Most of the improvements in life expectancy over the past 100 years have not been due to medical innovation at all, but to public health achievements like access to clean water, better nutrition and safer working conditions. These implementations take a collective, epidemiological approach to disease prevention.
A public health nurse is a nurse who focuses on providing preventive services that promote general wellness to specific communities. Those services range from low cost vaccinations and screenings to education in specific issues like nutrition and hygiene. Public health nurses also serve as advocates for underserved communities, working with federal, state and local health agencies to improve these populations’ access to healthcare services. In rural and low-income areas, public health nurses may work in clinics that provide direct healthcare services to these populations.
Public health nurses perform essential services in identifying collective health issues in our communities, as well as in developing and implementing effective programs to deal with those issues.
Public Health Nursing: Education and Certification
Public health nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who’ve passed the national licensing examination. In addition to practicing as an RN, many of them have also pursed a master’s degree from an accredited School of Public Health, associated with a university, college or online degree program. Additional levels of accreditation are offered through the American Public Health Association, which requires yearly continuing education courses in order to keep certifications up to date.
A Day In the Life of a Public Health Nurse
Public health nurses wear a number of occupational hats. They can perform individual counseling and support, manage vaccination and screening programs, teachm or administer government agency healthcare programs.
Public health nurses who do counseling usually work with patient populations that have been referred to them by acute healthcare providers. A young woman who has just had a baby, for example, may be scheduled for public health nurse home visits when she is discharged from the maternity ward. The public health nurse will work with the new mother on issues like breast-feeding basics and basic infant care.
Public health nurses also find work in government- or nonprofit-sponsored health clinics that provide vaccinations, patient education and low cost medical services. One of their most important duties in this capacity is surveillance, the early identification of disease and risk factors. Public health nurses are also responsible for follow-up in these situations.
How Much Does a Public Health Nurse Earn?
Public health nurses typically work for nonprofits and government agencies, which means their salaries are often less that the salaries of nurses who work in the private sector. The average salary for a public health nurse with four years experience is $51,000.
Job Outlook For Public Health Nurses
While the job outlook for nurses overall is very good, the job outlook for public health nurses specifically is not good. Public health nurses work closely with government agencies and nonprofit organizations, both of which are seeing massive budget cuts due to the current economic downturn.