What Does a Public Health Nurse Do? Job Description & Career Paths
Is public health nursing the career for you? Learn more.
What you’ll do: Through research, communication and intervention, you’ll work to improve the health and well-being of communities you live in and serve. Public health nurses prevent illness and injury by educating the public on health practices that stop disease, and helping them to keep safer home and work environments.
Where you’ll work: In underserved communities, you’ll provide immunizations and treatment; with government organizations you’ll research potential health epidemics and how to mitigate them; or with community programs, you’ll assist people dealing with violence, pregnancy or substance abuse.
Degree you’ll need: Associate’s degree in nursing, diploma from approved nursing program, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may be preferred.
Average annual salary: $77,460*
With disease prevention and safety as a key goal, public health nursing professionals carry out a number of duties that can vary based on work environment. Some public health nurses travel to businesses to provide medical care or perform inspections. Others may work in schools or patient homes.
As an example, they might focus on developing education programs that teach people how to eat healthier, stop smoking or address other issues that can help them live longer.
Other duties that a public health nurse may perform include the following:
- Identify and treat patients for health problems affecting their community
- Administer immunizations to children in poor communities
- Inspect workplaces for safety risks
- Formulate plans for increasing worker safety and improving health
- Create emergency plans that minimize dangers in the wake of natural disasters
- Respond to emergency relief situations
Public Health Nursing Careers
While there are many areas of public health nursing you can be a part of, here’s a look at a few paths in demand today.
Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery
According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), public health nurses are an important part of the National Preparedness Goal, which is part of the National Preparedness System. However, due to legal and ethical concerns, nurses who want to respond in catastrophic events should be aware of laws in their state and have the appropriate training.
There are four disaster stages in which public health nurses participate in:
Each phase has different goals and needs. For instance, if you’re responding to a disaster, you may work at determining the needs of the community and triaging victims. On the other hand, you might find yourself working in the prevention stage developing plans to increase the public’s understanding of what to do during a disaster.
Army Public Health Nurse
Joining the nurse corps allows you to work directly with the military community and their families to improve their health and quality of life.
As a public health nurse in the army, your role will include:
- Disseminate health information by working with local officials, the community and schools
- Assess community needs
- Develop public health plans and programs for military members and their families
Childhood obesity has been in the news for some time but with the help of public health nurses, improvements have been made. You’ll work with community leaders, parents, schools and the government to promote better habits among children. Other tasks include:
- Educating parents on dangers of obesity and ways they can help their children
- Advocating for healthier school menus by working with nutritionists and faculty
- Developing improvement plans based on assessments of a community
- Working with local officials to build more parks and other areas for physical activity
Most registered nurses (RN) begin their careers are staff nurses in hospitals or community health settings. With experience, good performance and continuing education, you can move on to more specialized settings and be promoted to management positions.
Increasingly, management-level nursing positions require a master’s degree. Because of the diverse work involved in public health nursing, students in a master’s-level public health nursing program will benefit from taking courses including biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, and behavioral sciences.
After you’ve gained two years of experience in public health nursing practice, you can become certified in your field. Although not required, certification can increase your chances of getting a job and receiving promotions.
Sources: American Nurses Association; American Public Health Association; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics; Registered Nurses.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.