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Public Health (PH) Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook

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Individuals who want to learn how to become a public health nurse can explore the occupation on this page. Readers can browse public health nurse degree paths, public health nurse requirements, and helpful resources. This page details what public health nurses do, where they work, the training and certification they need, and what skills they need to succeed.

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What is a Public Health Nurse?

What is a public health nurse and what does a public health nurse do? Public health nurses promote and protect the health of various populations by drawing upon their knowledge of social, nursing, and public health sciences. They work directly with communities rather than basing their nursing careers in hospitals or clinics. These nurses review their environment and assess resources to determine the community’s healthcare needs. They then derive a plan of action to help provide quality healthcare.

  • What Do Public Health Nurses Do?

    Public health nursing is a unique specialization in the registered nursing field. Public health nurses work with many different groups, from children to the elderly, helping them obtain more information and confidence in their bodies and minds.

    Public health nurses provide a variety of services depending on their environment. They provide screening tests for various populations and administer immunizations for both adults and children. These nurses also conduct nutrition education within different programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children federal program.

    Public health nurses educate high-risk populations, including prostitutes and drug users about disease prevention and healthy behavior. They also help families and individuals by administering medications and assisting with community-wide emergency or natural disasters.

  • Where Do Public Health Nurses Work?

    Public health nurses do not work in typical healthcare environments for nurses. Instead, they often work for county or city health departments, determining where a particular community needs healthcare. They also work at private and public health agencies, federal health-related organizations, and mobile units that provide healthcare services. These nurses focus on healthcare for entire communities and work directly with individuals and families to provide the highest quality, personalized healthcare. Working within the community allows professionals to most accurately assess the need for their services.

  • Skills That Could Affect Public Health Nurse Salaries

    Public health nurses often work with families from underprivileged backgrounds. Working with these communities can emotionally strain nurses, so they should approach difficult situations in a professional manner to provide the highest level of healthcare. Public health nurses must be able to communicate well with other healthcare professionals and patients.

    Public health nurses must also excel at organization. They should succeed at compartmentalizing each patient and case to provide individualized, specific care across patients. These nurses need strong critical-thinking skills. They work in a variety of difficult, unique situations that require them to think outside the box to derive the most effective care plans.

How to Become a Public Health Nurse

Individuals learning how to become a public health nurse need a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Once graduates complete their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), they can pursue their registered nurse (RN) license. After completing and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, nurses can apply to receive their RN license.

Upon becoming a licensed RN, professionals can enroll in an advanced nursing degree at the master’s level and pursue a doctorate if they choose. After earning an advanced degree in nursing and completing professional experience, nurses can seek public health nursing certification.


Individuals interested in the public health nursing specialty need a BSN. While the requirements for obtaining registered nurse licensure include either an associate degree in nursing or BSN, entry-level public health nurses need a BSN. Once learners complete their bachelor’s program, they can gain RN licensure and enroll in a master’s degree option. Nurses can further advance their education into a doctor of nursing practice degree or a doctor of philosophy in nursing degree.

Professionals can also consider a master of science in nursing in public health and a dual master of science in nursing and master of public health degree.

Training and Certification

Most public health nursing employers require employees to hold certification. Some BSN programs offer public health nursing courses as part of their curriculum. Upon graduating with a BSN, individuals can apply for certification through their state’s board of nursing. Nursing programs that do not highlight a public health focus lead learners to explore additional training and education within other program options.

Nurses interested in public health certification can review the state-specific requirements for the credential through their state’s board of nursing. Professionals can pursue the Advanced Public Health Nurse-Board Certified (APHN-BC) credential through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. The credential does not require professionals to pass an exam, but is instead awarded by portfolio submission.

Eligibility requirements for the APHN-BC credential include holding a current RN license with at least two years of full-time practice, a minimum of 2,000 hours in the public health specialty, a graduate degree in nursing or public health on top of a BSN, at least 30 continuing education units, and professional development opportunities.

Public Health Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

How much does a public health nurse make? Public health nurse salary information depends on nurses’ location and experience. The occupation’s national median salary is $58,227.

Entry-level public health nurses earn an average salary of $50,273 while more experienced nurses earn $63,432. Since public health nursing is offered as a specialty for RNs, many nurses begin their careers as RNs.

Registered nurses can explore the general and surgical medical hospital industry for the highest concentration of jobs and highest employment levels for the occupation. Those interested in working in the industry with the highest salary opportunities can consider seeking employment opportunities in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry.

Median Salary for Public Health Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $50,273
  • Early Career: $52,747
  • Mid Career: $56,803
  • Experienced: $60,720
  • Late Career: $63,432

Source: PayScale

Related Job Salaries
Registered Nurse (RN) Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN), Emergency Room Registered Nurse (RN), Critical Care
$63,393 $27,891 $43,574 $66,391 $72,656

Source: PayScale

Public Health Nurse Resources

  • Quad Council Coalition of Public Health Nursing Organizations Dedicated to cultivating excellence in public health nursing leadership, education, research, and practice, QCC works to improve health and advance healthcare in communities. The organization offers frequent meetings, allowing members to exchange information about current and future projects.
  • Association of Community Health Nursing Educators ACHNE is committed to promoting collaboration between individuals who strive to achieve excellence in community and public health nursing practice, research, and education. The group works to advance population health and functions as a leader in community and public health nursing education.
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center Operating as a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association, ANCC promotes excellence for healthcare and nursing around the world. The center offers internationally renowned credentialing programs that recognize nurses working in specialty areas. These credentials ensure positive, safe work environments and quality healthcare for everyone.
  • Job Search Nurses can use this site to explore job opportunities by title or specialty. Job seekers can also browse jobs by location, inputting distance parameters to locate job opportunities in a desired location.
  • American Public Health Association A professional organization dedicated to public health professionals in the U.S., APHA boasts more than 25,000 members. The association is a leader in promoting healthcare for people across all communities and advocates for public health issues and policies driven by science. The organization is the only one of its kind that influences federal policies.
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