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What is public health nursing?


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

This article was reviewed by Mark Jóhannsson, DHSc, MPH, Dean, College of Health Professions

At a glance

  • Public health nurses play an important role in helping promote health and wellness within communities by working to protect a population’s health and helping teach self-care and disease prevention.
  • Public health nurses work in various settings, such as clinics, schools and nonprofit organizations.
  • The RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at University of Phoenix prepares nurses for roles in public health and covers topics like health promotion, disease prevention, global health and disaster preparedness. Learn more!

Also known as community health nursing, public health nursing focuses on keeping at-risk populations healthy and promoting disease prevention by using modern nursing practices rooted in social, nursing and public health sciences. Public health nursing emphasizes improving public health, largely through prevention and evidence-based practices.

As a professional public health nurse, you’ll focus on nursing applications for treating individuals and their families to positively influence the health of an entire community. You’ll apply clinical knowledge and nursing leadership to encourage outcomes that lead to improved quality of life among all patients.

Ready for the challenge? Maybe it’s time to pursue an RN to BSN degree. 

Public health nurse responsibilities

To keep communities healthy, public health nurses may provide nursing care to treat urgent illnesses, give immunizations, and provide preventive care and general education on health and wellness matters. Many community health nurses also work to monitor environmental and social factors that impact health disparities across populations. These public health professionals can then focus attention and efforts on vulnerable populations to improve overall community health.

Community health nurses also serve as educators for community members. In this role, they keep the community aware of recent updates in healthcare applications, such as if there’s a new vaccine or recently identified disease risk factors. Nurses also educate patients individually to make them aware of support services and care providers in their area.

Public health nurses cover a range of other responsibilities. They often work directly with patients, providing remedial treatment and following up with family members. Nurses also record and analyze medical data across their community in search of trends that can improve the quality of care.

Public health nursing skills

Public health nurses share a few distinct qualities. They need to have a demonstrated passion for helping others and patience for any community members who might be reluctant to seek treatment. It’s also helpful for these nurses to have sufficient knowledge of common care programs so they can answer patients’ questions.

Additionally, it’s important for community health nurses to have good communication skills. They must be able to speak with patients and clearly discuss symptoms, treatment and outcomes. Communication skills are also helpful for conversing with local leaders, particularly when advocating for new programs or resources.

Other useful skills include being able to strategically plan, think critically and function in a leadership position if need be.

Public health is a field that often changes. Practitioner responsibilities may change as treatments, procedures, medical devices and rehabilitation methods evolve. As a public health nurse, you should have a desire to learn new things and to introduce newly learned concepts to community members.

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Where do public health nurses work?

Public health nurses work in a variety of locations. For example, some work for schools or other educational institutions to support both student bodies and educators. In other cases, public health nurses work in health clinics or within a larger healthcare provider.

Some public health nurses are employed by government organizations. These nurses typically work in health departments, worksites or correctional facilities. Responsibilities in these various workplaces can look different. For example, a nurse working in a correctional facility may provide direct patient care while those in a health department may work with research.

At times, public health nurses are directly employed by private companies. These nurses work directly for the health department of that private employer, helping to address health concerns of employees.

Nonprofit organizations, particularly in the healthcare sector, often employ public healthcare nurses as well. Depending on the nature of the nonprofit organization, nurses might work in an office, in a health clinic or as part of a mobile health team that serves a particular community.

Steps to become a public health nurse

1.   Earn a nursing degree

To become a public health nurse, you must begin by becoming a registered nurse (RN). To become an RN, you need a nursing degree or diploma. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are three typical paths to become an RN: an Associate Degree in Nursing, a bachelor’s in nursing, or a diploma from an approved nursing program.

2.   Pass the NCLEX-RN

After you obtain your nursing education, you need to obtain licensure as a registered nurse, which requires successfully passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This exam tests your knowledge in fundamental nursing areas, including critical thinking, effective care and psychosocial integrity.

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Nursing degree options at University of Phoenix

While University of Phoenix does not offer a program leading to licensure as a registered nurse, it does offer programs for nurses to enhance their skills. If you’re eager to become a public health nurse, consider the RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing or RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Competency-Based) program at University of Phoenix (UOPX). Core courses include Public Health: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Influencing Quality Within Healthcare, and Integrity in Practice: Ethic and Legal Considerations, all of which help RNs better prepare for a career in community health.

Please note that the competency-based program requires an Associate Degree in Nursing, an unencumbered RN license and one year of professional nursing experience.

Learn more about flexible programs with fixed tuition on the UOPX website.

Michael Feder


Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!


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