How to Become a Public Health Nurse

    April 24, 2020
    Mint green stethoscope over a notepad

    Amidst an ongoing pandemic, COVID-19, public health nursing is one of the hottest rising fields in healthcare. Public health nurses have the opportunity to make a global impact by responding to public health crises.

    In this guide, you’ll find out what a public health nurse does, how much they make, how to become one, and more.

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    Part One What is a Public Health Nurse?

    A public health nurse works to promote and protect the community and their health through disease prevention, health education, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals.

    Public health nurses do not focus on acute health care but rather long term health and safety and ways to prevent illness and improve a community’s access to care. Public health nurses can work directly with patients to conduct health screening activities or work in a community health clinic.

    Public health nurses generally serve the underprivileged and disproportionate populations in the United States and around the world.

    Part Two What do Public Health Nurses do?

    Public Health Nurses are involved in the prevention, education, advocacy, activism, assessment, and evaluation of Public Health. They are involved in the prevention of disease while promoting the public’s safety and well-being. They educate the public about health issues and provide support to other medical professionals.

    Other duties of a public health nurse include:

    • Assessing health trends to identify health risk factors specific to communities
    • Assigning priorities for health-related interventions in order to provide the greatest benefit
    • Advocacy with local, state and federal authorities in improving the access to health services in underserved communities
    • Design and implement health education campaigns and activities for disease prevention
    • Provide information on local health programs and services that are available to improve access to care
    • Providing direct health care services to at-risk populations
    • Tell people about locally available health care programs and services to improve access to care
    • Educate and provide direct health care services to vulnerable and at-risk populations
    • Collaborate with healthcare professionals

    Public health nurses must be good communicators as educating the public and other health care professionals is a major part of the profession. Public health nurses have the ability to work in a variety of areas including:

    • Community health clinics
    • Research
    • Outpatient clinics
    • Government organizations
    • International health agencies
    • Nonprofit health and community service organizations
    • Veteran’s Affairs Offices
    • Home health agencies
    • U.S. Military
    • Hospitals
    • Academia

    Nurses in this field have the flexibility to work a variety of hours based on the needs to the population. Most do not have set hours and it could vary from week to week. Public health nurses will be required to work more hours during public health crisis and immediately following.

    The 8 Principles of Public Health Nursing

    The Quad Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations developed the following eight tenets of public health nursing to advance the public health nursing goal of promoting and protecting the health of the population.

    1. Population-based assessment, policy development, and assurance processes are systematic and comprehensive. 
    2. All processes must include partnering with representatives of the people.
    3. Primary prevention is given priority. 
    4. Intervention strategies are selected to create healthy environmental, social, and economic conditions in which people can thrive.
    5. Public health nursing practice includes an obligation to actively reach out to all who might benefit from an intervention or service. 
    6. The dominant concern and obligation is for the greater good of all of the people or the population as a whole.
    7. Stewardship and allocation of available resources support the maximum population health benefit gain.
    8. The health of the people is most effectively promoted and protected through collaboration with members of other professions and organizations.

    Part Three Public Health Nurse Salary

    According to, the average salary for public health nurses as of April 2020 is $67,290 per year in the United States and roughly $11,250 in overtime. The average hourly salary is $28.88/hr. lists the average salary for public nurses in the United States as $59,180 and an hourly rate of $28.57/hr.

    Highest Paying States for Public Health Nurses

    Currently, the highest paid states for public health nurses that have reported salaries, according to are as follows:

    • New York - $49.51
    • Washington, D.C. - $46.50
    • Georgia - $44.90
    • California - $41.71
    • Minnesota - $31.50
    • Maryland - $21.07

    Hourly vs Salary Pay

    Most health care systems pay nurses on an hourly scale, while others have a fixed annual salary, such as nurses in an office setting. Those paid on an hourly scale are able to earn overtime pay, whereas salaried employees would need to discuss that with the hiring committee. 

