to care and work hard towards this cause. They often have to manage scarce resources creatively and focus their efforts where they will do the most good.
As in all areas of nursing, there is increasing demand for public health nurses, particularly in low-income and medically underserved communities. With government agencies also acknowledging the benefits of preventive and health education services to reduce overall health care costs, there is an even higher demand today for public health nurses.