Definition of Public Health Nursing

Public health nursing is the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.

Public health nursing is a systematic process by which:

  1. The health and health care needs of a population are assessed in order to identify subpopulations, families and individuals who would benefit from health promotion or who are at risk of illness, injury, disability or premature death.
  2. A plan for intervention is developed with the community to meet identified needs that take into account available resources, the range of activities that contribute to health and the prevention of illness injury, disability, and premature death.
  3. The plan is implemented effectively, efficiently and equitably.
  4. Evaluations are conducted to determine the extent to which the intervention has an impact on the health status of individuals and the population.
  5. The results of the process are used to influence and direct the current delivery of care, deployment of health resources, and the development of local, regional, state, and national health policy and research to promote health and prevent disease.

This systematic process is based on and is consistent with:

  1. Community strengths, needs and expectations;
  2. Current scientific knowledge;
  3. Available resources;
  4. Accepted criteria and standards of nursing practice;
  5. Agency purpose, philosophy and objectives; and
  6. The participation, cooperation, and understanding of the population.

Other services and organizations in the community are considered, and planning is coordinated to maximize the effective use of resources and enhance outcomes.

The title “public health nurse” designates a nursing professional with educational preparation in public health and nursing science with a primary focus on population-level outcomes. The primary focus of public health nursing is to promote health and prevent disease for entire population groups. This may include assisting and providing care to individual members of the population. It also includes the identification of individuals who may not request care but who have health problems that put themselves and others in the community at risk, such as those with infectious diseases. The focus of public health nursing is not on providing direct care to individuals in community settings. Public health nurses support the provision of direct care through a process of evaluation and assessment of the needs of individuals in the context of their population group. Public health nurses work with other providers of care to plan, develop, and support systems and programs in the community to prevent problems and provide access to care.

American Public Health Association: The definition and role of public health nursing: a statement of the APHA public health nursing section, March 1996 update, Washington, DC, 1996, APHA.

Return to Table of Contents