    How to Make More Money as a Public Health Nurse

    Nurses working in an office setting are more likely to be paid a salary wage and have fixed hours. Those working in a private office setting tend to earn the highest pay in this field. 

    As with all jobs in the nursing field, earning potential increases with additional education and experience. Nurses typically are awarded a raise during annual employee performance reviews. Certifications can give nurses an additional bump in their paycheck. 

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    Part Four How Do You Become A Public Health Nurse?

    To become a public health nurse you must first become a registered nurse (RN).

    Step 1: Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

    Graduate with either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program

    Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

    Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination

    Step 3: Gain Experience

    Gain at least 2 years of nursing experience and obtain a position that specializes in public health nursing

    Step 4: Obtain certification as a certified public health nurse

    There is currently one certification for individuals in the public health nursing field, Certified Public Health.

    This certification is the only one for nurses interested in becoming certified in public health. This certification is NOT only for nurses. To be eligible individuals must meet the specific criteria:

    • At least a bachelor’s degree, in any concentration, and at least five subsequent years’ public health work experience OR
    • A relevant graduate-level degree, and at least three subsequent years’ public health work experience OR
    • A certificate from a school or program of public health that is accredited by or in applicant status with CEPH, and at least three subsequent years’ public health work experience

    Other important information related to the certification include:

    • Fee - $385  
    • Retake Fee - $150
    • Offered year-round
    • Computer-based testing
    • Active duty members of the US Armed Services may be able to use the benefits of the Military Tuition Assistance Program to pay for the CPH examination fee.
    • 200 Questions
    • 4 Hours to complete the exam
    • All questions on the exam are multiple-choice and single-best answer.
    • Some questions are: matching items; part of a series of questions related to a common vignette; and have associated pictorials or charts

    Recertification includes:

    • At least 50 recertification hours every two years
    • $95 fee

    The Advanced Public Health Nursing Certification is no longer available for new certification but is open for renewal for individuals that already have been certified. Renewal information includes:

    • 75 hours of continuing education hours
    • Five semester credits or 6 quarter credits of academic courses in your certification specialty
    • One or more presentations totaling five clock hours in your certification specialty
    • $350 renewal fee

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    Part Five What is the Career Outlook for a Public Health Nurse?

    Currently, there is no exact career outlook data for public health nurses. According to the BLS, in 2019 there were 3,059,800 Registered Nurses in the United States. By 2028, there will be a need for an additional 371,500 nurses, which is a projected growth of 12%. With the aging population, this number is expected to be even higher.

    There is an increasing need for nurses throughout the United States and this number will only continue to rise.

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    Part Six What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Public Health Nurse?

    Public Health nurses have the same continuing education requirements as other RNs. This will vary on a state by state basis. There are no specific CEU requirements for public health nurses unless they have obtained advanced certification.

    Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

    A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here.

    Part Seven Where Can I Learn More about Public Health Nursing?

    To find out more information about Public Health nursing check out theses websites:

    Public health nursing is a dynamic and ever-changing field. These nurses have the power to make real change when educating the public and helping solve potential crises. They are at the forefront of different pandemics across the globe and now more than ever they are of the utmost importance to the nursing profession. 

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    • What Is a Public Health Nurse?

      • The American Public Health Association defines public health nursing as, "the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences." A public health nurse works to promote and protect the community and their health through disease prevention, health education, and collaboration with other healthcare professionals.  
    • What Does a Public Health Nurse Do?

      • Public health nurses respond directly to public health crises ranging from outbreaks of different diseases to natural disasters. 
    • What Is the Difference Between a Public Health Nurse and a Registered Nurse?

      • A Public health nurse is a registered nurse. Public health nurses are specialized in public health crises. These nurses receive specialized training to work in this field.
    • Is Being a Public Health Nurse a Good Career?

      • Public health nursing is a HOT career choice right now. Amid an ongoing pandemic, public health nurses are being called upon to educate the public, come up with potential treatment options, and work with other healthcare workers to reduce the transmission of the virus.

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