Public Health Nurse Career Guide | NurseJournal (2023)

average program length 2-4 years
job outlook 7% projected increase from 2019-2029
average earning potential $45,000-$91,000 SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a PHN Do?

ADN or BSN required + RN license

certification optional

PHNs promote and protect community health by combining nursing training with knowledge from the social sciences. These nurses help specific targeted communities stay healthy and safe. Depending on community needs, PHNs perform a variety of duties in administration, education, advocacy, and assessment.

Primary Responsibilities

  • Assessing healthcare needs and risk factors and setting priorities for targeted interventions
  • Advocating for and developing public policy, targeted health promotion, and disease prevention for specific communities and population groups
  • Evaluating available healthcare services and facilitating access to and use of these services
  • Working with interdisciplinary teams to identify, anticipate, and respond to public health concerns
  • Providing health education, care management, and direct primary care to members of vulnerable communities and at-risk populations
(Video) Public Health Careers: Public Health Nurse

Where Do PHNs Work?

Because they serve entire communities rather than one patient at a time, PHNs do not always work in the usual settings that employ other registered nurses (RNs), such as hospitals and clinics. Instead, they find positions in government public health departments, community agencies, schools, correctional facilities, and voluntary organizations, providing critical healthcare services and carrying out research, education, and administrative functions. Common settings and roles for PHNs include these worksites:

Community Agencies

  • Provide direct services such as dispensing medication or ordering tests
  • Identifying and addressing their community's healthcare priorities
  • Conduct educational programs addressing their target community health needs, such as addiction, obesity, and family planning
  • Develop policy initiatives to address pressing community health issues such as nutrition, hygiene, and access to clean water

Voluntary Organizations

  • Identify, monitor, and respond to immediate healthcare needs for communities in crisis
  • Educate community members and connect them with resources to prevent the spread of disease and control epidemics
  • Work with medical teams to provide direct assistance applying specialized training in emergency preparedness and disaster relief

Government Agencies

  • Use clinical knowledge and research skills to develop national policy addressing specific concerns or improving at-risk populations' overall health
  • Serve in administrative roles and oversee research teams
  • Develop, evaluate, and assess policy initiatives, and plan educational programs

Featured Online MSN Programs

Why Become a PHN?

Because of its overall focus on at-risk and vulnerable groups, public health nursing typically appeals to RNs who want to promote wellness, educate others, and ensure healthcare access for entire communities. Despite its challenges, public health nursing offers significant personal and professional rewards for nurses committed to positively affecting populations in need.

Advantages to Becoming a PHN

  • Increasing employment demand, especially in underserved and low-income areas

  • Potential for advancement in policy and administrative careers

  • Opportunities to engage in advocacy and activism, improving healthcare quality, access, and safety

  • Personal fulfillment helping communities meet their healthcare needs

Disadvantages to Becoming a PHN

  • Risk of physical injury or psychological stress working with at-risk populations or in emergency situations

  • Working without professional nursing supervision

  • Scarce resources and budget constraints in both government and nonprofit sectors may lead to stress

  • Lower salaries than other nursing specialties

How To Become a PHN

To become a public health nurse, students must first complete their nursing education and RN licensure requirements. PHNs may pursue the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) certificate in public health (CPH) credential. NBPHE offers several pathways to be eligible for the certification exam.

Public Health Nurse Career Guide | NurseJournal (5)

Graduate with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a BSN.

Although associate degree holders may earn RN licensure, most public health employers hire RNs who have completed at least a BSN from an accredited nursing program.

(Video) A Master's in Public Health vs a Nursing Degree | The Difference Between Public Health and Nursing

Public Health Nurse Career Guide | NurseJournal (6)

Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to earn RN licensure.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers this national examination, which verifies nursing knowledge and competencies required for state licensure.

Public Health Nurse Career Guide | NurseJournal (7)

Complete the necessary public health certification prerequisites.

These include either a bachelor's degree in any concentration and a minimum of five years of public health work experience; a relevant graduate degree with at least three years of public health work experience; or a certificate from a school or program of public health accredited by CEPH and three years of public health work experience.

