Considering a career as a public health nurse

June 25, 2014

When you become a nurse, one of your responsibilities is to educate patients on their medical conditions. After all, part of staying healthy involves knowing what to do to prevent disease, and education is key. A public health nurse has the opportunity to care for and educate entire communities.


Educating the public on ways to stay healthy is one of the responsibilities of a public health nurse. Public health nurses may organize and teach classes on a variety of topics, such as newborn care, CPR and smoking cessation.

Students posing with two of the nurses in Chiang Mai.But the duties of a public health nurse go beyond teaching classes. Public health nurses are also often involved in research. Nurses may monitor health trends in certain communities in order to determine how to improve community health. For example, public health nurses may develop ways to improve healthcare services in underserved communities, such as establishing mobile clinics or low cost services.  

An additional responsibility of a public health nurse may include helping communities develop emergency plans to respond to situations like natural disasters. Nurses may also organize disease prevention programs, such as immunization clinics and STD screening services.

How to get started

Students who are interested in pursuing a career as a public health nurse will need to graduate from a registered nursing program. Although earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing may not be necessary to get a position, it may give you the edge. Working as a volunteer with community health programs during nursing school is also helpful. Most nurses who want to work in public health will need to gain a few years of experience working as a nurse in a hospital or nursing home.

After getting a few years of experience, an optional certification in public health nursing can be earned. Certification is offered through nursing organizations including the American Nurses Credentialing Center.  

Opportunities, working conditions and salary

Public health nurses may work for local, state or federal government agencies. Since they are often involved in research, they may also find positions at universities. Medical centers and nonprofit agencies may also hire public health nurses. 

 The working conditions for a public health nurse are somewhat different than a nurse working in a hospital doing bedside care. While hospital nursing care goes on around the clock, public health nurses will work daytime hours in most cases. In certain situations, such as during a community disaster, evening and overnight work may be required. 

The salaries for public health nurses often vary widely depending on what type of organization or agency they work for. For example, public health nurses who work for nonprofit agencies often make less than those who work for large medical centers. The average annual salary for a public health nurse in the Unites States in 2013 was between $51,000 and $55,000. 

Although it may not be the highest paid nursing specialty, public health nursing can be an interesting and fulfilling career path for nurses. As a nurse, you have a chance to help each patient you treat one at a time. As a public health nurse, you have the opportunity to have an impact on entire communities.