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!
Although most nurses are trained to care for patients one-on-one, public health nurses do everything from providing direct care to leading community assessments and guiding policy change. They can be consultants, administrators, managers, and even leaders of health departments.
For instance, a public health nurse involved in infectious disease control might run a sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinic, keep track of epidemiologic data on STIs in the community, and lead interventions in response to local trends.Public health nurses that work in infectious disease control might also identify and track TB cases, while others coordinate immunization clinics. When a disease outbreak occurs, public health nurses help investigate cases, speak to patients, and gather information.
Yet, public health nurses also work in many areas besides infectious disease prevention and control. The potential scope of public health nurse's responsibility is broad: some make home visits, honing in on particular cases, while others do case management for the health concerns of entire populations. Some are even involved in designing and carrying out health education programs, advocating for better health policies and laws, planning for emergencies and disasters, and other population-level health efforts.
Education and Certification
- Current state nursing license.
- There are nurses doing public health work who have associates degrees, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees, and even PhDs.
- Leadership roles usually require at least a BSN.
- An MPH is very useful for a public health nursing career, and some nursing schools offer combined MSN/MPH programs.
- California and Minnesota have special requirements for public health nurses, although most states do not.
Core Skills and Interests
- Passion for social justice
- Interest in community-level health
- Understanding of social issues within target populations
- Desire to work collaboratively across health disciplines
- Interest in health care policy
- Ability to make independent judgments
- Knowledge of both clinical and public health issues
- Knowledge of epidemiologic principles and techniques
In 2008, the median salary for all nurses was about $62,000, with most earning between $43,000 and $92,000. Salaries for public health nurses depend on location, tasks, and experience. At one state health department, the salary range for a public health nurse at the supervisory level is about $55,000 to $84,000.
Many public health nurses work for city, county and state health departments, in a wide range of roles including infectious disease surveillance and control. There are opportunities at federal agencies, where public health nurses can contribute their knowledge to programs and policies on the national level. Public health nurses in the IHS provide direct service to patients as well as community assessment and intervention, and there are public health nurses serving as coordinators in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program. There are also jobs at nonprofit organizations, and there are public health nurses who are doctoral-level researchers and professors at universities.
Nurses make up a large proportion of the public health workforce, but according to a 2007 report from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers (ASTHO), there is a severe shortage of public health nurses. The actual job description can vary; in some places, “public health nurses” are thought of more as workers in community clinics than as experts on population-level prevention and health promotion. However, there may be expanding opportunities for nurses who are specifically trained in public health.
Related Web Sites and Professional Organizations
- Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN) http://www.phnurse.org/
- American Public Health Association—Public Health Nursing Section http://www.apha.org/membergroups/sections/aphasections/phn/
- Association of Community Health Nurse Educators (ACHNE) www.achne.org