What Is A Public Health Nurse?
Public health nurses, as the name implies, are responsible for working in the community to provide health to the general public. This is a very important aspect of nursing which is, unfortunately, too frequently overlooked by nurses who wish to choose a specialty in nursing. Public health nurses provide a range of health care services in the community to anyone who needs their services. As a pivotal aspect of nursing it is a specialty worth your consideration.
Nature Of The Work/duties
The level of involvement that you will have in the community is an important characteristic of this work. The nature of the work that you will do as a public health nurse is relatively diverse and includes, among other things, the duties listed below. As a public health nurse you will:
- Provide basic nursing care to your patients
- Provide advice to your patients
- Provide assistance to your patients
- Provide planned essential weekend nursing
- Provide nursing services for terminally ill patients
- Act as a point of access for other community care services
- Liaise with other sectors of the health care industry to ensure that the needs of the patient are met adequately and holistically
- Visit new-born infants and their mothers
- Arrange school health services
- Visit elderly members of the community
- Visit disabled members of the community
As you may have gathered from the job roles and title of public health nurses, these kinds of nurses tend to be employed in institutions and settings based in your local health centre. Generally speaking they are assigned to cover specific geographical areas. The specific places in which you may come across a public health nurse are:
- Health centers
- Day care centers
- Other community centers
- People’s homes
The aim is to be integrally involved in the community that you serve. Because there is a shortage of nurses willing to work in public health, this is a line of work in which you will always find employment. It will also give you a sense that you are achieving something that affects a wide range of people.
Public Health Nurse Requirements
The basic requirements for becoming a public health nurse are that you hold an RN license and that you have public health nurse certification. In order to get certification you will have to meet the specified eligibility requirements and pass a test in order to practice as a public health nurse. The test is made up of 150 scored, multiple-choice questions. The content of the test will cover the following domains:
- Foundations of advanced public/community health nursing
- Human development theories and concepts
- Theories and concepts of epidemiology and biostatistics
- Evaluation and research
- The assessment of public and community health
- Strategies to improve public and community health
- The promotion of health, prevention of disease and reduction of risk
- Education for populations and communities
- Health systems, organization and networks and leadership
The following are some of the personality traits that will specifically benefit public health nurses:
- You must be able to exercise independent judgment – public health nurses frequently work on their own without supervision.
- You must be able to work well with other people.
- You must be able to recognize and respect the effects of cultural, ethnic and linguistic differences on health care practices – this is because, as a public health nurse, you will be required to work with many different ethnic groups in your community.
- You must have good written and verbal communication skills.
- You must be detail oriented.
- You must be accurate when evaluating health care situations – any mistakes made in this regard could endanger the lives and health of large groups of people, so care must be taken.
As with all nursing specialties this area of nursing has a number of educational requirements that you will have to meet if you are to practice as a public health nurse. There are three eligibility criteria options that you can meet for certification:
- Option A: You need a registered nurse license and you need a public or community health nursing graduate degree.
- Option B: You need a registered nurse license and you need a master’s in public health.
- Option C: You need a registered nurse license and a graduate degree in any field as long as you have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and at least 2,000 hours in advanced public/community health nursing.
The educational requirements for this line of work are steep and will require years of study.
In addition to the mandatory RN licensure that you need to become a public health nurse you will also need to be certified as such. Certification is attained through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). If you meet the eligibility requirements (Option A, B, or C) you will need to apply for certification. The application will require information form you regarding:
- Basic information (name, email address and social security number)
- Documentation of your education
- Your registered nurse license number
- Demographic information (where you primarily work and the type of patients you mainly see)
Once you pass the ANCC’s test you will be eligible for certification as a public health nurse with the right to practice as such in your local community.
How To Become A Public Health Nurse
Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications
When training to be a public health nurse you can choose to specialize in several subtly different areas of public health nursing, namely:
- Public Education Nursing: For this specialty you will need to earn a master’s degree in public or community health and this will qualify you to educate the public on health concerns.
