Public health nurses use their understanding of health and illness for the betterment of communities. They help families and vulnerable individuals in a particular community improve their health by instituting targeted intervention programs and other activities. In this profession, you will help the members of the community get their voices heard regarding their experiences about illness and health to the policymakers and health planners who have the capacity to institute changes and programs. On your own or together with other public health nurses, you make assessments of the population and evaluate interventions to determine how and where they would be most effective. Your mandate is to prevent sickness or injury and further the health of community populations.
You will be tasked with giving that much-needed input to programs that track and respond to public health concerns in groups of people. You will be reviewing health trends and determine which population groups are most at risk so they can be prioritized. You will also regularly check health care services to be certain that instituted programs reach the target population and that they are given the necessary assistance to utilize these services.
As a public health nurse, you should possess excellent organizational skills. You will be doing a lot of community organizing programs and intervention strategies with various groups in the community on top of providing them with primary care and health education. You should also know how to listen to what the community is saying so that you can bring their concerns to authorities and propose the most effective solutions based on your personal and clinical understanding of the situation. Good communication skills are also a must in this profession so that you can convince community members to observe health-promoting practices and thus prevent disease.
Why Become A Public Health Nurse
The desire to help at-risk populations and communities promote health and prevent disease is one of the reasons why nurses go on to become public health nurses. The satisfaction that can be derived from working with communities and knowing that they are instrumental in making policy changes to help individuals, families and communities is very fulfilling. Public nurses are then able to make not only a difference in the personal lives of people and families the way they would in hospitals but increase their sphere of influence to institute healthcare and social reforms in a much wider area—that of the communities they work in.
On the more practical level, public health nurses are paid well for the job they do. It is also a profession that is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years, which would translate to more work opportunities.
Public health nurses are employed by government agencies, community health centers and nonprofit organizations that want to promote better health in communities. Sometimes, they will be the only nurse in the community. At other times, they may also be part of a multidisciplinary team, serving in a supervisory capacity to other healthcare and lay staff members.
The work may involve traveling to the community to provide healthcare services. Since these communities are often underserved, access to the comforts that nurses may be used to may not be adequate. The job can be very stressful, as public health nurses get to witness firsthand the effect of poor delivery of healthcare services to vulnerable populations. As such, some public health nurses experience burnouts.
Public Health Nurse Salary
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically have salary data for public health nurses. However, it has gathered the wages for registered nurses as a whole. According to their May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wages report, the mean annual wage of registered nurses is $68,910. Other nursing professions actually pay better because these require added education after obtaining their bachelor of science in nursing degree and getting their license to become registered nurses. Advanced nurse practitioners, like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, for example, are paid much higher. Nurse anesthetists get $157,690; nurse midwives get $92,230 and nurse practitioners are paid $95,070.
Public Health Nurse Career Outlook
There is no official data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics detailing the job outlook for public health nurses specifically. However, in the ten-year period covering 2012 to 2022, the agency said the employment outlook of registered nurses is projected to grow 19 percent. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations. The aging population will spur the demand for nurses. As far as public health nurses are concerned, the demand will come from the realization of government agencies that providing health education and preventive services to low-income and underserved communities will help bring down the overall cost of healthcare.
Public Health Nurse Degree
Those who want to become public health nurses must start by obtaining a bachelor of science in nursing degree from an accredited college. While there are some employers who hire those with only two-year associate’s degrees, a four-year bachelor’s degree is ideal. After graduating, one must pass the national licensing exam popularly called NCLEX-RN in order to become a licensed nurse.
Volunteering in community-based organizations or nonprofits that help communities while still in college will help one get a feel for what it is like to work at the grassroots level. Try to look for health advocacy groups to offer your services to so that you have first-hand experience in public health nursing. These kinds of exposure will also look good on your resume when you start looking for a job.
If you are planning to apply for supervisory public health nursing roles, a postgraduate degree may be necessary. A master’s degree in community health nursing or public health nursing will give you the knowledge you need to do your job effectively in the community. It will also pave the way for you to become certified as an advanced public health nurse which will increase your chances of earning better pay.