Public health nurses (PHNs) work less with individuals and more with entire communities. Their role is to make sure that the overall health of the community that they are focusing on is improved. Because of this, they can work in a variety of different settings, although they are most often found in public health departments, state or county departments of health, occupational health facilities, correctional facilities, schools, businesses and voluntary organizations.
Their role is to improve the overall health and safety of communities by eliminating or at least alleviating the risks. Their tasks include such things as putting programs in place for STDs, obesity and immunizations. Furthermore, they participate in the preparation of disaster relief. The job places them in public health clinics, but it is also about educating the community and working with young people in those communities. More often than not, they work in underserved communities and rural locations. It is a multi-faceted job where there is direct contact with patients. It is an independent job, and PHNs have a huge degree of autonomy.
Let’s take a look at a number of places where PHNs are often found:
#1 – Community Clinics
In community clinics, PHNs will work directly with members of the community, dealing with a range of health concerns. They often work independently in ordering tests and sometimes even prescribing medication. Generally speaking, they will develop educational programs to teach the community about how to improve their overall health. Sometimes, this is specifically focused, such as obesity or family planning. At other times, their tasks would be more general in nature. For instance, PHNs will often be present at community fairs to deliver advice, information and guidance on a variety of health issues most prominent in the specific community.
#2 – Schools
It is very important that children are reached as soon as possible. If they understand how to maintain their own health and prevent illnesses, it is likely that they will live longer and healthier lives. Hence, PHNs often work in schools, where they deal with a variety of issues. A large proportion of their time will be spent on educating both children and parents on how to maintain their overall health and how to prevent illnesses. One element of this will be on personal hygiene, but will also delve on sexual health, among others. Furthermore, they will also help those who already have illnesses and need to manage these better. Finally, they will monitor at-risk children, such as those who are going through some form of abuse or neglect.
#3 – Outpatient Clinics
In this role, PHNs will work directly with individual clinics. Outpatient clinics are locations in the community where people go to if they have any health concerns. Although the role of the PHN will be to address these concerns, send out for tests and perhaps even prescribe medication, they will also take on a leadership role in terms of health education. They will design leaflets will be on display for the public to read, for instance. They will also ensure that those people who attend the clinics are given all the information they need in order to improve their overall health and avoid having more serious health concerns later on in life.
#4 – Voluntary Organizations
There are numerous voluntary organizations that focus on delivering health solutions for people in significantly disenfranchised communities. Some of these voluntary organizations include the Red Cross, the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders. In these cases, PHNs will have a strong focus on providing disaster relief. In addition, their role will also be to educate the communities on how to prevent further outbreaks of diseases in case a similar disaster occurs again. This involves delivering safe drinking water, family planning, sexual health, hygiene and so on.
#5 – Government Organizations
PHNs are trained to be leaders in the field of health. As such, they will also often take up positions in the Department of Health (whether at state, county or national level). Their role here will be strongly focused on policy development, creating methods to improve the overall health of entire populations. This is often more of an administrative job, where a lot of paperwork will be required. PHNs will develop policies, but they will also help to implement them, to deliver them and to monitor them once implemented. This is a high impact job and can focus on any public health issues, from obesity to old age and from pediatrics to sexual health.
As you can see, the options for work for PHNs are varied and interesting. They hold incredible responsibilities and this is reflected in their salary as well. The average salary for a Public Health Nurse is around $55,000. This figure seems low, but that is also due to the fact that these nurses often work on a voluntary basis, believing that nursing is a calling and not a career choice. It is a varied job that includes anything from delivering seminars to high end professionals to speaking to children about any health concerns they have, and this takes a special kind of person.