Public Health Nurse

What Is a Public Health Nurse?

Public health nurses, also known as community health nurses, work to promote and protect the health of individuals within a community. While most nurses generally care for one patient at a time, public health nurses tend to focus on the care of entire populations. The American Public Health Association defines public health nursing as ‘the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.' Public health nurses seek out areas of concern within a community and assess and implement ways through which these concerns can be eliminated or minimized. Common areas of employment for public health nurses include county or state health departments, school districts, or departments of correction.

What Are Some Public Health Nurse Duties?

Task and duties commonly carried out by public health nurses may include:

  • Design and implement educational campaigns for community members about how to prevent diseases
  • Help to lead communities during times of crisis such as widespread addiction or disease outbreaks
  • Recognize and intervene in cases of violence or abuse
  • Monitor trends and identify risk factors that affect specific communities
  • Provide screening tests for specific populations
  • Administer medication
  • Assess physical, nutritional, psychosocial, and mental health needs of individuals within a population
  • Collect data and identify patterns and trends in disease outbreaks
  • Advocate for federal, state, and local authorities to improve overall access to health services for underserved communities
  • Provide immunizations to children and adults of the community who couldn't afford them otherwise
  • Motivate members of the community to adopt healthy lifestyles
  • Act as a community role model and provide leadership
  • Educate and treat infectious disease which include STIs
  • Educate high-risk populations such as sex workers and drug addicts on methods of disease prevention and healthy behavior
  • Educate community members on the kinds of healthcare options that are available in their area
  • Respond to and execute interventions during community-wide emergencies and natural disasters

Where Do Public Health Nurses Work?

Public health nurses serve communities by working in the following settings:

  • Government agencies
  • County/city health departments
  • Community health centers
  • Federal health organizations
  • World health organization
  • Private public-health agencies
  • Mobile health care service units
  • Non-profits

How to Become a Public Health Nurse

Public health nursing combines clinical practice and community outreach, so individuals pursuing this nursing role should have an interest in interacting and caring for people from all walks of life. After earning an RN degree and gaining some clinical experience, many public health nurses go on to earn graduate degrees such as the Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Master's in Public Health (MPH). Although technically not required, some people choose to pursue dual MSN/MPH degree programs before settling into a career position.

Step 1: Educational Requirements

To become a public health nurse, the following educational credentials are required:

  • Possession of a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN pre-licensure exam
  • Obtain an RN license
  • Earn a Master's in Nursing Science (MSN), Master's in Public Health (MPH), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
  • Although not required, having a dual MSN/MPH will make an individual especially competitive in the job market

Do Public Health Nurses Need an RN Degree?

Yes, at a minimum, public health nurses will need to possess active and unrestricted RN licenses. On top of having an RN license, most employers will want public health nurse candidates to be certified as a public health nurse.

Step 2: Required Public Health Nurse Certifications/Credentials

Certification in public health nursing is generally required by most employers. Interested parties can seek out certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) which offers an Advanced Public Health Nurse-Board Certified (APHN-BC) credential. Although no certification examination is required, to be eligible for the certification you will need to have fulfilled the following requirements:

  • Possess an active and unrestricted RN license
  • Have at least two years of full-time experience working as an RN
  • Have at least 2,000 hours of experience within the specialty of public health nursing in the previous three years before application is submitted
  • Along with a BSN degree, possess a graduate degree in nursing (i.e. MSN, DNP, Ph.D.) or a graduate degree in public health (MPH)
  • Have undergone at least 30 continuing education credits related to advanced public health nursing in the previous three years before application is submitted
  • Fulfill two of the following professional developments:
    • Publication or research
    • Professional Service
    • Preceptor
    • Presentation
    • Academic credits

APHN-BC credential is valid for five years.

Public Health Nurse Jobs, Salary & Employment

The shortage of nurses affects all areas of the health care system, and public health nursing is no exception. The nursing shortage - combined with the country's aging population - means that the demand for services provided by public health nurses should remain high in the coming years.

Job Description & Information

  • Essential Skills Needed - Psychological and emotional strength and stability, patience, strong assessment skills, excellent critical thinking abilities, well-honed interpersonal communication skills, ability to work independently, leadership qualities, compassion, empathy
  • Job Outlook - The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts overall employment for registered nurses to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024. Individuals in the public health nursing specialty can expect to see their field grow at a rate that's comparable

What Is the Average Salary of a Public Health Nurse?

According to PayScale, public health nurses earn a median annual wage of around $58,000. Exact public health nurse salary figures will depend on many factors, such as level of clinical experience, employer, location, and more. Employed public health nurses will enjoy benefits packages which typically include medical, dental, and vision coverage. Depending on the employer, public health nurses will - in most cases - receive a few weeks of paid time off and sick time each year. Lastly, because public nurses are often employed by government entities, most can expect to receive generous retirement or pension plans.

How Much Do Public Health Nurses Make per Year?

  • $42,000 – $85,000 annually

How Much Do Public Health Nurses Make per Hour?

  • $28.02 average hourly wage

Public Health Nurse Resources