How to Become a Public Health Nurse: Job Outlook, Salary, Requirements

Medical Staff Seated In Circle At Case MeetingA public health nurse cares for entire populations, unlike most nurses who provide care for one patient at a time. The public health nurse, sometimes called a community health nurse, work with whole communities to improve community health and safety, provide education about health issues and to increase overall access to care.

Public health nurses recognize the many factors that affect patient health, including an individual’s genetic makeup, lifestyle and environment. Rather than wait for ill patients to come to the hospital, public health nurses work usually work in the community to help people improve health and prevent disease. Public health nurses sometimes provide direct nursing care services, including preventative care, screening and health education, to individuals in the community.

The primary focus of a public health nurse is health education, where the nurse gives people reliable information about healthy living and disease prevention. The public health nurse may travel locally or significant distances to meet with community groups or provide health care service to underserved areas of a community.

Table of Contents
How to Become a Public Health Nurse
Education Requirements
Public Health Nurse Job Description
Personality Traits
Career Options
Public Health Nurse Certification
Professional Organizations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information specific to the field of public health nursing but the website does offer an overview of registered nurses who may work in this capacity.

Nurse Salary and Employment Data

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Source: BLS Wage Data by Area and Occupation. * or ** indicate insignificant or unavailable data.

Level of Education Required Associate degree or Bachelor Degree in Nursing
Board Examinations needed NCLEX-RN, RN-BC
Average Salary $62,000
# of Jobs (2012) 2,712,000
Job Outlook (2012 to 2022) 19% growth

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Salary information courtesy of

How to become a public health nurse

To work as a public health nurse, an individual:

  • Must have graduated from an accredited school of nursing with an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Must have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • May pursue additional education

Education requirements

To become a public health nurse, one must get an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Registered nurses interested in working as public health nurses may take advanced courses in social and behavioral sciences, epidemiology, biostatistics and environmental health.

Wilkes RN to MS


Job description

Public health nurses perform a variety of duties within a community. These nurses perform school immunizations, provide prenatal and well-baby care and teach senior citizens how to live independently at home safely. Public health nurses tell people about locally-available healthcare programs and services that improve public access to care.

Public health nurses monitor health records to help them identify health risk factors in a community. They can also recognize and respond to potential health crises occurring within those communities. Public health nurses design and implement health education activities and disease prevention campaigns, including immunization programs and public health screenings.

Nurses working as public health nurses serve as advocates to help underserved communities access health services. Public health nurses help community leaders set local priorities for health-related interventions to ensure local healthcare initiatives provide the greatest benefits to the most people. Nurses working in this role educate and provide direct health care services to vulnerable populations those at highest risk in the community.

Personality traits:

  • Dedication
  • Able to work well with large groups
  • Listens attentively
  • Sensitive to cultural differences
  • Able to manage resources creatively
  • Self-directing

The public health nurse reports to a department head in hospitals and clinics, or to administrators or public officials in the community.

Career options

Typical workplaces for public health nurses includes:

  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofit groups
  • Community health centers
  • County or state departments of health
  • Public health departments
  • Correctional facilities
  • Occupational health facilities
  • Businesses
  • Community clinics
  • Schools
  • Outpatient clinics

There is increasing demand for all areas of nursing including public health nursing. There may be increased demand for public health nurses in medically underserved and low-income communities. A growing number of government agencies recognized the benefits of preventative and health education services that public health nurses provide as a way to lower costs and improve overall health in the community.

Because public health nurses work with a diverse population, there is a tremendous need for public health nurses proficient in English and Spanish.

The average salary for a public health nurse is lower than for registered nurses working in other specialties, depending on job location and requirements.

Certification information

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers certification through portfolio review instead of an exam. Applicants submit a portfolio of work that is peer-reviewing by a team of nurses.

Nurses currently holding certification may continue to use the credentials and renew them every five years.

Professional organizations

Association of Community Nurse Educators: