Public health nurses (PHN) are critical to the promotion and protection of community health. They combine their nurses training with extended knowledge they have in social sciences and combine it in their public health job. They are a specialized type of nurse as they help focus on targeted communities that need support in staying both healthy and safe. Public health nurse’s duties are vast and include administration, education, and being advocates added to their regular nursing duties. The jobs of public health professionals are not for the faint of heart but bring great rewards.
Job Demand for Public Health Nurses
Nursing is a rewarding career but comes with some high-pressure situations. Most nurses care for patients one on one. Their care is patient-focused one person at a time. However, if they are a public health nurse then they have a much wider expanse of responsibility. They are responsible for the care and health of an entire community. Their work is focused on educating the community on central health issues, boosting community safety and well-being as well as offering increased patient care access. This care community care is engaging and meaningful. Here are some of the roles that are included in being a public health nurse:
- Be aware and monitor health trends in a particular community.
- Watch for risk factors specific to the community
- Watch for priorities that are localized so health care interventions will offer the most benefit to the largest number of people.
- Advocate for the community with the government for increased access to health care services when they are underserved.
- Design and put campaigns in place for health education and disease prevention including screening and immunization.
- Make sure the community is aware of health care programs that are locally available.
- Offer education and health care support to groups in the community who are at high risk for health issues.
When looking at salary, knowing the demands of the public health job is important. There are the day-to-day job duties, but these are done with the understanding of the community that is being cared for. Knowing people are influenced by things such as genetics, lifestyle and surroundings a public health nurse can work to counteract any negative influence that things might have on health. Rather than waiting for health influences to force a hospital visit, a public health nurse will go into the community to help improve health and stop any potential disease or illness from spreading into a wider group. They educate and provide health care support right in the community and then also add preventative care, screening services and more direct patient services.
A public health nurse is much more than just a nurse. It is a chosen profession that cares deeply for people and communities. They work in communities big and small. PHN’s are hired to work for agencies in all levels of government be it local, state or federal. There are also employment opportunities with non-profit groups, community health care teams and centers as well as other groups that try to support good community health. A healthcare worker may work alone or with a team depending on the job. PHNs may be team leaders as well and supervise health care workers and other support personnel. Management of budgets, planning health care activities and assessing and creating health care programs will often fall under their job description as well. They are not only nurses but managers as they meet with community members and other stakeholders to assess the goals and needed health care support in the many communities that are struggling and underserved.
The demand for public health nurses is high. It is not an easy job and requires a wide array of skills beyond nursing including health-care administration. It is not a nursing job that is for every RN. There are always underserved communities that need support, health care services and have a high demand for a competent public health workforce. With health care policies such as the Affordable Care Act in place, there are always health care changes that open up more opportunities for nurses. There is a bigger demand for those who can play a role in ensuring communities stay well, have preventive health care in place and for those who are sick, there is support to get them well again.
There is a shift in communities and the healthcare field to not only care for those who are ill but focus more on health care education and preventative measures. Demand for generalists who can work in the public health nursing domain is growing with this shift in health care focus. Public health nurses do a lot of important work and this area is going to continue to grow as demand does the same.
What was once a quiet, understated profession is going to become one that is central in community care. Public health nurses will no longer just be working quietly in the background but there will be a push to increase community funding and healthcare even with budgets that are tightening. Prevention will be key, and funding is required to do that. Investing in people’s health before they are sick could save millions, if not billions, of dollars per year in health care costs.
Salary Range for a Public Health Nurse
As with any profession, there are averages, ranges and targets for salaries. It is not different for a public health nurse. While the average salary for this job is $63,452, the range runs from $54,911 to $72,760. There are many factors that affect the salary. Factors such as:
- Specialty skills
- Years of experience
- Area demand
- State of practice
Each factor can move the target salary up or down. While an entry-level salary begins at around $45,000 it will increase with not only experience but with other critical skills factors as well.
Education & Certification – This factor is a big part of determining salary levels. Whether you are a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner, education is a factor. Bachelor of Science in nursing will make less than someone with a Master of Science in Nursing. Specialty training and certification will affect numbers as well. If you are certified in an area such as health care management, family health care, pediatrics or gerontology then the salary will rise with those specialties. Higher education such as with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or public health degree means more responsibility and that is often a reason for higher salary demands.
Specialty Skills – While specialty education will increase salary, so will skill sets that are both academically learned as well as through experience. Teaching, communication, marketing and planning are all skills that are highly desirable when it comes to being a public health nurse. If you have a proven track record of using these types of skills to enhance your work, then the ability to ask for a salary increase is well-founded.