Public Health Nurse Career Guide | NurseJournal (8)

Improve your job prospects by passing the CPH exam.

Although the CPH is a voluntary credential, many employers prefer to hire CPH-certified public health professionals.


How Much Do PHNs Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment for all RNs to grow by 7% through 2029, including those with public health certification. Career and salary prospects for PHN jobs will continue to expand as government agencies direct more attention to preventive care and health education.

PHNs need the skills to work with diverse populations, often in underserved and low-income communities. Bilingual nurses who are fluent in English and Spanish should enjoy expanding employment opportunities.

According to PayScale, PHNs earn a national median salary of $58,230. These nurses can expect to begin their careers drawing a median salary of $50,710, rising to $57,300 by midcareer, and $66,510 for PHNs with over 10 years of experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is public health nursing different from other types of nursing?

Nurses typically work alongside other medical staff in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient facilities, where they care for individual patients. Although PHNs may perform similar clinical services, they usually focus on community healthcare, illness prevention, and wellness promotion. Many work for government or nonprofit agencies, responding to healthcare crises and trends and formulating educational and policy initiatives.

What is the difference between a PHN and a community health nurse?

The scope of PHN practice emphasizes policy reform, education, advocacy, and health promotion to improve overall community health outcomes. While often trained in public health, community health nurses work directly with individuals, groups, and families within specific communities, applying their clinical training to serve patients who may not be able to pay for or access healthcare services.

What skills are important for PHNs?

PHNs complement their training in clinical nursing and public health sciences with organizational and communication skills. They must work well in groups, as both team leaders and members, and become adept at managing scarce resources and prioritizing their efforts to achieve results. These professionals must listen to all community stakeholders, remaining open and sensitive to cultural differences.

What can you do with a graduate degree in public health?

A graduate degree in public health opens doors to an array of rewarding careers in healthcare administration, policy, and education. Graduates with a master of public health (MPH) find positions in fields as diverse as epidemiology and infection control, biostatistics, health informatics, and disaster management. RNs interested in public health may pursue dual MPH and master's in nursing programs.

(Video) Public Health Nursing | New Grad | Tired of Working in a Hospital | Career Change |

Professional Organizations for PHNs

  • Association of Public Health Nurses

    APHN advances the practice of public health nursing. The association advocates for professional standards, provides educational opportunities, and establishes national policy on public health issues. Students enrolled in public health nursing programs may apply for a reduced membership rate.
  • American Public Health Association

    Representing over 25,000 public health professionals and advocates for public health issues and policies, APHA influences federal public health policies and conducts public awareness campaigns. APHA also hosts an annual meeting and expo. Student members are automatically enrolled in the nation's largest student-led public health organization, APHA Student Assembly.
  • Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health

    ASPPH represents public health schools and programs accredited by CEPH. The association recognizes contributions to research and practice by conferring faculty and staff at its member institutions with awards. Current students and graduates may apply for practice-based training opportunities through ASPPH fellowship and internship programs.

Related Pages


What are three steps you will take to build your public health nursing career? ›

Steps to Become a Public Health Nurse
  • Attend an accredited nursing program. ...
  • Study and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. ...
  • Gain experience in nursing. ...
  • Obtain certification as a certified public health nurse. ...
  • Get continuing education and training. ...
  • Community Clinics. ...
  • Government Organizations. ...
  • Outpatient Clinics.

What is the career goal for a public health nurse? ›

People who work in public health hold the common goal of improving the health of individuals and society by promoting healthy lifestyles, preventing injuries and disease, and controlling infectious diseases. They may be concerned with protecting and improving the health of a small community, or the entire planet.

What skills do you need to be a public health nurse? ›

Public health nurses have excellent clinical skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, analytical skills, and can collaborate with different professionals. They also have problem solving skills and an ability to adapt.

Is it hard to be a public health nurse? ›

Public health nursing can be a challenging and rewarding career. You can help yourself excel in it by enrolling in the MSN program at Walden. Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing degree program online.

