How to Become a Public Health Nurse in 6 Steps

Public health nursing is a profound, far-stretching field — quite literally. Unlike the traditional nurse, public health nurses don’t solely care for individual patients; they care for entire communities and populations. If you are looking for a career that is devoted to helping others at a large scale, a career that is bound to make an impact in other people’s lives, then becoming a public health nurse is unquestionably the right path for you.

Public health nurses are licensed registered nurses that work within specific communities, teaching people how to stay healthy. While much of their work involves treating patients in need, public health nurses maintain a big focus on health prevention. They evaluate a community’s environment for any health and safety concerns (such as STDs, virus outbreaks, drug epidemics, pollution, even natural disasters), and also identify or bring in local health care resources. Public health nurses also create intervention and health maintenance plans, in efforts to ensure safety and wellness in the community.

Public health nurses are the promoters and the protectors of the communities in which they work.

Public health nursing is a multifaceted field, meaning it takes a special kind of person to become a public health nurse. You must be comfortable working with people of all backgrounds and demographics, have a compassionate nature, as well as strong communication skills. You should also have good analytical and problem-solving skills, as you will need to think and act quickly on your feet in this role. Knowledge in science and teaching skills are also a plus, as you will constantly be educating others, at large, about proper health care. Oh, and you will also need a college education.

If you’re interested in learning how to become a public health nurse in Connecticut, Goodwin College has detailed the specific, educational steps below:

  1. Enroll in a registered nursing program.

To become a public health nurse today, you must first become a registered nurse (RN). You can start this path by entering an accredited nursing school and earning your Associate or Bachelor’s degree. At Goodwin, you can earn your associate degree in Nursing in just 20 months part-time after completing the necessary pre-requisite courses. This will make you eligible to take your state’s licensing exam and become a registered nurse.

  1. Pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX).

This mandatory exam will qualify you to become and practice as an official RN. Once completed, you can choose to enter the workforce at an entry-level nursing position, or continue your education to earn additional credentials in the public health nursing field.

  1. Earn your Bachelor’s in Nursing.

While an associate degree in nursing may qualify you for some community nursing positions, most public health employers will require an advanced nursing degree. A BSN degree is the norm for public health nurses. This level of education will give you a greater background knowledge in healthcare advocacy, public and community health nursing, ethics in public health, and more public health courses. If you choose to earn your Bachelor’s degree at Goodwin, rest assured we offer a flexible RN-to-BSN program that can be completed entirely online. Here, you can earn your Bachelor’s degree while still working and gaining experience in the nursing field.

  1. Advance your education with a Master’s degree.

If you truly want to climb the career later in public health nursing and earn a supervisory, leadership, or research role, you will need a graduate-level education. For example, do you wish to study disease outbreaks or research health trends in certain populations? Do you desire to be a leader at a community or state health department, or invent and implement new programs for public health? If so, you might consider becoming an advanced practical nurse and earning your MSN degree, which is also available online at Goodwin College. Getting your MSN degree will also qualify you for an advanced public health nursing credential.

  1. Start working in the public health nursing field.

After completing your MSN degree (or even while you are studying!), we encourage you to get out there and start making a difference. Look for job opportunities in community settings or in public health-related roles. Contact local organizations or community groups to see if any volunteer work is available. As you put in more hours, you will become eligible for a public health nursing credential.

  1. Earn your public health nursing certification.

Although public health nursing certification is not required for every role, it can position you for great success. That is why the American Nurses Credentialing Center offers an Advanced Public Health Nurse-Board Certified (APHN-BC) credential. Unlike your RN license, examination for this credential is not required. Instead, you’ll submit a portfolio. To become eligible, you must:

  • Hold an active RN license
  • Have practiced as an RN full-time, for at least two years
  • Have at least 2,000 hours of experience in public health nursing within the past three years
  • Hold a Master’s degree in Nursing OR a graduate degree in public health, along with a BSN
  • Have completed at least 30 hours of advanced courses related to public health nursing
  • Fulfill two additional professional development categories: Academic credits, Presentations, Publication or Research, Preceptor, or Professional Service

Becoming a public health nurse takes compassion and hard work, education and experience, a comprehensive knowledge of nursing and public health, as well as a passion to better the lives of others. All that said, it is completely worth it. Public health nurses have one of the most in-demand, rewarding and fulfilling careers today.

Start your path towards a public health nursing career with Goodwin College. Call 800-889-3282 to learn more about our nursing and public health programs, or visit to request more information.