About Community Health Nursing: Become a Public Health Nurse

Learn about the many opportunities for public health nurses.

The Basics

What you'll do: Public health nurses devote themselves to the health and well-being of the communities they serve by educating them in beneficial health practices and disease prevention. They identify common health problems in the community while treating patients, and work to create intervention plans to correct or prevent the health and safety issues they discover.

Minimum degree you'll need to practice: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and an unrestricted registered nursing license.

Certification: Not required but available once you earn your BSN or MSN degree and have two years of nursing experience while holding a registered nursing license.

Median annual salary: $64,690*

Public Health Nurse Career Overview

a nurse holding files in waiting room

As a public health nursing professional, you are called on to provide access to health care to many who may not normally be able to afford medical services. Your patients include poor and uninsured populations from culturally and economically diverse backgrounds.

A public health nurse strives to promote prevention over treatment. By correcting poor health practices and maintaining a safe home or work environment, patients lower risks to their health and require fewer visits to health care facilities. The goal of a public health nursing career is to educate patients through community-based intervention programs, which identify and correct multiple health issues:

  • Improper diet
  • Infectious and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Social violence
  • Substance abuse
  • Teen pregnancy

Your nursing career in public health can lead to several different working environments, including a patient's home, community center and workplace, to provide medical assistance or perform inspections. Opportunities to use your nursing degree can be found in facilities that treat patients 24 hours a day, but employment for a school or business usually provides a stable work schedule within their hours of operation.

Emergency response positions are available with the federal government in teams leading sanitary relief efforts for the survivors of disasters. Large-scale disasters require emergency plans, created by public health nurses, to be in place beforehand to minimize possible dangers and aid in the safe evacuation and housing of victims, if necessary.

Public Health Nurse Education

Because of the numerous roles a public health nurse plays in the community, nursing schools offer a variety of health care courses on the path to your nursing degree:

  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences

Certification—though not required to begin practice—is available once you earn your BSN or MSN degree and have two years of nursing experience while holding a registered nursing license.

Public Health Nurse Career Outlook

The average American life expectancy has increased by approximately 30 years since 1900, with a lot of the credit due to the efforts of public health nurses and their community-based programs. This nursing career plays a vital role in the health care system educating and treating some of the most vulnerable populations. Demand is very high and positions are available for qualified public health nurses.

The Association of Community Health Nursing Educators (ACHNE) is an organization where you can connect with other public health nursing professionals, employers looking for nurses to expand their staff, and community health events.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; 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.