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What Is Public Health Nursing?

The field of public health nursing is a good fit for registered nurses (RNs) who want to practice in community health settings. Instead of caring for patients in a hospital or similar healthcare facility, public health nurses promote and protect wellness to foster community health.

Public health nursing focuses on population health and integrates knowledge from nursing, social and public health sciences to educate communities about threats to their well-being and to prevent disease and disability.

How Does Public Health Nursing Help Individuals and Communities?

The goal of public health nursing is to maintain and improve the overall health and safety of communities by mitigating or eliminating risks. For example, community health nurses conduct programs to provide education on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the harmful effects of obesity or the need for immunizations to avoid contracting certain illnesses.

How Does Public Health Nursing Aid Vulnerable Populations?

Vulnerable populations may not have access to healthcare due to a lack of insurance, economic hardship or mobility issues. Thus, public health nurses either provide care to community members or direct them to appropriate facilities and services.

In addition, community health nurses design and implement programs and policies to address the needs of the vulnerable population. Nurses may organize health education campaigns or hold disease prevention meetings to champion healthy lifestyle choices. And, they may provide screenings for various medical conditions. Vulnerable populations:

  • The elderly
  • The homeless
  • Sedentary individuals
  • Smokers
  • Teen mothers
  • Individuals predisposed to heart or kidney disease, diabetes, or cancer

What Is the Role of Public Health Nursing?

Public health nursing involves providing education on preventive measures, which may include information on self-care, nutrition, a healthy lifestyle and ways to avoid risky behavior.

It is also about building collaborative partnerships with communities to work toward solutions to health and social conditions that cause medical problems. Public health nurses can assess the needs of communities to determine a course of action that may positively influence the health and illness patterns of individuals, families, neighborhoods, groups and entire populations.

Furthermore, public health nurses target issues in communities to develop effective interventions. They monitor health status indicators such as:

  • Environmentally caused illnesses
  • Immunization levels
  • Infant mortality rates
  • Occurrence of communicable diseases

Where Do Community Health Nurses Work?

Community health nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings. Here are some examples:

  • Community health centers
  • Correctional facilities
  • Home health agencies
  • Local or state health departments
  • Nonprofit groups
  • Outpatient clinics
  • The United States Military or Department of Veterans Affairs

Do Nurses Learn About Public Health Nursing in a BSN Program?

Most BSN programs introduce students to public health nursing.

In the course Public Health Nursing in Eastern Illinois University’s online RN to BSN program, students receive an overview of the practice of public and community health nursing. They examine public health nursing within the context of systems theory. They also explore community assessment and the principles of epidemiology along with primary, secondary and tertiary prevention interventions for individuals, groups and communities.

Community involvement is a crucial factor in public health nursing. Without the community’s participation, nurses would not be able to gain an understanding of the determinants for the health of individuals in a specific population.

Public health nursing can significantly improve the quality of healthcare through assessment, healthcare strategies, appropriate interventions and policy development. It emphasizes prevention to correct unwholesome habits, manage medical conditions and identify unsafe home and work environments to help community members aim for optimal health.

Learn more about Eastern Illinois University’s online RN to BSN program.


Association of Public Health Nurses: What Is a PHN?

Nurse Journal: 5 Places Where Public Health Nurses Work

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Evolving Public Health Nursing Roles: Focus on Community Participatory Health Promotion and Prevention Public Health Nurse

American Nurses Association: Public Health Nursing

Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services: Role of Public Health Nurses Public Health Nurse

Nursing Outlook: Increasing the Capacity of Public Health Nursing How to Become a Community Health Nurse

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