In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Environmental health nursing could be considered a subset of public health nursing. These nurses focus on specific dangers in the environment, from lead exposures to air pollution. To help control asthma in a community, a nurse might learn about all the environmental triggers— such as dust mites, pet dander, and other indoor pollutants—and then help develop programs and policies to reduce exposures at home and school. An environmental health nurse may work with other environmental health experts, health care providers, community groups, and even builders and contractors. Often, the job involves going out into the community—including homes, schools, and hospitals—to assess potential dangers and offer interventions. There can also be a lot of deskwork, including data collection, analysis, and writing.
Education and Certification
The best preparation is a master’s degree in environmental health nursing. There are only a few such programs now, but more will probably be offered in the future. Other options include a master’s in occupational health nursing, which covers many environmental health hazards, or an MPH in addition to a nursing degree.
Core Competencies and Skills
- Interest in community-level health
- Desire to work collaboratively across health disciplines
- Interest in health care policy
- Ability to understand not only environmental risk factors but the social factors that contribute to those risks
- Knowledge of epidemiologic principles and techniques
- Training in how to design and carry out public health programs
- Knowledge of toxicology and environmental health risks
The specific responsibilities of environmental health nurses can vary widely, so it is difficult to give a typical salary. For nurses in general, typical salaries range from about $40,000 to $90,000.
Environmental health nurses work for local and state health departments, but also for hospitals, schools, and industry—both at factories and in office settings. There are also opportunities in federal government, including the CDC and EPA.
Environmental health nursing is an emerging field. Many health departments have lead abatement programs, and the federal government has been putting increasing amounts of funding into grants for environmental health nursing research and programs. The job outlook is still uncertain but likely to be favorable as more is learned about the connection between environment and health.
For Further Information
- Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) www.envirn.org
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Environmental Health Nursing Initiative www.atsdr.cdc.gov/EHN