Community Health Nurse
Community health nurses serve a community, providing healthcare, education, and promoting preventive healthcare to the underserved in communities. They are a huge part of improving overall public health. As they get to know the communities that they serve, they focus on the main health problems arising in that community and strive to educate the population and help prevent whichever diseases or health problems they encounter the most. Community health nurses often go out into the “field” and do not often stay within a hospital or health clinic. A community health nurse may work for hospices, public health agencies, or home health services. Community health nurses see any age range within a population and treat a variety of health problems. Community health nursing work can focus on many different health topics, ranging from nutrition education, domestic violence, substance abuse, or sexually transmitted disease or teen pregnancy. Sometimes a community health nurse may work to help pass legislation that will improve the health care available to their community, like a health care policy nurse might do. Often a community health nurse may serve a segment of the population that struggles with poverty and has few resources to turn to for the healthcare they need.
In order to become a community health nurse, you will first have to become a licensed and registered nurse in your state. Becoming a registered nurse can be done in as little as two to three years, by earning as Associate Degree in Nursing (ASN) from a community college. However, earning a bachelor’s degree is usually required for most public health nursing positions. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a four year college or university would open up more job opportunities for you and increase your earning potential. Once you earn your degree, you need to pass the NCLEX - RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). Pursuing a master’s degree in the community health nursing field is also an option, should you hope to advance and practice as a community health nurse at a higher level, like an advanced practice nurse.
Becoming certified is also an option that will help make you more employable and potentially earn you a higher income and respect as a certified health nurse (CHN). Once you are a registered, licensed nurse, certification in a specialty is usually optional but is most always well respected and brings many benefits. Many employers seeking specialized nurses, like a community health nurse will consider it a mandatory qualification in order to consider you for a position. Coursework in a public or community health nursing program usually covers statistics, multicultural nursing, and techniques for teaching health and nutrition, training in dealing with substance abuse, and detection of child neglect or abuse. In order to sit for the certification exam in public health nursing, you will first need to have a minimum of two years nursing experience.
If you are interested in pursuing your Master of Science in Nursing, you could also become an advanced public health nurse (APHN) and become certified by the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC). A master’s degree is usually required for leadership positions in the field of public or community health nursing. Becoming a community health nurse educator is also an option down the line in this career as well. The Association of Community Health Nurse Educators is a good resource if you think this is an area that you’d like to work and want to learn more.
The average salary for a community health nurse is $51,000, although this will vary greatly based on experience, education, employer, benefits, and geographic location. Many nurses in this specialty cite job satisfaction as very high, as they can see the enormous difference they make in the communities they serve. A community health nurse is an important part of underserved communities, helping ensure that the community's health needs are met. In addition to a good salary and benefits, the future of this career is strong. Nursing is projected to face many shortages, and this trend means many job openings and job security for nearly all nursing specialties. If you think community health nursing is for you, start pursuing your nursing degree and earn the necessary experience, and you too can make a difference, bringing much needed healthcare, education, and caring to the communities that need it most.
To learn more about the public health nursing and community health nursing professions read the article/interview, Public Health Nursing: A Changing and Diverse Nursing Profession. It will give you a more real world perspective of public health and community health nursing.
(Sources: Association of Community Health Nursing Educators, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing, American Nurses Credentialing Center, Minority Nurse, American Public Health Association)