What are at least six roles of public health nurses? ›

In general, the responsibilities of public health nurses include:
  • Recording and analyzing aggregate medical data.
  • Evaluating the health of patients and creating treatment plans.
  • Monitoring patients for any changes in condition.
  • Delivering top-quality care alongside physicians.
Aug 20, 2020

Is public health nursing stressful? ›

Experiencing burnout is unfortunately not unheard of in the public health industry. Factors like inefficient work environments and great deals of emotional stress can take a toll on Public Health Nurses and lead to burnout.

What is it like to be a public health nurse? ›

PHNs promote and protect community health by combining nursing training with knowledge from the social sciences. These nurses help specific targeted communities stay healthy and safe. Depending on community needs, PHNs perform a variety of duties in administration, education, advocacy, and assessment.

Should I go into public health or nursing? ›

The answer to this question is entirely up to you. If you want a career where you can work directly with individual patients, a career in medicine or nursing might be best for you. If you want to research public health problems and prevent disease, a career in public health may be ideal.

What is an example of a career objective in public health? ›

"A job in the field of public health where I can gain experience." An example of a good objective: "To obtain a health educator position at Public Health Seattle and King County that will allow me to utilize my communication and outreach skills."

What are the three core functions of public health nursing? ›

The core functions of Public Health include Assessment, Policy Development, and Assurance.

What is the difference between a public health nurse and a community health nurse? ›

Public health nurses review historical records, scientific studies and population data to determine how to prevent injuries or illnesses and promote health across populations. In contrast, Community health nurses focus more on the resources that community members have access to that support health and well-being.

What skills do you learn in public health? ›

Public Health Skills That Can Help You Make a Difference
  • 7 Core competencies for public health professionals. ...
  • Data analytics and assessment skills. ...
  • Policy development and program planning skills. ...
  • Communication skills. ...
  • Health equity skills. ...
  • Community partnership skills. ...
  • Management and finance skills.

Is public health a stable career? ›

Is a Public Health Degree Worth It? Yes, a public health degree is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 12% job growth in community and social service occupations over the next 10 years.

Is public health career worth it? ›

One of the top reasons why a bachelor's in public health is worth it is because you can make a measurable difference in the lives of people in your community. This may include your friends and family, or it can even be on a greater scale if you work for a state or nationwide program.

What are the challenges of a public health nurse? ›

Challenges experienced by community health workers
  • Social conditions. This theme comprised social factors influencing patient health status, such as the impact of socio-economic status on individual and community mental health: ...
  • Mental health status of patients. ...
  • Patient adherence. ...
  • Work environment. ...
  • Communication.
Jan 12, 2022

What are the 4 roles of public health? ›

The areas of public health responsibility include (1) assuring an adequate local public health infrastructure, (2) promoting healthy communities and healthy behaviors, (3) preventing the spread of communicable disease, (4) protecting against environmental health hazards, (5) preparing for and responding to emergencies, ...

In which setting does a public health nurse practice? ›

They work in a variety of settings such as health departments, schools, homes, community health centers, clinics, correctional facilities, worksites, out of mobile vans and even dog sleds. The knowledge and skills of Public Health Nurses enable them to make significant contributions to public health.

What is the difference between public health and clinical health? ›

The easiest way to explain public health is that it deals with health from the perspective of populations, not individuals. The clinical health care provider — your doctor, nurse, or dentist — helps you with your own personal healthcare issues.

What is the hardest type of nurse to be? ›

Most Stressful Nursing Positions
  • Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses. ICU is an extremely high-pressure environment and these nurses work with patients who have significant injuries and disease with added morbidity risks. ...
  • Emergency Department nurses. ...
  • Neonatal ICU. ...
  • OR nursing. ...
  • Oncology Nursing. ...
  • Psychiatric Nursing.
Jan 27, 2021

What is the hardest nursing profession? ›

The most stressful nursing jobs include ICU nurse, ER nurse, and NICU nurse. In these roles, nurses work in an intense environment with high stakes.

What are the key challenges that face public health nurses in the 21st century? ›

Although nurses account for the largest human resource in healthcare, the 21st-century nurse struggles with long working hours, workplace violence and hazard, staff shortage, an aging population, educational insufficiencies, and personal health problems.

