Public Health Nurse

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Public Health Nurse


When you're in school, every once in a while, the nurses arrive. They bring with them needles, pamphlets, and sound advice on everything from preventing pregnancy to healing a sprained ankle. These are public health nurses, who give us shots, dispel myths about sex, and listen to us agonize over skin care. Some schools have these nurses on staff at all times, available for counseling services and providing a cot for people with tummy aches.

Public health nurses don't only work in schools. They work in a number of places outside of the hospitals and doctor's offices. They work alone, or in small groups, bringing health care into the community. They work in clinics, schools, or in the homes of patients. They check up on new babies, they look in on the elderly members of their communities, they host support groups and education workshops for new parents, troubled teenagers, and people with addictions. They are concerned with issues like substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections. They do more than just treat illnesses--they work with the community to prevent them.

They often work in communities which are prone to substance abuse, infant mortality, and violence. They try to educate the members of those communities about healthier life choices. They may write reports and make recommendations about health care funding, program development, and changes to the welfare systems.

The job of a public health nurse is not easy, and it never ends. New problems, issues, and crises develop daily. Families fall apart, people have long-term disabilies, the elderly get sick. New babies are born into difficult situations all the time, and people with mental health problems don't miraculously heal themselves. People need help every day, and that is where the public health nurses come in. They are our links to good health and prosperous futures.
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Purdue University Global


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Building on Purdue's mission to provide greater access to affordable, world-class education, Purdue University Globaldelivers a fully personalized online experience tailored for working adults.

Programs Offered:
  • Master of Public Health
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Public health nurses need to be flexible, as well as physically and emotionally stable. A sense of humor, a strong set of morals, and a desire to help others are also important qualities. They are good communicators, who are able to connect with children, the elderly, and everyone in between. Public health care nurses are compassionate and able to motivate and inspire others. They should be open to and respectful of all backgrounds, cultures, and religious belief systems. It is also important that they are confident, and able to make good decisions, even under stress.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design and present health education programs
  • Develop support groups and community solutions to local health problems
  • Initiate preventive programs, such as immunization or screening programs for breast cancer
  • Provide home heath care services to new parents, the elderly, and others needing care
  • Supervise personal care attendants and other caregivers,
  • Assist in controlling communicable disease outbreaks
  • Provide health support and counseling services for people in crisis
  • Public health nurses spend much of each day actively working with patients, or planning ahead for programs, workshops, and immunization programs. Their days are spent mostly indoors, where they meet with patients, consult with other health care practitioners, all the while looking for ways to address health care issues within the community they work with. There is some travel in the job, especially throughout the community.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Public health nurses can work for the government in community health centers, public schools, and clinics. However, an increasing number of public health nurses are finding work with private businesses which provide community health care services. Some also choose to be self-employed. In smaller communities, the nurse may be the only health care professional available.
  • Public health nurses work in offices, health care settings, or in the homes of patients and clients. They may also do some counseling over the phone. They usually have fairly regular work schedules (unlike nurses in hospitals, who work evening and weekend shifts). There may be some overtime, depending on the community they service. Public health nurses work with doctors, counsellors, other nurses, teachers, and the police.
  • Anyone working in health services faces health risk. They are exposed to infectious diseases, chemicals, and back injuries, and must take care and be cautious each and every day.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Public health nurses who don't want to work in the public sector can work in private organizations which provide health-care related services, or can be self-employed. They can specialize in an area like health education, infant care, teen sexual health, or communicable disease control. They can also travel the world with international relief organizations.

If they want to leave health care, nurses can get into counseling, teaching, childcare and sales.

  Educational Paths  
In order to work as a public health nurse either a bachelor's degree in nursing, or a nursing diploma, as well as a public health diploma are required. While both programs qualify you to work, nurses with a bachelor's degree find it easier to advance within the field. A graduate degree in nursing is required for those community health nurses who would like administrative or management positions.

Nurses must pass national nursing licensing exams upon completion of their training, and some areas require nurses to register with a professional association before they can begin work.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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