What is a Public Health Nurse?

If you are looking into a possible nursing career, you might be interested in learning more about what a public health nurse (PHN) does. Public health nursing is an important nursing field and makes up the largest part of the overall public health profession. Public health focuses on the health of populations. So a public health nurse works to better the health of specific communities, combining nursing skills with their knowledge of social sciences and public health sciences. The work of a public health nurse can be especially significant in helping populations that are vulnerable or have specific health concerns.

Where Public Health Nurses Work

A public health nurse can work anywhere that has public health care needs. Some of the settings in which you will find a public health nurse include schools, community health centers, health departments and clinics, according to the Association of Public Health Nurses. The important role a public health nurse can play in fostering good overall health within a given population depends on many different kinds of skills. In addition to needing excellent nursing skills, many public health nurses work in leadership roles that draw on skills that involve program planning, policy development, communication, financial management, cultural understanding, leadership and systems planning.

It’s important that a public health nurse can analyze a community’s health needs, understanding the kinds of factors that might be affecting the health of individuals within that community. Some of these factors can be complex, involving patients’ environment, income levels, level of education, family and more. It’s the task of public health nurses to look at overall health patterns in a community to try to determine what factors are affecting a population’s health, and to see if there are inequities in their level and quality of care. One of the important things a public health nurse does is to emphasize prevention by providing education to communities about ways to improve their health, according to the American Public Health Association.

Training for This Specialty

As you can see, working with entire communities draws on a whole host of skills and knowledge. Having a good level of education will definitely help someone who wants to work as a public health nurse. In order to enter this specialty field, you will need to be a registered nurse. You will probably need to have at least an associate’s degree to begin working in public health, though given the variety of issues you’ll be addressing, you will most likely be best served by a bachelor’s degree. Many nurses in public health go on to get graduate degrees that allow them to advance their studies in issues specific to certain communities or to increase their leadership skills. At either or both the undergraduate and graduate level, taking courses in public policy, social sciences or healthcare administration could be very beneficial.

Related Resource: Master of Public Health

The work of a public health nurse can be varied and demanding but also rewarding. Because many nurses in public health work with under-served communities, this can be a good career path to pursue if you have a passion for social justice. A public health nurse plays a highly important role in providing care and education for individuals and communities who are considered at-risk.