Public Health Nurse
Public Health Nurses (PHN) educate community members about the health issues in their community and how they can improve or prevent these issues before they get worse. Public Health Nurses aim to improve the health of the community they are working in, promote health and prevention of disease, assist in figuring out the health care system in a community, make changes to better the health care system and find better access to care for the community.
A Public Health Nurse often begins by working with other public health professionals in a community to assess the health trends or risks in the community and prioritize the major issues. They then put together a plan that will alleviate or hopefully eliminate the health or safety issues. Common community health issues that a Public Health Nurse finds they need to address include immunizations, various screenings, prenatal outcomes, Lead, STDs, obesity, diabetes and healthy lifestyle education campaigns. They will also help prepare for natural disasters and assist in disaster relief efforts.
Health education is a focus for all Public Health Nurses. They often give presentations at senior living facilities, schools, community centers, health clinics and related facilities. Presentations frequently address disease prevention, early detection, hygiene, nutrition, exercise, safety and promotion of health and other's well-being. Public Health Nurses don't only focus on individuals in the community but also family members. Counseling family members about a loved one's health or disability and encouraging support and awareness is critical in the communities where Public Health Nurses work. J. Hayes, a Public Health Nurse in Pennsylvania, puts it like this, "if Diabetes is the major disease state in a community, the focus is primarily on that disease state and what needs to be done by the individual and the family to treat the disease. We're not just treating the patient, but also their entire family through counseling and education."
Another important aspect of Public Health Nursing is advocacy. Public Health Nurses often find themselves advocating public health policy to law makers and other government officials. "We make a difference. We help figure out the system and make changes in the system," Hayes points out.
Where a Public Health Nurse Works
The Public Health Nursing concept began over two hundred years ago in the poor communities of the United States and England where nurses went to individual homes to provide health care to the poor. Today most Public Health Nurses still do work in medically underserved or indigent communities. Common places of employment include County or State departments of health or public health departments, correctional facilities, occupational health facilities, businesses and schools. Public Health Nurses sometimes visit individual's homes, which blurs the line between a home health nurse and Public Health Nurse a bit, but the intent to keep an individual well, help them cope and help them get better is all prevailing.
According to all available sources, Nurses including Public Health Nurses, are in high demand. As health care evolves and if any type of health care reform is implemented, Public Health Nursing will continue to play a major role in a more cost-effective driven health care system. Public Health Nurse salaries do not rank amongst the highest nursing salaries, however they are not the lowest.
Public Health Nursing: A Changing and Diverse Nursing Profession, is a current and informative article looking into the public health nursing field. Check it out to learn more about this profession and the future of public health nursing.
How to Become a Public Health Nurse
The first step is to become a Registered Nurse (RN). According to recent employment data, employers tend to prefer hiring baccalaureate educated nurses to fill Public Health Nursing positions, though associate's educated nurses may also find opportunities. The reason baccalaureate nurses are preferred can be attributed to the additional education they receive in various areas of nursing including epidemiology and related advanced nursing courses. Many nurses have chosen the Public Nursing path after they complete their clinicals in public health nursing. Clinical components of the BSN program offer students an opportunity to experience multiple areas of nursing practice. The field of Public Health Nursing can be extremely rewarding, as the results of their efforts/work can be very evident.
Mike P., a Public Health Nursing supervisor in Los Angeles, CA, began his public health nursing career as an associate's educated nurse 19 years ago. He went on to complete an RN to BSN program once he realized he wanted to move into a managerial role. He became a public health nursing supervisor and while in that position completed a Master's in public Health, which "rounded out," as he put it, his education and gave him the necessary skills to become a leader in the field. Mike suggests, "If you are an associate's or diploma educated nurse, get your BSN. It will prepare you with the knowledge and skills employers are looking for."
Advanced practice nurses in the public health nursing field are desired by many employers in every part of the country. This can be attributed to the direction the health care system is taking. Cost-effective and high quality health care in medically underserved communities is in great demand. A baccalaureate educated nurse interested in advanced practice nursing in public health may find a master's in nursing program with a family nurse practitioner track an excellent option.