Nursing the Public: The Role of a Public Health Nurse

by Shelley Ramsey

Ever since the days of Florence Nightingale, the basic goal of a nurse has been to help people. A public health nurse does just that, but on a larger scale. The goal of a public health nurse is educate people about various health issues, increase access to care, and improve overall community health. Instead of waiting for patients to come to a hospital or go to the doctor for treatment, they go throughout the community in an effort to increase awareness and encourage prevention - coincidentally, something that Ms. Nightingale did too. It's not an easy task, but it can be a rewarding career.

Preventative Care and Education

Instead of offering direct patient care, a public health care nurse focuses on preventative care through education. A public health nurse believes that by educating the public on such matters as STDs, obesity, and the need for immunizations for children, people can be encouraged to be more aware of their health and take measures to prevent serious illness. This is not only beneficial for the public, but it also helps reduce health care expenses since educational efforts tend to be less expensive than providing emergency or prolonged health care services. A public health nurse believes that health is influenced by several factors, including lifestyle, genetic factors, and environment. Duties of a public health nurse may include:

  • Monitoring health trends
  • Identifying health risks specific to local communities
  • Setting up health-related interventions that benefit the community as a whole
  • Informing local, state, and federal health officials about communities that need greater access to health services
  • Implementing health education programs to encourage prevention
  • Supervising other health care personnel
  • Planning activities related to health care and prevention presentations
  • Maintaining and managing a budget
  • Meeting with local health officials to determine the health-related needs within a community
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of existing public health programs

Using Previous Nursing Experience

A pubic health nurse usually has previous experience as a registered nurse to explain health information in a way that is easy to understand. This information is often presented at local schools and senior centers. Common topics include the importance of proper nutrition and the importance of health screenings such as mammograms in women over the age of 50. Public health care nurses are trained to present information, answer questions, and clearly communicate with the public.

Work Conditions

Part of the appeal of being a public health nurse is the variety of the work environment. A public health care nurse may work for local non-profit groups, health care agencies, local and state agencies, senior centers, community health centers, and other health-related organizations. This may involve working alone or as part of a team. Travel is often involved, as a public health nurse may serve multiple communities.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing profession as a whole remains one of the most in-demand fields. This extends to public health nurses. As local and state agencies deal with budget constraints, the importance of preventative health care through education is growing. The average salary of public health nurse is $51,000 per year, with bilingual nurses earning more. Other nursing specialties pay more, but many public health nurses find the work especially rewarding.

This post was written by Shelley Ramsey

Shelley Ramsey writes full-time for education blogs nationwide. She writes for where you can find more information on the top online masters in public health programs.

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