Are public health majors happy? ›

Overall, public health students rate their satisfaction with their degree a 3.4 out of 5.

Is public health an easy major? ›

Not an Easy Major

Public health is not among the most manageable degrees available because university students must study applied soft and hard sciences. Comprehending subjects like epidemiology and biostatistics might be complex, especially if mathematics and science are not your most substantial areas.

Why public health is a good career? ›

Improve the lives of families

Programs that make medical care affordable or accessible to families in need can improve the lives of both children and adults. Being a part of this solution can be one of the most rewarding parts of your career in public health.

How do you put CPH on a resume? ›

If you have specialized public health credentials such as CPH, your certifications on a resume should go in their own section, below “Education.” Pro Tip: Here's how to put languages on a resume for public health jobs: If they're vital to the role, put them in a special section. If not, list them as skills.

How do I write a resume for public health? ›

How to write a public health resume
  1. Include your contact information. ...
  2. Write a professional summary. ...
  3. Provide your educational information. ...
  4. Include licensure and certifications. ...
  5. List your work history. ...
  6. Highlight your relevant skills. ...
  7. Include your awards, accomplishments and memberships.
Dec 28, 2022

How do I write a CV for public health? ›

Curriculum Vitae
  1. Identifying Information. Name, address, phone number, and email. ...
  2. Education. ...
  3. Dissertation or Thesis. ...
  4. Publications and Presentations. ...
  5. Awards, Honors, Fellowships, Scholarships. ...
  6. Professional Experience. ...
  7. Academic Service. ...
  8. Memberships or Professional Affiliations.

What are the three branches of public health? ›

The key areas of specialization in the field include environmental health, community health, epidemiology, global health, and health policy and management.
  • Environmental Health. ...
  • Community Health. ...
  • Epidemiology. ...
  • Global Health. ...
  • Health Policy. ...
  • Education.

What is the triple aim of public health? ›

In the aggregate, we call those goals the “Triple Aim”: improving the individual experience of care; improving the health of populations; and reducing the per capita costs of care for populations.

Which of the following is true about public health? ›

Public health focuses on the community at higher risk of poor health, such as vulnerable populations, for the well-being of the entire population's health. Therefore, the correct option is C.

What is the best strand for nursing? ›

Students who want to pursue a degree in BS in Nursing are encouraged to take the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) strand under the Academic Track. The strand provides the basics of applied mathematics and sciences that will be useful in their college life.

How is public health nursing different from community health nursing quizlet? ›

promoting and protecting the health of the population using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences. How is public health nursing different from community health nursing? Public health has a larger focus, always focused on the population.

What is the role of a community health nurse as an advocate? ›

Community health advocates often act on behalf of vulnerable people within a community, making sure patients receive adequate care, treatment, and services. They address barriers to care and can provide patients with referrals for safe housing, food support, and mental health services.

What are the 5 core competencies of public health? ›

What are the 5 Core Competencies of Public Health?
  • Biostatistics. ...
  • Environmental Health Sciences. ...
  • Epidemiology. ...
  • Health Policy and Management. ...
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences. ...
  • Evidence-based approaches to public health. ...
  • Public health and health care systems. ...
  • Planning and management to promote health.
Sep 14, 2020

What do you learn in intro to public health? ›

This course explores the nation's health challenges, the epidemiologic basis of population health, the organization and financing of health services in the United States, and current strategies for promoting health and preventing disease in communities.

How you can better prepare for a future career in public health? ›

Here are some ways to do this before your first day in class.
  1. Get an Overview. ...
  2. Get Organized. ...
  3. Create a Study Space. ...
  4. Identify Your Support Network Ahead of Time. ...
  5. Jump Into Real Life Experiences. ...
  6. Sign Up for Prerequisite Courses.

Which field is best in public health? ›

  • Biostatistics.
  • Community Health and Health Promotion.
  • Environmental Health.
  • Epidemiology. MPH in Epidemiology vs. Biostatistics.
  • Generalist Public Health.
  • Global Health.
  • Health Science.
  • Health & Human Services.

