What are the role of community health nursing

Deborah C. Escalante

What exactly does a community health nurse do? Simply put, they aim to improve the health of community members. They do this in many ways, including through:

  • Medical treatment
  • Rehabilitation
  • Health education
  • Advocacy
  • Research
  • Collaboration with other healthcare workers and with government agencies 

Community health nurses work in schools, churches, and government agencies. They focus on vulnerable populations, including low-income families, people living in rural areas, immigrants, and individuals with disabilities. 

The relationship between community health nurses and their patients is egalitarian, meaning they share the responsibility of the patient’s health outcome. 

The responsibilities of these nurses differ in each career path, but all community health nurses promote healthy living, disease prevention, and necessary medical treatment. Additionally, community health nurses create programs that promote community health and collect data to identify community needs. Careers can be pursued in public health, faith community nursing, and school nursing. 

Public Health    

Public health nurses work specifically in disease prevention and health promotion. One role includes operating immunization clinics. These clinics are most commonly held for influenza, but these days they also focus on administering the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Public health nurses also prepare to respond quickly during public health crises — such as natural disasters, epidemics or pandemics, and the impacts of climate change.

Another role of public health nurses is spearheading efforts toward healthy living. For example, they often lead discussion groups, educating people on the dangers of lifestyle choices such as smoking or too much sun exposure. The goal is to change habits that can have a great impact on an individual’s health — so much so that these choices are considered public health crises. 

Public health nurses also work on overall specific and common health concerns within their communities. For example, they often help families improve their nutrition. 

Faith Community Nursing 

Faith community nurses, often known as parish nurses, provide health education for a specific church parish. They also counsel their faith communities on health issues, and perform medical evaluations for congregation members like administering blood pressure screenings in their place of worship or at a hospital. 

Faith community nurses focus on the combined medical and spiritual outcomes of their patients. They offer spiritual care by leading religious studies or praying with patients. 

While faith community nurses often work in their own place of worship, they also visit or work in hospitals and visit patients’ homes to provide spiritual as well as physical care. 

Faith community nurses also refer their patients to other community services as needed. These may include clinics, specialists, or health education seminars.

School Nursing

School nurses work at school sites, focusing on student health. They are responsible for administering immunizations, as well as medication to students with chronic health problems. 

Working with both physicians and parents, school nurses monitor students who have health issues. They also care for students who may develop a health issue, like an illness or injury, during the school day. Significantly, school nurses are often the only healthcare provider that some low-income students see.

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While their main patients are students, school nurses also work with teachers and other staff. They give medical advice when needed and educate them on student illnesses, as well as how to deal with health emergencies in the classroom or how to assist with ongoing health monitoring for students who need it. 

In the past, caregivers journeyed on horseback to the homes of their neighbors to provide medical services. These caregivers were crucial to reducing the mortality rates in their communities. After the civil war, hospitals were built. This began the implementation of organized healthcare. Today, nurses practice in a variety of settings and community health is again re-emerging as an integral part of providing care to everyone.

What Is Community Health Nursing?

Community health nursing is a discipline that incorporates evidenced-based research along with advances in science and new approaches for improving the health The practice takes into consideration the cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds of the people in the community to ensure appropriate interaction and sensitivity when working with them.

A community is a group of people in a specific location, which includes places where people live, work and go to school. Most people belong to multiple types of communities. Community health nursing is commonly practiced in geographic locations like cities and rural areas.

What Is the Goal of Community Health Nursing?

The goal of community health nursing is to promote, protect and preserve the health of the public. Community health nursing involves these basic concepts:

  • Promote healthy lifestyle
  • Prevent disease and health problems
  • Provide direct care
  • Educate community about managing chronic conditions and making healthy choices
  • Evaluate a community’s delivery of patient care and wellness projects
  • Institute health and wellness programs
  • Conduct research to improve healthcare

What Is the Role of a Community Health Nurse?

The primary role of community health nurses is to provide treatment to patients. Additionally, community health nurses offer education to community members about maintaining their health so that they can decrease the occurrence of diseases and deaths. They plan educational assemblies, hand -out fliers, conduct health screenings, dispense medications and administer immunizations.

Nurses also may distribute health-related items like condoms and pregnancy tests. Examples of some health issues that community health nurses try to control or eliminate are:

  • Infectious and sexually transmitted diseases
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Substance abuse
  • Smoking
  • Teen pregnancy

Where Do Community Health Nurses Work?

Community health nurses work in hospitals, community centers, clinics, schools and government health agencies. Community health nurses are important to regions where healthcare is not easily accessible, so they can travel to remote places and isolated areas of a city.

How Do You Become a Community Health Nurse?

To become a community health nurse you must first work as a registered nurse. If you only have an associate degree you might want to consider completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. Many schools like Northeastern State University (NSU) offer RN to BSN programs.

NSU has an online RN to BSN program that includes the course Community Health Nursing. This course examines the theory and research used in nursing and the public health practice, which promotes and preserves the health of communities. Students are given the opportunity to apply their current knowledge and what they learn in the course. They are paired with a community and other healthcare professionals to experience community health nursing.

Nursing care should be available to every American. Throughout the country, there are entire communities of people prone to chronic illnesses, infectious diseases and economic hardships. Community health nurses have the ability to improve the welfare of individuals and their communities. They are at the forefront of bringing quality patient care to the most vulnerable and underserved members of society.

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Learn more about Northeastern State University’s online RN to BSN program.