- Correctional Nursing: For this specialty you will need to earn a master’s degree in nursing. This will; qualify for you to work in correctional facilities such as prisons where you will be actively involved in looking for ways to prevent widespread illnesses, such as, for example, tuberculosis, in that facility.
- Public Clinic Nursing: Here your primary job will be to provide education and care to people and communities that may not otherwise be able to financially access health care.
Source An Accredited Education Program
The program that you enroll in to be a public nurse must be accredited. If it is not accredited:
- You will waste your time: you will have to complete another program that is accredited from scratch which will double the time that you spend studying.
- You will waste your money: this is because you will effectively be paying for two programs instead of one.
The best place to look for an accredited public health nurse program is on the website of your state board of nursing. This is a resource that you can be guaranteed will provide you with the best and most reliable information possible about how to go about earning your public health nursing qualification in your particular state. The school itself should also be open about this information.
Earn Your Associate’s Degree
To earn an associate’s degree in nursing you will have to attend a nursing program that offers the degree and complete the training course. This should take about 2 years. Ensure that the school is accredited before applying. Programs with a focus on public health nursing should be at the top of your priority list.
It is possible to be a public health nurse with only an associate’s degree. However a number of employers have more advanced requirements. Consequently it may be better for you to merely see your associate’s degree as a stepping stone and earn a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree afterwards. In addition many employers expect you to have a certain amount of experience as a nurse before hiring you, as well as to hold a RN license (rather than an LPN license).
Obtain Your Licensure
Once you have received licensure as an RN you can follow the steps mentioned previously to receive certification as a public health nurse. The license and certification must be renewed regularly. There are fees involved in certification. To obtain your certification the following rates apply:
- As a member of The American Nurses Association: initial certification cost is $270; certification renewal cost is $200.
- As a member of The American Public Health Association Public Health Nursing Section: initial certification cost is $340; certification renewal cost is $280.
- As a member of The National Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: initial certification cost is $340; certification renewal cost is $280.
- If you are not a member of any nursing association or organization the following rate apply: initial certification cost is $390; certification renewal cost is $350.
Online/Distance Education Programs
It is possible to earn any nursing degree online. However it is very important to remember that you can only do half of your coursework online. This is because any degree in nursing consists of:
- Theoretical work
- Practical or clinical work
Clinical work cannot be completed online. Any course in public health nursing that claims that the qualification can be completed online must be treated with suspicion as this is not, in fact, a genuine possibility. Theory work can be done online, but you will need to find a location in which to do your practical training. Many online schools will have measures in place to ensure that you will get the practical side of your work done as well, usually through an agreement with a health care facility, and these are the online program that you should consider first.
According to www.ehow.com the following job outlook is likely for public health nurses: “Employment of registered nurses, which includes public health nurses, is projected to grow by 22 percent through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics”. Any job in the health care industry is seen as stable and as a good career move to make. This is because, despite economic conditions at present, the health care industry is one that is always on the increase. Because there is a shortage of nurses working in public health nursing you will find that your skills are in very high demand. In addition, as you will have an RN license as well as RN training, you also have the option to work in a regular RN setting in the future.
As a public health nurse you will not earn as well as you would in other nursing professions. The average yearly income for a public health nurse is about $51,000, lower than for most other nursing specialty areas. If you are planning to get rich from nursing, this is not the line of nursing that you should pursue. However there are many nurses who do choose to work in this nursing specialty. This is because they feel called to serve their communities and make a difference to the overall medical well being of society and not merely in individual patients. When you work in this line of nursing, it is not because of the salary but rather because of the difference that you can make in the lives of others.
Public health nursing is more of a calling than a career. You will be paid, but not as well as you would if you chose to specialize in a different area of nursing practice. With certification in public health nursing you will be able to work in any area where the public health of the community in general is a concern. Because there is such a strong need for nurses with this qualification across the country, it is a line of work that you will always be employed in. In addition you will also have general nursing skills, which means that you will be able to work in any nurse care facility as well.