Role of Public Health Nurses

Public health nurses integrate community involvement and knowledge about the entire population with personal, clinical understandings of the health and illness experiences of individuals and families within the population. They translate and articulate the health and illness experiences of diverse, often vulnerable individuals and families in the population to health planners and policy makers, and assist members of the community to voice their problems and aspirations. Public health nurses are knowledgeable about multiple strategies for intervention, from those applicable to the entire population, to those for the family, and the individual. Public health nurses translate knowledge from the health and social sciences to individuals and population groups through targeted interventions, programs, and advocacy.

Public health nursing may be practiced by one public health nurse or by a group of public health nurses working collaboratively. In both instances, public health nurses are directly engaged in the inter-disciplinary activities of the core public health functions of assessment, assurance and policy development. Interventions or strategies may be targeted to multiple levels depending on where the most effective outcomes are possible. They include strategies aimed at entire population groups, families, or individuals. In any setting, the role of public health nurses focuses on the prevention of illness, injury or disability, the promotion of health, and maintenance of the health of populations.

Examples of Public Health Nursing Activities
Examples of public health nursing activities include the following:

  1. Evaluating health trends and risk factors of population groups and helping to determine priorities for targeted interventions.
  2. Working with communities or specific population groups within the community to develop public policy and targeted health promotion and disease prevention activities.
  3. Participating in assessing and evaluating health care services to ensure that people are informed of available programs and services and assisted in the utilization of those services.
  4. Providing essential input to interdisciplinary programs that monitor, anticipate, and respond to public health problems in population groups.
  5. Providing health education, care management, and primary care to individuals and families who are members of vulnerable population and high-risk groups.

Public health nurses provide a critical linkage between epidemiological data and clinical understanding of health and illness as it is experienced in peoples’ lives. This understanding is translated into action for the public good. An illustration of this role is the surveillance and monitoring of disease trends within the community. Emerging patterns that potentially threaten the public’s health are identified and appropriate interventions planned, coordinated and implemented. This is a role that public health nurses can do in any setting; however, it occurs mainly in the public sector. Public health nurses contribute to systems for monitoring crucial health status indicators such as environmentally caused illnesses, immunization levels, infant mortality rates, and communicable disease occurrence, in order to identify problems that threaten the public’s health and develop effective interventions.

American Nurses Publishing. (2000). Scope and Standards of Public Health Nursing Practice.

American Public Health Association, Public Health Nursing Section. (1996)

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