Do you enjoy working in a large metropolitan area, or a small rural setting? Do you long to spend weekends and holidays with your family and work regular daytime hours rather than frequently changing shifts? Are you a team player who functions best with close supervision, or do you thrive in autonomous situations where you are allowed to make independent decisions? Do you prefer to work closely with patients and their families, or do you envision making an impact on a larger scale by addressing the health needs of an entire community? Is teaching an area in which you excel, or are you the quiet, hard- working type that serves best in a “behind the scene” capacity? Does it excite you to be on the cutting-edge of what is occurring in the arena of communicable disease on a local, national, or even international level? Would you feel an increased level of security for yourself, your family, and your neighbors if you were better trained concerning emergency preparedness in the event of a natural or terrorist disaster? Do you crave variety in the type of nursing care you provide each day?
If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may be a candidate for a career in Public Health Nursing.
Public Health is a unique specialty area that generally receives little attention within the schools that train our nurses. Only a small block of time, a day or two at most, is designated within most curricula for students to be exposed to the pertinent issues of public health, as opposed to serving several months in other specialty areas such as pediatrics, medical-surgical nursing, psychiatry, etc. Consequently, new graduates lack knowledge of the overall scope of public health and all that it encompasses, and are therefore less likely to consider this area as a career option.
Making the choice to enter the field of Public Health Nursing can prove very satisfying and fulfilling, both professionally and personally. You may experience the opportunity to work in the areas of Communicable Disease (surveillance, investigation, treatment, and follow-up); Women’s Health (family planning and maternity); Child Health (newborn through adolescence); School Health (primary and secondary); delivery of immunizations (childhood, adult, and foreign travel); STD clinics (treatment and contact investigation); Home Health (personal nursing care delivered to the aged or chronically ill within the home setting). Depending upon the locality in which you are employed, you may find yourself involved in all of the above on any given day, or you may choose to achieve expertise and concentrate solely in one or two of these subspecialty areas. If you feel a position of this nature would not be exciting or challenging enough for you, then consider the impact of a sudden tornado, a violent hurricane with flooding, or an incapacitating ice storm upon your otherwise routine day. This would mean the immediate opening and staffing of a safe shelter to care for those individuals affected by these sudden conditions. A single phone call could alert you to several new tuberculosis cases in a settlement of migrant workers, an outbreak of food poisoning following a large wedding reception, or even a report of anthrax exposure in a local postal facility. Any of these scenarios are within the normal range of occurrences in the day of a Public Health Nurse and are sure to get the adrenalin pumping.
Hospital nursing and Public Health nursing differ greatly. Within the hospital setting the goal is to focus on the immediate care, treatment, and release of the ill patient. The Public Health goal is to prevent that disease, illness, or injury in the first place. Rather than narrowing the center of vision to one individual, Public Health expands that vision to include families, entire communities, or even larger populations. Public Health nursing encourages awareness of and involvement in family dynamics. It is not unusual at all to care for three or four generations within the same family structure. Imagine the potential positive impact your influence and teaching could have on the health and welfare of the many families you might serve during your career in this field. Compared to hospital nursing, your ability as a Public Health nurse to reach and touch the lives of vast numbers within our society is limitless.
The nursing profession is comprised of a multitude of specialty areas, all requiring competent, caring individuals to fill these necessary roles. Public Health is only one of many such areas, but one of the least sought after positions. This trend can be reversed only through education, awareness, and opportunity.