Experience – For every year you work as a public health nurse, your salary will increase. The on-the-job learning that comes from every year of service is similar to taking continuing education courses but there is so much to learn beyond academics. Experience with community work and learning from those who reside in the community will make your job easier as well as help you transfer those skills should you change areas. Experience brings an ability to change as needed to suit the community environment and will enhance people and teaching skills through practice.
Area of Demand & State of Practice – Salaries for public health nurses will vary from state to state and city to city. Often, they are tied to the cost of living where the nurse is employed. Higher expenses mean higher wage levels. Here are some examples of the variance of salaries when looking at state-to-state levels.
- San Francisco, CA $79,315
- Washington, DC $70,635
- Miami, FL $61,711
- Chicago, IL $67,316
- Boston, MA $71,492
- New York, NY $71,492
- Dalla, TX $63,040
These are a few examples of how pay varies for. All of these factors listed above will affect how much you get paid annually as a public health nurse. If you want to increase your annual salary, then adjusting those factors can do that. Furthering your education, getting certified in particular proficiencies, upgrading your skills and building programs can all increase pay. If you can move and are open to that then heading to an area where public health nurses are in demand and are paid more will help as well. Finding the combination of pay factors that works for you and your lifestyle can enhance whatever pay package you are receiving. Benefits and bonuses may play into some areas as well.
Advocating for the profession can help increase pay as well. Being a positive spokesperson who works to put preventive health care at the forefront of both politician’s and the community’s eyes is important. If people see and understand numbers and proved health care savings, then the chances of them putting more money into public health nursing are increasing. Showing a decline in health care spending through preventative health care planning can be used as a means to justify increasing the salary of a public health nurse as it will offset the costs of health care after a person is ill. Being your own advocate can shift the salary cap up and benefit those who are holding public health nurse positions.
How Experience Affects Public Health Nurse Salaries
Experience affects salaries for most nursing jobs no matter what field the employee is in. The more you work the more you know. It is especially important when you are starting your career as a public health nurse. Building the experience side of a resume allows you to improve your position and salary ask. Work experience is not just about being an employee, it can also come from internships, co-op placements and volunteer work. Here are some experiences that can boost your career as a public health nurse:
- More than Academics – Getting your schooling is critical to being a public health nurse but so is experience. Academia can not offer you all the answers to being the best you can be in the nursing world. Real-world experience teaches soft skills you will need in the world of community nursing. Knowing how to communicate with the community, your peers, government agencies and health care providers is a skill that can’t be learned through books. Similarly, time management is another skill that comes from real-world experience. Juggling people, places and schedules all can be learned by taking tips from others and managing your own workload. The experience will give you soft skills that are learned in the context of a work scenario rather than a classroom.
- Competency – School will teach you nursing skills and how they should be applied but real-world experience proves your competence. It is one thing to memorize information, practice how to apply it but actually applying what you have learned in school is taken to a new level when you have experience. Getting work experience means you now have the opportunity to apply to learn skills and build your confidence through this learning. Confidence and competence go hand in hand and are a huge plus on a resume so gaining those through work experience is a plus.
- Internships – This type of experience is one that will give recent graduates a better chance at gaining employment. It puts their resume on the top of the pile of applicants. One of the biggest problems that graduates have is a lack of real-world job experience. Many jobs require it when applying and if they don’t, you still are probably going against candidates that have some. Having work experience will help your resume stand out. Internships can do this. They don’t have to be exactly in the area of public health nursing. They could be in staff management, programming, occupational health, office management, advocacy as well as any position within a public health office. Two things can come from this, one is you get real-world experience before you leave school and secondly, you may get the opportunity to apply for a public health nurse position within the same area you are working if they are available. Your name and work ethic will be known, and you have the experience to offer.
- Self-Development – Experience often translates into confidence both on paper and in person. That shows when going to an interview. Having that drive will boost your hireability along with salary offerings. Learning from a hands-on application is a good way to boost your soft skills and networks.
Experience is going to affect the salary as it not only makes someone a better nurse it shows their ability to grow and learn in the profession is on an upward trajectory. Knowledge, networks, skills all improve the more experience a person gets. If you are just starting out, volunteer or do an internship to show you have worked in the real world and were inspired to work outside the classroom to learn.
Where Public Health Nurses Typically Work
While many assume public health nurses only work in community center settings, they do much more. There are lots of career opportunities that have them interacting and supporting broader community-based health practices.
1 – Community Clinics – This setting is one of the most obvious and the one that many assume is a public health nurses’ placement. Community clinics are venues where PHN work closely with people in their community and are addressing a wide range of health issues. Their work is often done independently and can include ordering specific medical tests and sometimes prescribing medication if they are licensed to do so. Nurses who are employed in these clinics will also often create programs that are educational in the hopes they will help the community they are working in to improve their health and well-being.
