A public health nurse, also known as a community health nurse, makes the health needs of an entire population their priority. Whether treating an entire family or a single patient, public health nurses consider the personal, social, economic, and environmental factors that influence health. Public health nurses are more than bedside caregivers; they are leaders dedicated to promoting and improving health where people are born, grow, and live. 

Are you asking yourself, “How can I help my community as a nurse?” There’s perhaps no better way to serve the members of your community than by becoming a public health nurse. It’s a selfless, rewarding career focused on helping those who have fallen victim to health disparities. If a career as an advocate for your community interests you, an online RN to BS in Nursing program can help you become a public health nurse and achieve your goal.

What Is Public Health Nursing?

The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines public health nursing as “the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.” The main focus of public health nursing is on the health needs of an entire population. Public health nurses provide for health needs by:

  • Using a comprehensive, systemic approach to assess population health.
  • Considering multiple determinants of health.
  • Emphasizing primary prevention.
  • Intervening at all levels, including individuals, families, and communities.

Although public health nurses are focused on the health needs of the entire population, they recognize that an entire population can’t be provided for unless the inequities that affect sub-populations are addressed. Health inequity is a complex problem influenced by social, cultural, economic, and historical factors. Nevertheless, public health nurses advocate for social justice by teaching, developing policies, and finding community-based solutions that help eliminate population health disparities.

The Challenges Preventing Health Equity

The need for a community-based approach is evidenced by the fact that the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country but still lags behind with regard to life expectancy, obesity, and maternal and infant mortality rates. Lack of consistent health insurance coverage is a major source of healthcare disparity in the United States. Only about 90% of the United States population had health insurance in 2016—compared to 99% in other developed countries. From their leadership positions within communities, public health nurses can enact programs to help ensure equal access to health insurance and quality healthcare.

Unfortunately, consistent medical care is not enough to improve the health of sub-populations disproportionally affected by health concerns. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age,” and they are the main source of health inequities. For example, research on the beginnings of health disparities has shown that poor and minority neighborhoods often have numerous fast-food outlets but lack healthy food options. Impoverished neighborhoods are also more likely to expose residents to air pollution, have poorly funded schools, and have fewer job opportunities, all of which contribute to health disparities.

Unless the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and resources in the United States is addressed, there will always be communities that are disproportionally affected by health concerns. As a public health nurse, you may not be able to singlehandedly solve the health challenges plaguing an entire nation; however, you can help your community overcome challenges that would otherwise threaten the health and wellness of its members.

Why Is Public Health Nursing Important?

Public health nurses are agents of change. They assess the needs of populations to improve health and healthcare for communities, families, and individuals. They are acutely aware of social determinants of health and strive to help populations, especially diverse, sometimes disadvantaged sub-populations, obtain and maintain health. They promote prevention by educating at-risk groups on public health challenges, including:

  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • Nutrition and physical activity
  • Prescription drug overdose
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Teen pregnancy

By pursuing a career in public health nursing, you can work in governments, nonprofit organizations, foundations, policy think tanks, or academic institutions to help at-risk groups receive preventative healthcare. At-risk community members are often unable to speak out regarding the barriers separating them from health and wellness. As a public health nurse, you can give a voice to their struggles and provide the social, emotional, and healthcare support they need to avoid and overcome public health challenges.

How to Become a Public Health Nurse

Are you still wondering, “How can I help my community as a nurse?” We hope that we’ve provided you with the answer. Public health nursing is a rewarding career that would allow you to serve your entire community. In order to become a public health nurse, you must first become a registered nurse. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already meet this qualification. In that case, the only thing standing between you and a career in public health nursing is a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers an online RN to BS in Nursing program that empowers nurses with the foundational skills they need to succeed in public health nursing, including nursing leadership, interprofessional collaboration, and promoting health in communities. In courses like Global Health Nursing, Multicultural Public Health Nursing, and Theories and Issues in Professional Nursing & Health Care, students learn about the legal, ethical, cultural, socioeconomic, and global factors that affect health and healthcare in communities. Upon graduating, you’ll be able to not only treat but prevent health issues in your community more effectively.

Our online RN to BS in Nursing program is 100% online, requires no travel, and can be completed in an as little as eight months. In less than a year after enrolling, you can graduate from our online program and receive an additional Nurse Management Certificate from Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society. If you’re interested in taking a more active role in helping your community, enroll in UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BS in Nursing program and pursue a career as a public health nurse.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BS in Nursing program.