Public health nurses are focused on entire health populations in whole communities. In other words, the work of public health nurses is aimed at improving the overall health of a specific area. This unique nursing specialty requires RNs who are, at a minimum, baccalaureate-prepared through the completion of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.
BSN public health nurses focus their work on alleviating or eliminating health or safety issues within a community through education and by promoting access to care. By providing community-wide services, public health nurses are able to educate people about health issues, improve their health and safety, and increase their access to healthcare.
The Important Work of BSN Public Health Nurses
BSN Public health nurses believe that a person’s health is affected by a number of factors, including the environment, lifestyle, and genetic makeup. Instead of providing healthcare services after the onset of illnesses and diseases, public health nurses generally provide preventative medicine, helping communities improve their health and prevent diseases.
The work of public health nurses also includes providing those who don’t have access to care with direct health care services, such as screening services and preventative care. As such, they most commonly work for public health departments, government agencies, nonprofit groups, community health centers, and other organizations aimed at improving health at the community level.
The work of public health nurses ultimately depends on the specific needs of the community in which they work and the specific population for whom they provide nursing services. In one community, the healthcare services of public health nurses may be focused on providing immunizations, while in another community, their work may be focused on the prevention of STDs. Public health nurses also often help communities prepare for natural disasters and provide disaster relief assistance.
Some of the responsibilities and job duties of BSN public health nurses include:
- Monitoring health trends and identifying risk factors unique to a specific population or community
- Organizing and preparing health-related interventions that provide the greatest benefit to the most people
- Advocating with authorities at the local, state, and/or federal level to provide or improve access to healthcare for underserved communities
- Designing and implementing health education and disease prevention activities and projects
- Providing direct healthcare services to underserved and at-risk populations
Public health nurses may work alone or with multidisciplinary teams, and their job duties often include supervising other healthcare team members and volunteers. In addition to providing nursing services, these nursing professionals also often work behind the scenes, planning activities and programs, managing budgets, and evaluating the effectiveness of previously implemented programs. Their work may also include traveling significant distances to bring healthcare services to underserved communities.
The primary focus of public health nursing is health education. Therefore, they are responsible for imparting reliable information to communities about protecting their health. Their work may include presenting at schools, community groups, and senior centers or traveling to low-income and rural communities to provide critical health care services. They may immunize school children, provide prenatal care, and provide support services to elderly communities to keep them safe and healthy at home.
How to Become a BSN Public Health Nurse
The minimum educational requirement for RNs working in public health nursing is an associate degree, although many employers prefer RNs who possess a BSN degree.
The American Public Health Association recommends the BSN for entry-level public health nurses, as a BSN provides fundamental concepts for a career in public health nursing through coursework in clinical prevention, population health, healthcare policy, finance, and interprofessional collaboration.
Graduates of BSN programs are prepared to conduct community assessments and apply the principles of epidemiology, among others.
BSN public health nurses may also choose to pursue a master’s degree and complete specialized study in population health. Graduate-prepared public health nurses achieve competency in areas such as health policy and advocacy, population assessment, program planning and evaluation, and prevention strategies, among others.
The doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degree with a public health emphasis provides the foundation for advanced practice in executive leadership and the translation of research into practice, while the doctor of philosophy (PhD) includes scientific study relevant to public health nursing and the evidence needed to guide practice.
Resources for Public Health Nurses
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Association of Public Health Nurses
- The Quad Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations
- Association of Community Health Nursing Educators
- American Public Health Association