What is Public Health Nursing?

What is Public Health Nursing and Why Is It Important?

Fully licensed and practicing registered nurses (RNs) work in various settings and positions, including hospitals, physician’s offices, residential care facilities, government facilities, and public health offices and organizations.

While most people think of nurses working only with individual patients, tending to hospital beds, this career field offers a great diversity of roles, including those in public health. Public health nurses promote better health outcomes and facilitate care for individuals, communities, and populations in need.

Plus, with a median annual salary of $81,220 and the highest ten percent of registered nurses (RNs) earning more than $129,400, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a career as a public health nurse is both personally and financially rewarding.

This article will explain what public health nursing is, why it’s important, what a career looks like, and how candidates can pursue a public health nursing role.

What is public health nursing?

Public health nursing operates on the principle that everyone deserves access to health services. Not only do public health workers treat individuals and communities with illnesses, but they also work to prevent them from becoming ill in the first place.

Public health nurses are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who work within larger and specific communities. Rather than treating individual patients, they care for an entire population and work to protect its greater health by addressing issues like:

  • Disaster preparedness and response: Coordinating efforts to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and public health emergencies.
  • Environmental health: Advocating for clean air, water, and safe living conditions.
  • Health education: Empowering individuals and families with knowledge about healthy habits, nutrition, and disease prevention.
  • Immunization: Ensuring community-wide protection against vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Mental health and substance abuse prevention: Providing resources and support for vulnerable populations.
  • Screening and testing: Identifying health risks early on allows for timely intervention and treatment.

Why is public health nursing important?

The public health field cares for populations at a macro level and saves lives through public health initiatives and breakthroughs. As such, public health professionals, including public health nurses, are responsible for providing and implementing campaigns that address widespread health concerns. For example, public health nurses may work to improve:

  • Clean air and water standards
  • Family planning, including reduced infant mortality rates and increased life expectancy
  • Treatment for mental illness and substance abuse
  • Road safety laws
  • Stopping gun violence
  • Vaccinations

As you can see, public health nurses and other professionals in the field are dedicated to facilitating change where needed to create a healthier and more stable place for individuals and communities to live, work, and play.

Furthermore, through the core functions and actions of public health (assessment, policy development, and assurance), we can live longer and restore, improve, promote, and protect the health of people and our planet.


Are you interested in making a meaningful career change? Learn more about our Nursing and Public Health programs at Goodwin!


What does a career as a public health nurse look like?

Public health nurses do not wait for patients to come to them with an illness. Instead, they go into communities to prevent disease or help improve the population’s health.

Regularly, public health nurses can be found working in:

  • Community health centers: Providing primary care services, health education, and screenings.
  • Government agencies: Developing and implementing public health policies and programs.
  • Homes: Conducting home visits to assess individual and family health needs.
  • Non-profit organizations: Partnering with communities to address specific health needs.
  • Schools: Delivering health education programs and immunizations to students on health-related topics, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), virus outbreaks, drug epidemics, pollution, and even natural disasters.

Additionally, public health nurses’ tasks can vary significantly, from administering vaccinations to teaching CPR to leading community workshops on healthy living as they work to make a difference in the lives of others.

Public health nurses must also be comfortable working with people of all backgrounds and demographics, have a compassionate nature, and have strong communication skills.

Start your public health nursing career at Goodwin University

If you are passionate about health prevention and positively impacting the health of your community, pursuing a career as a public health nurse is a great choice.

Step 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 in Nursing.

At Goodwin, you can earn your associate degree in Nursing in just 20 months part-time after completing the necessary prerequisite courses. Additionally, enrolling in an accredited nursing program will make sure candidates are prepared and eligible to take their state’s licensing exam and become registered nurses (RNs).

Step 2 – 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.

Step 3 – Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Most public health employers will require an advanced nursing degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Keep in mind that many schools, including Goodwin University, offer flexible Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs (RN-to-BSN) for already practicing, registered nurses who want to work and advance their careers at the same time.

However, a bachelor’s in Nursing is not the only option. RNs may also pursue a bachelor’s in Public Health for coursework geared towards topics like epidemiology, public health ethics, global health, community health, research, and more.

Step 4 – Earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Candidates who want to pursue supervisory, leadership, and research positions as a public health nurse will need a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Goodwin University offers this degree online, with a specialized focus on population health and leadership.

Alternatively, for those looking to become public health leaders or policymakers, a Master’s in Public Health is another great option for expanding your career horizons. An MPH degree moves away from hands-on healthcare and instead thinks about tackling health issues at a macro level.

Step 5 – Make a difference

Now that you’ve earned your bachelor’s or master’s degree, it’s time to start working. 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 also become eligible for a public health nursing credential.

Step 6 – Obtain your public health nursing certification

A public health nursing certification, such as an Advanced Public Health Nurse-Board Certified (APHN-BS), is not required for every public health nursing role. However, it can help candidates set themselves apart from others and impress their current or future employers.

Are you ready to start your journey toward one of the most in-demand, rewarding, and fulfilling careers as a public health nurse?

Build upon your passion for bettering the lives of others with Goodwin University’s customized curriculum in our Nursing and Public Health courses and degree programs. We’re ready when you are!