The majority of nurses look after one patient at a time. Public health nurses are different, however, as they look after the entire population. They work with entire communities, educating members of those communities on health issues, helping them to improve health and safety and ensuring access to care is available. Theirs is a varied and interesting job and it takes a special kind of person to be a public health nurse. If you are considering it as a career, the following information may be of interest to you.
The Education Pathways
If you believe that public health nursing is for you, it would be a good idea to contact your neighborhood association or any other community group and start doing some volunteer work. There may be a hospice in your area and home health providers always need help. If you are more interested in the administrative side of things, consider a health advocacy group.
Once you are sure you really want to get to work in this field, you have to become a registered nurse (RN). This usually involves achieving a four-year bachelor’s degree, although there are a few community health programs that also accept an associate’s degree.
Make sure that you continue to look for work and volunteering opportunities even while you are studying. Traditional settings are good and your college will probably help you find placements there, but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. Why not look for public policy or health administration, for instance? What about a Masters in Public health (MPH) with a focus in Epidemiology or Health Promotion?
Once you have completed your degree, you have to pass the NCLEX-RN examination. This will allow you to start practicing as a trained nurse. If you want to end up in a supervisory role, you will probably also need further graduate education.
Our lives are dominated by the internet and studying online is becoming incredibly popular. Traditionally, this was not an option for nursing jobs, as it required a lot of hands-on work. However, the theoretical side of nursing can now be done online and more and more universities are offering distance learning programs. Usually, you will have to do some practical work as well, which can be done in a health care setting near your geographical area. Certain degrees, such as RN to MSN, can generally be completed fully online. Furthermore, online options also exist for accelerated programs. However, in order to take part in an accelerated program, you are likely to have to meet stringent requirements, such as a high GPA.
Obtaining Your License
In order to make sure the public is protected, the various boards of nursing (BONs) and regulatory bodies (RBs) require candidates to be licensed and registered. This involves passing a stringent exam that is designed to measure how competent you are at performing your duties in a safe and effective manner. There are two exams developed by the NCSBN to measure this. The first is the NCLEX-RN, which is designed for registered nurses. The second is the NCLEX-PN, which is designed specifically for practical nurses. The BONs and RBs use results from these exams to determine whether or not you will receive your license.
Taking one of these exams is a true milestone. It demonstrates that you have worked hard towards gaining knowledge and experience and that you are ready to start working. When you pass it, you will be able to show that you are fully competent, meaning your career can finally start.
Whichever program, college or university you choose, you must make sure that the course is fully accredited. Accredited courses are accepted on a national level. It demonstrates that a college has passed a number of stringent requirements and the longer they have held the accreditation, the better they tend to be. If you don’t study through an accredited school, you will not build up study points to go towards your continuous professional education. This means that you may be accepted to sit the NCLEX exam (although you often won’t be), but you won’t be able to have your license renewed later.
Various accreditation bodies exist around the country. The first of the two main ones is the ACEN or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, which provides accreditation for all different nursing programs. This used to be called the NLNAC. The other body is the CCNE or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. This body only accredits master’s and bachelor’s programs.
The Cost of Becoming a Public Health Nurse
Studying towards a public health nurse qualification is expensive. The exact cost depends on the route of study you decide to take, the school that you choose and whether you go to a physical school or choose to study online. Additionally, it is important to remember that the tuition fees (averaging at $31,000 for a full degree) don’t cover things such as your time, your materials and your cost of living and traveling.
Scholarships for Public Health Nursing
Because there is a huge demand for health professionals, various scholarships are available. Other types of financial aid for students also exist. It is best to speak to the college you have chosen about the organizations they work with for financial aid, but some of the more popular ones include:
- AACN Nursing Scholarship Fund
- Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards
- The Gates Millennium Scholars Program
Working as a Public Health Nurse
Public health nurses have varied and interesting jobs. Some of their duties include:
- Monitoring trends in health and finding risk factors that affect specific communities.
- Setting priorities for local areas in terms of health interventions, so that the biggest number of people get the most benefits.
- Advocating with the various authorities so that under served communities get better access to healthcare.
- Design and implementation of education campaigns, including disease preventions, screenings and immunizations.
- Discussions with people so they become aware of what kind of healthcare is available in their area, thereby improving their ability to access health care.
- Education on and provision of healthcare services to populations that are vulnerable or at risk.
For a public health nurse, health is affected by a range of different factors. These include their genes, their environment and their lifestyle. Their role is not to cure a patient once they present with a certain illness, but rather to help them prevent illnesses from occurring in the first place. This is done through education and networking, but also by bringing things like screening services into the community.
The main focus is on health education. Public health nurses are trained RNs, which means that they know how people should ensure to achieve the best health. This is the information they provide to the community, for instance, by doing presentations in community groups, schools and senior centers. As a public health nurse, you will discuss things such as diet and nutrition, how to stay safe and what to look for in order to detect serious illnesses soon enough. Public health nurses will work tirelessly to ensure people understand the information that is provided to them, thereby empowering them to actually improve their own health.
Depending on where you work, you may also have to provide critical care to people. Additionally, they provide immunizations to school children, provide ante- and post-natal care and information to elderly people to make sure they remain safe when they are at home. Finally, if a health crisis were to occur, public health nurses will often be called on to disseminate the right information.
In terms of work settings, a public health nurse will usually work for nonprofit groups, government agencies, community health centers and so on. Sometimes, they work fully independently but they can also work as part of a multidisciplinary team. They also hold responsibility for the supervision of other health care personnel. Furthermore, they do a lot of administrative work, such as budget management and data analysis. Travel is also a big part of the job, mainly because your role as a public health nurse will be to bring health services to remote and under served communities. This truly demonstrates how much dedication is required of a public health nurse. You must really have a passion for improving overall health in order to do your job properly. This means you have to be quite extroverted, a very good listener and someone that fully supports multicultural activities. It is likely that you will have very tight and limited budgets to work with, which means you may have to make very difficult decisions in terms of where you can work, and what you have to leave aside.
Nursing careers are popular because there is a huge demand. Low-income communities in particular are screaming for public health nurses and you are almost guaranteed to be able to find a job if you register as a public health nurse. To make the job outlook even more interesting, governments are starting to see the benefits of having public nurses in place, because they focus so strongly on ill health prevention, which helps to save a great deal of money on overall healthcare costs. There is a particularly high demand for bilingual nurses, particularly those who are fluent in Spanish.
The median salary for a public health nurse is $51,000. This is lower than the median for nurses across the board. This job is for those who find their work more rewarding than the balance of their bank account at the end of the month, in other words. However, this is the median salary, which means 50% of public health nurses earn more. Additionally, most employers will provide a range of other benefits that make the full remuneration package a lot more interesting overall.