EveryNurse.org: Becoming a Community Health Nurse

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Benefits of Community Health

Government of the Northwest Territories: Community Health Nurses

ScienceDirect: What Is “Community Health”? Examining the Meaning of an Evolving Field in Public Health

Houston Chronicle: What Are the Primary Roles of the Community Nurse?

National Women’s History Museum: The Evolution of Nursing

public health nurse

Public health nurses play a critical role in improving population health outcomes by educating communities and delivering care within them. In this leadership position, registered nurses are able to make positive changes through policy reform and community-building. 1

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. public health nurses have served on the frontlines, not only treating patients but also educating them about the disease, tracing their contacts, and delivering self-isolation guidance. 2 This post discusses the role of a public health nurse and the steps you need to take to enter this profession.

What Is a Public Health Nurse? 3

public health nurse definition

A public health nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who advocates for positive changes in population health. This exciting career gives nurses the opportunity to work directly within communities to educate people and give them the tools they need to improve their health outcomes.

What Does a Public Health Nurse Do?

The role of a public health nurse is to promote public wellness. In this capacity, nurses focus on helping underserved and at-risk individuals gain access to the care they need. The main goal of public health nurses is to help prevent disease and reduce health risks at the population level through evidenced-based care and education.

In general, the responsibilities of public health nurses include:

  • Recording and analyzing aggregate medical data
  • Evaluating the health of patients and creating treatment plans
  • Monitoring patients for any changes in condition
  • Delivering top-quality care alongside physicians
  • Educating patients about available support services and helping them access care
  • Emphasizing primary prevention in order to avoid disease or injury before it occurs
  • Working with public health officials to help underserved communities gain access to care
  • Developing a relationship with patients and following up to track progress
  • Referring patients to other providers as needed
  • Assessing health trends in communities
  • Managing budgets of public health programs

A principal goal of public health nursing is to address the health disparities within marginalized communities by focusing on the environmental, physical, and social determinants of health. These are the conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status. They include economic stability, educational level, healthcare access, food security, the neighborhood and built environment, and social issues such as racial discrimination. Working for social justice is a key aspect of the role of the public health nurse, who promotes change through policy reform, community building, and system-level interventions.

Qualities of a Public Health Nurse

The best public health nurses are excellent communicators and critical thinkers, and they are able to juggle multiple priorities. Nurses in this field tend to be enthusiastic and have a genuine interest in protecting community health. Public health nursing is a great role for anyone who enjoys problem-solving, working with a network of professionals, impacting lives, and influencing change.

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How to Become a Public Health Nurse

nursing students

While it’s possible to become licensed after completing a hospital-based diploma nursing program or an associate degree in nursing, the ideal educational path is to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, because it tends to open the most doors. But whichever path you take, you will need to obtain your RN licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN examination.

After some time as a practicing nurse, if you want to enhance your knowledge and credentials, consider earning your graduate nursing degree. Both the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) include more coursework in leadership and advocacy, which are key aspects of a public health nursing practice. Depending on the university, the MSN or DNP may offer the option to become a nurse practitioner, a career choice with more responsibilities and more autonomy. The nurse educator role specialty may also be offered, which prepares nurses for teaching in a variety of settings.

Where Do Public Health Nurses Work? 5

places public health nurses work

As a public health nurse or community health nurse, you will likely be predominantly focused on improving community health care services and providing direct clinical services to at-risk populations. You could have the chance to work in a variety of different settings, including:

  • Government organizations, such as county or state health departments, to develop policy and find new ways to improve population health
  • Nonprofit organizations, such as the Red Cross, to support healthy communities and educate staff on ways to boost community health
  • School systems, to educate students on personal hygiene, sexual health, and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle
  • Community clinics, to provide information on prominent community health problems and develop educational programs aimed to help community members improve their own health
  • Outpatient clinics, as health education leaders who address individual patient concerns and encourage them to make healthy lifestyle choices

Job Outlook and Salary Range

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific data on the specialty of public health nursing or community health nursing; however, it currently lists the median salary of a registered nurse as $73,300.  The BLS projects the employment of registered nurses to grow 12 percent (much faster than average) from 2018 to 2028. It estimates that during that same period, 371,500 RN jobs will open. The profession of registered nurse was ranked #9 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 Best Healthcare Jobs list.

Working as a public health nurse can be a meaningful, rewarding experience. As they have demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health nurses play a crucial role in disease prevention and mitigating community health crises. Public health nurses are reliable responders who deliver safe, effective, and nondiscriminatory primary care to the communities they serve. If you’re passionate about the fight to improve population health, becoming a community nurse may be a great fit for you.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)*, Nurse Educator,** and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.

*The FNP role specialty includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.
**The Nurse Educator role specialty is not available for the DNP program.


  1. American Public Health Association, “The Definition and Practice of Public Health Nursing,” 2013: https://www.apha.org/-/media/files/pdf/membergroups/phn/nursingdefinition.ashx?la=en&hash=331DBEC4B79E0C0B8C644BF2BEA571249F8717A0 
  2. Edmonds et al., “A Call to Action for Public Health Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Public Health Nursing, April 12, 2020: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/phn.12733 
  3. Explore Health Careers, “Public Health Nurse”: https://explorehealthcareers.org/career/nursing/public-health-nurse/ 
  4. Nurse Source, “Public Health Nurse”: https://www.nursesource.org/publichealth.html 
  5. Nurse Journal, “5 Places Where Public Health Nurses Work”: https://nursejournal.org/public-health-nursing/5-places-where-public-health-nurses-work/ 

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