Last Updated on July 14, 2014
According to the American Nurses Association, public health is a discipline that strives to “preserve, protect and improve the health of an entire population through the prevention and control of communicable disease, injury and disability prevention, promotion of health status improvement for all and universal access to preventative services.”
The role of a public health nurse is vital to maintaining an excellent standard of care. Many people are finding rewarding careers in the field. Learn about the various roles nurses play in public health and why ultimately earning your master's degree is the best option.
What Do Public Health Nurses Do?
The scope of public health is vast, so it makes sense public health nurses are expected to wear several hats. Depending on the agency or position, here are some of the duties typically performed by a public health nurse:
- Educate communities about health care programs and providers in their area.
- Establish and operate health care prevention clinics. This could include implementing a low-cost immunization program or free health care screenings for infants.
- Monitor a particular community, city or state and devise health care initiatives based on need. For example, a public health nurse could open and operate a clinic that provides lower-income families with free or low-cost health care.
- Advocate for patients and their communities. Many public health nurses also become involved in their community's health care policies. It's not uncommon for public health nurses to become passionate about patient advocacy.
- Work to prevent the spread of infectious disease in a community. In many instances, public health nurses are charged with educating the public about rampant or recurring infectious diseases in their area. For example, tuberculosis and pertussis or whooping cough, are making a comeback in several areas. A public health nurse's duty is to monitor the infection's spread.
A “Typical” Workplace
Depending on the nurse's education and experience, there are many private, public and governmental agencies that employ public health nurses. On the community level, many free clinics or city and state-run public health agencies or nonprofit organizations hire public health nurses with a bachelor's or master's degree. However, if your goal is working nationally or for a prestigious nonprofit or governmental agency, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you'll need to head back to the classroom to earn your MSN Clinical Nurse degree or another related advanced degree.
Employment Outlook and Salary Potential
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the demand for public health nurses is on the rise. The majority of nurses in the field find employment with smaller, nonprofit or community-based programs that work with low-income families and individuals. On average, a public health nurse earns around $51,000. However, as you advance in your field or earn a master's degree, this number can significantly increase. It's not uncommon for a public health nurse working at a top-level state or governmental agency to earn anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000/per year or more.
Should I Earn a Master's Degree Online?
You've decided to explore available opportunities for public health nurses. You might be intrigued by working for a well-known governmental or nonprofit agency but can't fit schoolwork and lectures into your schedule. If you cannot afford to stop working full-time, consider earning your master's degree in nursing online. Online programs offer the flexibility that many nurses require to advance in their careers. Imagine pursuing an advanced degree without sacrificing your present career or spending less time with your friends and family. Online education gives you the opportunity to earn more money, advance in your career and feel a sense of personal and professional fulfillment.
The world of public health nursing is growing and changing. As new technologies emerge and the needs of communities change, public health nurses find themselves facing and conquering new challenges.
About the Author: Maxine Dixon, a retired nurse, blogs on public health issues.