Public Health Nurse Overview

  • What You Will Do: Provide care for the people of a whole community, working to promote and protect the community’s health, with an emphasis on prevention and health education.
  • Where Will You Work: City/county/state health departments, Federal health-related agencies, correctional facilities, schools, and occupational health facilities
  • Employment Projections: Nursing is expected to be the fastest-growing professions, with growth projected at 16% – 23%. Opportunities for health educators and community health workers are expected to increase by 13% by 2024.
  • How Much Will I Earn: The median annual salary for Public Health Nurses (PHNs) is $51,000 – 60,000. This will vary according to degree and certifications, and the city/county/state of employment.
  • Requirements to Become One: Become an RN; this typically requires earning a 4-year bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN), then obtaining licensure as a professional registered nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN examination. Nurses seeking public health certification should contact the state Board of Nursing for information about requirements.

Five Steps to Become a Public Health Nurse

  1. Earn Your RN: You must earn an RN degree from an accredited associate degree in nursing or Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) program. It is important to note that the BSN degree is recommended for public health nurses, although some public health agencies will employ nurses with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam: All RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain licensure to practice nursing.
  3. Specialize in public health nursing: Obtain a staff nurse position in a public health-related agency or organization, such as a local regional health department or community clinic.
  4. Obtain Public Health Nurse Certification: BSN programs incorporate courses specific to public health concerns within the program, and graduates can then apply for certification through the state Board of Nursing (BON). Nurses seeking certification should contact their state BON. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers an Advanced Public Health Nurse – Board Certified (APHN-BC) credential, which requires, in part, a graduate degree in nursing or public health.
Become A Public Health Nurse | Salary -

What is a Public Health Nurse?

Public Health Nurses (PHNs) provide care for populations and communities as a whole, recognizing that one’s health is affected by many factors, such as environment, lifestyle and genetic makeup. Rather than focusing on acute health care, PHNs work to help improve health and safety, prevent illness, and improve access to care. PHNs also provide direct health care services such as health screening activities or in community clinics, preventative care such as providing immunizations, and current and reliable health education for individuals or community groups. PHNs may also be involved in research and policy-making endeavors. The scope of practice for public health nurses include policy reform, health promotion and disease prevention, promotion of system-level change, and community-building.

How Do I Become a Public Health Nurse?

The first step toward becoming a PHN is to become a Registered Nurse, earning an associate or bachelor of science degree from an accredited nursing program. The American Public Health Association Nursing Section recommends the BSN degree for entry-level public health nurses. However, some agencies will employ ADN-prepared nurses. After graduation, you must obtain RN licensure by taking the NCLEX-RN examination in your state.

Where Do Public Health Nurses Typically Work?

Public health nurses typically work in non-profit government agencies, such as county, state or federal Departments of Health. Other venues include community clinics, outpatient clinics, schools, correctional institutions, or with voluntary organizations, including the American Red Cross, the Peace Corps, and Doctors Without Borders.

How Much Do Public Health Nurses Earn?

Nursing, in general, is identified as one of the fastest growing professions in the US in terms of RN salary, with a projected growth of 16% +, much higher than the national average. Specialty certification can increase earnings significantly; Salaries are generally higher in urban areas, however, the cost of living is typically higher, as well. In addition, bachelor’s prepared nurses tend to earn higher salaries than nurses with associate degrees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the top five states for general nursing salaries are (range 96,470 – 81,380);

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Alaska
  • Oregon
  • Massachusetts

At present, the median annual salary for PHNs is $51,000 – 60,000, somewhat lower than for nurses in general. However, opportunities related to community health and health education are projected to increase by 13% by 2024, a promising trend for those with an interest in public health nursing. The range of potential salary can vary, depending on degrees and certifications held, and job location.

Public Health Nurse Programs

The top 4 colleges offering a major in Public Health or Public Health Nursing, are;

These programs are advanced degree level programs, with requirements which include, in part a BSN degree and RN licensure. Public health/public health nursing programs may be offered online as well as in a campus-based venue.

Find additional nursing specialties.

What is a Typical Pubic Health Nursing Curriculum?

The focus of public health nursing programs include health policy and advocacy, population assessment, prevention strategies, program planning and evaluation, and multidisciplinary collaboration. Doctoral programs also address executive leadership, development of systems, generation of research evidence and the translation of research into professional practice.

Learn about nursing resumes.

The Role Public Health Nurse in the Nursing Shortage

The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites that employment for nurses will increase at a rate of 16% by 2024. There is a national shortage of nurses in general related to the Baby Boomer population entering retirement, and the increased health needs of the growing aging population. It is projected that the South and West will be hardest hit by the nursing shortage. The 12 states expected to have the most acute shortages are; Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico.

Just as there is an increasing demand for nurses, in general, the need and demand for public health nurses is increasing, as well, especially in areas that are medically underserved, and among vulnerable populations, such as in low-income areas. There is increasing awareness among government agencies of the role of the education and preventative services provided by public health nurses in the reduction of health care costs, over all.

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Public Health Nurse Resources


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