Public health nursing is one of the more multi-faceted, and fulfilling positions a nurse can pursue in their career. In addition to helping communities identify and understand certain diseases which may pose a threat, public health nursing provides opportunities for prevention, assurance and a sense of care to many areas often overlooked, as far as available medical care.
In 1893, social worker, and public health advocate, Lillian Wald, became an outspoken advocate for those in the impoverished, immigrant areas of New York. After establishing the Henry Street Settlement, essentially the first public health center in the country, Wald answered the cry of the poor for social, economic, and medical consideration. Public health nursing was born.
The Need for Public Health Nursing Continues to Grow
In the 125 years since the inception of public health nursing, the need, as well as the nurses’ range of duties, has grown. From rural outposts, to deep inner-city communities, and every area of the country in between, public health nursing is making a difference in the lives of those who would otherwise have limited access to available healthcare. Public health nursing addresses the individual concerns of the members of a community, as well as addressing, and helping to prevent, such health issues as:
- Improper nutrition
- Community violence
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Infectious disease
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Teen pregnancy
Public Health Nursing as First Line of Defense
Educating the community in which a public health nurse works is perhaps one of the principle duties of the job. The concern for public health awareness is something that can’t be ignored. Those involved in public health nursing must take on the role of advocate in an even bigger way, beyond those in hospital nursing roles, or other patient care facilities. As a public health nurse you have first-hand knowledge of certain risk factors, as well as trends which pose a threat to the health of the community.
Other duties performed by public health nurses include:
- Prioritizing the healthcare needs of the community in order to serve the most people.
- Improve the access to health care and education for those least served areas of the community by advocating to local, state, and federal government authorities.
- Provide education to the residents of the community in order for them to take advantage of those health care services which public health nursing provides.
- Learn who is most at-risk, or vulnerable, within the community and intervene to provide direct health care services and education.
- Get the word out! Promote educational campaigns, health fairs, immunizations, and screenings. Organize a “women’s health day” offering mammograms, and education on pregnancy prevention, or address the needs of seniors in your community, for example.
The Community You Serve Depends on You
The individuals within the community you serve in public health nursing depend on you. You’ll present to school children, senior centers, community gatherings, and many other groups within your service area. You help educate mothers on well-baby care, putting their minds at ease, and assist those caregivers who are tending to a loved one. As a public health nurse, you will wear many hats, but your sense of fulfillment in what you’re providing will be huge.
In public health nursing, the primary goal is to educate and inform. Ensure the information that’s applicable to the individuals you serve is easily available, and understood, across cultures and language barriers. Knowledge is indeed a powerful tool when it comes to disease and prevention. Your community depends on you to help them understand and implement self-care, so that they may take control of their own health.
Public Health Nursing is Here to Stay
So, it’s safe to say, public health nursing is going to be around for awhile. The knowledge, skill, and comfort a public health nurse brings to the community in which they serve is invaluable. Helping to educate the residents of these, otherwise, public health “deserts” regarding the spread of certain , controllable, disease, and promote prevention makes for a much healthier community, which is the ultimate mission of public health nursing.