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Nursing provides several avenues of specialization. Community health nursing, also called public health nursing, is one of those avenues. According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), public health nursing is “the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.”

Community health nurses work to ensure the health of an entire population or community, as opposed to focusing solely on patient-specific care. While community health nursing can be traced to ancient times and later to the work of Florence Nightingale, it has become an integral part of the modern healthcare system. Many Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs now include related coursework as well.

What Do Community Health Nurses Do?

Because the needs of a community are varied, community health nurses may have a unique mix of job duties. In general, their primary responsibilities may include the following:

Providing preventive care and services. Prevention is one of the founding principles of community health nursing. For individuals who may not have access to preventive or screening services through a physician or other healthcare provider, community health nurses can fill that role. They administer low- or no-cost vaccines, cholesterol screenings, well-baby visits and a number of other services focused on improving health and preventing disease and illness.

Monitoring trends. Each community is affected differently by specific health trends or conditions. Only a portion of a population may be affected by rising rates of diabetes or hepatitis, for example, and community health nurses identify and carefully track those trends and risk factors. This information is used to develop targeted education programs and services to curb the spread of illness or disease throughout the community.

Education and training. After identifying the critical concerns or trends affecting a geographic area or population, community health nurses may develop educational programs, handouts and training resources to distribute to at-risk or vulnerable members of the community. Nurses often conduct this training during local community events or health fairs, or they may partner with schools, businesses, senior centers, community health clinics and regional healthcare organizations to disseminate the information.

Advocating for the underserved. Because of how closely public health nurses work with the individuals in a community, they can often more readily understand the core issues facing certain populations. This in-depth knowledge allows them to advocate on behalf of those underserved groups, requesting additional supplies, funding, and support from local, state and even federal entities.

What Skills Do Community Health Nurses Need?

Successful public health nurses have the following traits:

Adaptability. Nurses must be able to adapt quickly to their surroundings and think on their feet. The day-to-day activities can vary greatly — one day you may be providing vaccinations to schoolchildren and the next day leading a seminar about malnutrition — so being able to smoothly transition between different tasks is key.

Ability to travel. Depending on the community, there can be significant travel involved to reach area residents. In particular, travel to rural, isolated or underserved areas may be common. You may also need to arrange visits with organizations in surrounding communities.

Focus on teamwork. While public health nurses may work independently, the majority of their work involves other healthcare entities, community organizations and government leaders. Learning to work with others for the greater good makes you a more effective public health nurse.

BSN-prepared. Due to the complexities of anticipating and identifying the health concerns of an entire community, the APHA considers a bachelor’s degree as the entry-level education needed for public health nurses. In addition to preventive care methods, the APHA suggests that BSN coursework also include population health, finance and healthcare policy. At Mississippi College, the online RN to BSN program curriculum covers all of these topics, including two courses dedicated solely to community health nursing theories, concepts and clinical care.

A Community Health Career

Though a career in community health nursing focuses largely on preventive care and education, it still requires plenty of one-on-one clinical care. With the additional opportunities to travel, advocate for underserved groups, and influence healthcare policy, community health nursing is an intriguing and rewarding career for those with diverse interests and skill sets.

Learn more about the MC online RN to BSN program.


American Public Health Association: The Definition and Practice of Public Health Nursing

American Nurses Association: Evolving Public Health Nursing Roles: Focus on Community Participatory Health Promotion and Prevention

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