Public health nurses work outside of health care institutions and are found in the community. They visit patients in their homes or travel to community centers to educate others. Their focus is primarily on prevention of illness and injury among patient populations. Many public health nurses work with specific populations of patients, such as women and children, elderly patients, and those struggling with mental illness.
Also called community health nurses, public health nurses have graduated from primary nursing schools and are registered nurses. Depending on location, public health nurses must have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Students in an undergraduate program learn about community health, infectious diseases, and patient education for safety and prevention of illness.
Public health nurses are employed by government organizations and private agencies. They often travel to different locations to assess the environments of the populations they are working with. They must organize their information among patient groups and have the ability to develop educational programs about health information. For example, a public health nurse who specializes in working with women and children may spend a morning visiting women in the community who are pregnant or new mothers to monitor healthy behaviors. She may then visit a primary school in the afternoon and teach students information about germs and hand washing.
Many public health nurses work with patients who are at risk for illness or injury or those without resources for care. Some examples include patients who do not have the financial stability to pay for medical care or someone who recently immigrated to the country and has a language barrier. Public health nurses are aware of community resources to connect patients with appropriate care. They consult with social workers, insurance agencies, interpreters, doctor’s offices, and hospitals.
In some rural communities, public health nurses may be the only access to health care for many people. They may travel long distances to visit patients who live miles from a hospital or health clinic and work to care for their illnesses or injuries. Public health nurses work with a wide variety of people, and in many situations, patient backgrounds may be significantly different from their own. They must remain open-minded and devote themselves to the care and education of distinct patient populations.