Public Health Nurse Careers
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Public Health Nurses Enjoy Rewarding Careers

By Jessica Santina
Published on December 18, 2009.

Job Duties

Public health nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who focus on promoting health and wellness to the public, informing the public about disease, and providing immunizations and other types of general care to populations. Although they may occasionally work with individual patients, the majority of their work takes them to schools, health departments, mobile healthcare clinics, retirement homes, or public facilities, as they work to enhance the health and well being of specific populations.

Public health nurses are often involved in education programs that aim to promote healthy habits, provide screening or immunizations to large populations, or target specific health issues within a community. Their work often takes them outside the office, as they often must work closely with teachers, parents, doctors, and community leaders.

Job Skills

It is essential for public health nurses to be effective communicators, as they often must explain complicated procedures or conditions to the public. Since health habits can be hard to change, public health workers must be patient and persuasive while remaining sympathetic to their patients' points of view. Much public health work is collaborative, so public health nurses need to be able to work well with others, supervise public health campaigns, and make good decisions.


While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track earnings for public health nurses, they do maintain statistics on registered nurses. As of 2008, registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $62,450. Salaries range depending on employer, state, education, experience, and benefits offered by the employer.

Training and Education

Public health nurses must first become licensed registered nurses (RNs), by passing a national exam after graduating from one of three types of recognized programs:

  • A four-year bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN),
  • An associate degree in nursing (ADN), offered through junior and community colleges, which takes 2 to 3 years to complete
  • A three-year diploma program administered by hospitals.

All three types of programs qualify students to be hired as registered nurses, but BSNs are the most flexible degrees, allowing graduates to work in a number of fields or go on to advanced positions. In fact, employers increasingly prefer to hire bachelor's degree-holders for even entry-level nursing positions, and advancement can often only be earned if you have at least a four-year degree.

Once RN certification has been earned, nurses wishing to specialize in public health may choose to earn voluntary certification by the American Public Health Association (APHA). Although not required, APHA certification indicates that the individual has demonstrated competency in the field of public health, and this certification may aid in securing employment in public health. Advanced degrees are also available with a speciality in public health, although they are not required for many positions in the field.


In 2008, registered nurses, including public health nurses, held approximately 2.5 million jobs, making nursing the healthcare occupation employing the largest number of people. The majority (59 percent) of nurses are employed by hospitals, and one-fifth of registered nurses work part-time.

Job Outlook

Between 2006 and 2016, nursing is expected to generate 587,000 new jobs, at a rate of growth of 23 percent, meaning that nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations in healthcare. This is due to several factors, including the need to replace aging registered nurses as they leave the profession, the aging baby boomer population, the advancements in medical treatments, the rising median age of registered nurses, increased emphasis on preventative treatment, and technological advances in healthcare.

About the Author
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer with a background in media and marketing. She also teaches first-year writing courses at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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