These programs may be specifically focused on topics like nutrition, obesity, family planning or diabetes. They can also be much broader in content and cover general health care for a family. These public health nurses may also take part in community presentations and be in a situation where people can ask for advice, information and direction on different health issues. They can create a focal point for ongoing health issues that may be present in the community and need addressing.
2) Schools – While many people had a school nurse growing up, they aren’t as prevalent now with the ongoing budget cuts that affect most educational institutions. However, it is still important that children of all ages have access to health education and support as soon as they can. Children learning to manage and maintain their personal health is critical as it prevents illness. Teaching children about health early on increases the chances that they will then go on to lead healthier and longer lives. This is where public health nurses play a significant role. While they may not have a full-time placement in a school, rotational work is a strong possibility. They will go into the school to interact with the students and deal with a myriad of issues. Much of their job will be made up of educating students and their parents about how to best maintain good physical and mental health and also prevent illness. There will be a focus on personal hygiene along with sexual well-being, disease prevention, family planning and good mental health.
This nursing job will shift in content based on the age of the students that the nurse is working with. A further focus will also be on those who may already have illnesses and need help with management within the school system. While many of these parts of the job are important, keeping an eye on children who are at risk is critical. Watching over those kids who may be experiencing abuse or neglect is one of the more important tasks a public health nurse has. They can be a confidant for kids who are struggling. While they are not a social worker, they can be part of that child’s care team.
3) Outpatient Clinics – This a nursing position that can be filled by a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner. This job is one where a PHN will be working directly with a specific clinic. These clinics are specifically designed to be within the community allowing people living there to have easy access to healthcare and the ability to get an appointment or drop in when they have health concerns. A public health nurse will work in these clinics to address those health-related issues. That care can include asking for diagnostic tests, monitoring ongoing health issues as well as prescribing medications if they are able to.
Clinics can also hold community gatherings for healthcare education as well. If there is a health concern within the community, a teaching opportunity can help. Public health nurses will also create leaflets and other literature that can be displayed and handed out to the public as needed. Education and health care support will all be utilized to help the community improve their health and well-being and work at prevention of illness, so their lives are longer and healthier.
4) Voluntary Organizations – There are many volunteer organizations that can employ public health nurses. Just because they are labelled as voluntary doesn’t mean they don’t have paid positions. There are many in which their primary purpose is to deliver health care solutions for people who are living in communities that are severely disenfranchised. Their target communities are those who are lacking competent and thorough health care, so the organization is able to go in and fill some of those medical gaps.
Organizations such as the Red Cross, the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders are all well-known groups that work at bettering the lives of those who are struggling without proper health care. In cases such as this, public health nurses often end up dealing with disaster relief. This is important work when the healthcare system is overwhelmed or is not able to function well. In a capacity such as this, nurses will also work at educating communities on how to maintain their health in the midst of adversity. They may focus on prevention of disease, disaster preparedness and how to care for a family when access to other health care options are limited. Teaching about safe drinking water, family planning, hygiene and other basic health care topics are usually part of the job description.
5) Government organizations – These jobs are ones where PHNs are going to be a leader in the area of healthcare. They can hold positions in the health department at any level of government be it state, country or federal. The focus of these roles will be in the area of policy development. It is about the creation of programs that will target communities and give them a better ability to manage and maintain their health. Programs are meant to improve the health of full communities and populations.
This public health nurse position is less hands-on in community nursing and more administrative. There is paperwork, program design and rollout that falls under this job content. It is not just about creating and developing policy, it is also about how to effectively implement them, get them into communities and then monitor their impact once they are up and running. This job is high impact and can target almost any topic that can affect a community. Working on educating people on obesity, ageing, childcare, sexual health and mental health can all be targets of a program. The work options are interesting and varied.
Becoming a public health nurse is a job but also a type of calling. It is tough but extremely rewarding. The salary average is around $63,452 but that will probably increase as the job becomes a bigger part of preventative health care. Many public health care nurses also do a lot of volunteer hours that go beyond what they are paid for so that skews the amount as well. Being a public health nurse is a job that is refreshing and rewarding both personally and financially. Understanding the factors that play into the level of salary paid can help you make the most of that part of the nursing role.
Whether you are coming out of nursing school as a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, becoming a public health nurse or community health nurse could be a great choice of profession. Taking care of people’s physical and mental health, doing disease prevention, family planning, becoming a health educator and general family care is all part of a variety of health care goals. Sometimes being part social worker, part nurse and part health cheerleader makes the job tough, but it also makes the job rewarding. Building part of a system that is to engage with others and build a healthy community can bring satisfaction as well as a good salary.