What is the highest paying job in public health? ›

Highest Paid Public Health Jobs
  • Doctorate Degree Holders. $80,560.
  • Emergency Management Director. $76,250.
  • Environmental Scientists. $73,230.
  • Epidemiologist. $74,560.
  • Health and Safety Engineer. $94,240.
  • Medical and Health Services Managers. $104,280.
  • Public Health Attorney. $126,930.
  • Social and Community Service Manager.

Can you make a lot of money in public health? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing salaries as high as $129,258 and as low as $21,543, the majority of salaries within the Public Health jobs category currently range between $46,023 (25th percentile) to $83,234 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $109,673 annually in California.

Are public health jobs stressful? ›

Working as a public health professional is rewarding but some jobs can be stressful. Stressful jobs in the public health sector deal with critical, life-threatening situations, move quickly, require specialized knowledge and training, or address incredibly demanding clientele.

Is Masters in public health worth it? ›

A master's in Public Health is an excellent pathway to many occupations that suit different personalities, from research to community education. Candidates should consider their favorite aspects of healthcare and ensure they fit within the MPH career path.

What does public health do? ›

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases.

What is the three step approach public health? ›

Justifying the decision-making process. Providing a clear rationale to the advocacy claims. Facilitating the weighing of options or set of actions. Ensuring the data represents the prevalence and causes of disease.

What are the 3 things of public health? ›

The areas of public health responsibility include (1) assuring an adequate local public health infrastructure, (2) promoting healthy communities and healthy behaviors, (3) preventing the spread of communicable disease, (4) protecting against environmental health hazards, (5) preparing for and responding to emergencies, ...

What is step 3 of nursing process? ›

The nursing process functions as a systematic guide to client-centered care with 5 sequential steps. These are assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

What are examples of the 3 levels of prevention in public health? ›

  • Primary Prevention—intervening before health effects occur, through.
  • Secondary Prevention—screening to identify diseases in the earliest.
  • Tertiary Prevention—managing disease post diagnosis to slow or stop.

What are the 7 A's of public health? ›

This article outlines how using the Seven A's (awareness, accessibility, affordability, appropriateness, adequacy, acceptability, and availability) can help nurses and agencies effectively determine the fit between older adults and community support agencies.

What are the 5 major areas of public health? ›

Specialty's Focus: Lays the foundation in the five core disciplines of public health – Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Health Policy and Management, and Social & Behavioral Health.

What are the 4 public health values? ›

Today, these values form the foundation of the new APHA.
  • Community. We are a "home" for people who share a commitment to population health. ...
  • Science and evidence-based decisionmaking. ...
  • Health equity. ...
  • Prevention and wellness. ...
  • Real progress in improving health.

What are the two most important functions of public healthcare? ›

The goals of public health, according to experts, are to: Prevent disease outbreaks and minimize the spread. Protect against environmental hazards and threats.

What are public health interventions? ›

Public health interventions, defined

Interventions are actions that public health nurses take on behalf of individuals/families, communities, and systems, to improve or protect health status (Minnesota Department of Health, 2001, p. 1).

What is the most important core function in community health nursing? ›

The primary role of community health nurses is to provide treatment to patients.

What are the 5 nursing interventions? ›

  • The common thread uniting different types of nurses who work in varied areas is the nursing process—the essential core of practice for the registered nurse to deliver holistic, patient-focused care. Assessment. ...
  • Diagnosis. ...
  • Outcomes / Planning. ...
  • Implementation. ...
  • Evaluation.

What are the 3 levels of nursing? ›

What Are the Levels of Nursing?
  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA) Position description: Although a CNA is not an actual nurse, they're the main line of communication between the patients and the nurses. ...
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN) ...
  • Registered nurse (RN)
May 19, 2022

What does adpie stand for in nursing? ›

ADPIE is an acronym used to remember the five consecutive steps of the nursing process, which include assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Ensuring all five stages of the nursing process are completed is essential in securing systematic, individualized patient care.


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