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What Is Public Health Nursing? Responsibilities and Importance

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Mar 26, 2024
Nurse Meeting With a Public Health Professional in a Medical Facility.

What Is Public Health Nursing? Responsibilities and Importance

Public health nursing is an area of public health that involves nursing professionals reviewing public health data. They can then use the relevant information to make assessments and recommendations to improve health care delivery and initiatives. Nurses in the public health field can improve health on a high level, educating and providing care for communities.

This field is predicted to experience growth in the coming years, making it not only a fulfilling profession but also a sensible one. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of nursing, including public health nurses, is expected to grow by about 6% through 2032.

Considering pursuing a career in nursing? Most public health nurse roles require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Those who want to work in this dynamic field should understand what public health nursing is, as well as the roles and responsibilities of a public health nurse and potential work settings for this role.

What Is Public Health Nursing?

Public health nurses are responsible for improving the health outcomes of populations and communities. They often do so using data from municipal, state, and federal sources paired with insights from public health, social, and nursing sciences. Public health nursing can be a great field for students who enjoy working with large groups of people and want to make an impact at a higher level. Public health nurses can also work to promote the health of specific populations, raise awareness about health issues, educate the public on healthy lifestyles and best practices, and help prevent disease and injury.

What Are the Responsibilities of a Public Health Nurse?

While the role of a public health nurse will vary depending on their work environment, some common responsibilities are as follows:

  • Evaluating health trends in populations and identifying potential health risk factors

  • Determining health priorities and potential interventions for a community

  • Helping develop public health policies

  • Assessing community health needs and gathering data

  • Implementing disease prevention strategies

  • Overseeing public health emergencies and guiding patients during emergencies

  • Creating targeted health promotion initiatives and raising disease prevention awareness

  • Assessing and evaluating health services and identifying areas for improvement

  • Analyzing trends in public health

Although a public health nurse’s role differs from that of a nurse who works in a health care setting, the roles require many of the same skills. For example, public health nurses exhibit good communication and analytical skills as well as strong problem-solving abilities. 

Potential Work Environments

A large part of what public health nursing is involves treating communities at large. As such, many potential work environments for public health nurses can be in nontraditional health care settings. A career in public health nursing may be worth considering for students who do not want to work in a traditional health care setting or who want to become nursing leaders.

Public health nurses can work in many settings, including government public health offices, volunteer organizations, school settings, clinics, correctional facilities, or community agencies. In these settings, public health nurses are responsible for analyzing data, researching, and creating initiatives or educational materials regarding public health.

Because of the field’s wide breadth, public health nursing may also involve working with various populations, with a focus on specific areas. For example, public health nurses working in schools may focus on the health and wellness of students within a given age range. On the other hand, public health nurses working in outpatient clinics may focus on an area of health, such as nutrition, exercise, or chronic disease prevention.

Importance of Public Health Nursing

The goal of public health nursing is to help prevent disease, mitigate health risks in specific populations, and improve community health. As such, public health nurses can significantly impact the communities they serve, helping promote overall health and wellness. They may also advocate for underserved communities, removing barriers to care and working toward health equity and access.

In times of public health crises, such as pandemics, public health nurses also play vital roles in communities. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health nurses worked to educate their communities on disease transmission and hygiene practices and helped provide necessary resources for treatment and vaccination. Public health nurses will also play a critical role in future public crises that may arise.

Discover Your RN to BSN Program

Looking to take the next step in advancing your career? With The University of Tulsa’s online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN), RNs can take the first step toward becoming public health nurses. With a fast-track path to earning a BSN, our RN to BSN program makes it easy to pursue your educational goals while continuing to gain work experience in the nursing field.

Designed to build upon your existing knowledge, this program helps provide the experience and knowledge you need to transition into leadership roles. Learn more about our RN to BSN program and start your path to career advancement today.


American Public Health Association, About Public Health Nursing

Association of Public Health Nurses, What Is a PHN?

Indeed, Public Health Nursing vs. Community Health Nursing

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Definition of Public Health Nursing

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

Recommended Readings

Non-Bedside Nursing Jobs You Can Get With a BSN

Day Shift vs. Night Shift Nursing: Pros and Cons

International Travel Nursing: How to Work Abroad as a Nurse

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