Is a Job in Community Health Nursing Right for You?

Nursing can entail more than working at a clinic or hospital.

For prospective nurses interested in understanding how health, risk factors, and disease affect whole groups of people, community health nursing is a career path worth exploring.

Community Health Nursing: An Overview

Community health nurses work directly with families, groups, or communities to prevent disease and promote wellness. The Carter Center emphasizes that community health nurses focus on the following six objectives:

  • Promotion of health: Providing environmental and educational supports to improve wellness in a community
  • Prevention of health problems: Working with communities to encourage healthy-living practices
  • Treatment of disorders: Providing support to ill members of the community, either by directly treating them or by helping them find treatment
  • Rehabilitation: Assisting people to reduce disabilities or restore function (for instance, via rehabilitation after an accident)
  • Evaluation: Analyzing and improving the health-related practices of an organization
  • Research: Exploring health methods that improve the lives of community members

According to the Carter Center, community health nurses also work with individuals in the context of a larger collective — for instance, by understanding patients as part of their families or their communities.

Community Health Nursing vs. Public Health Nursing

There is some disagreement about the difference between these two terms. Both deal with nursing practice applied to a collective population, and both emphasize the importance of preventative medicine in addition to treatment.

While some people may use these terms interchangeably, others have come to see community nursing as a subset of public health nursing (PHN). The American Public Health Association defines public health nursing as “the practice of promoting and protecting public health of populations using knowledge of nursing, social, and public health sciences.” While some aspects of PHN encompass community health nursing — for example, examining the risk factors affecting a certain community — public health nursing addresses the health of larger populations and systems, such as entire cities or elder-care services across a variety of locations.

Educational Requirements and Salary

The educational requirements for community health nursing positions will vary widely based on region, city, and employer. Nurses with an associate’s degree may find opportunities in community nursing, although the bachelor’s degree is slowly becoming the entry-level requirement in many areas of nursing.

For community health nurses interested in understanding how the issues they work with may affect larger populations, a Master of Public Health (MPH) can offer a great way to find a broad scope of work within the public health sector.

Payscale reports that the median salary for a public health nurse (one that would be comparable to that of a community health nurse) is $50,576, and that nationally, salaries for these positions range from $39,932 to $75,969. This, of course, varies by location and employer. For instance, Indeed reports that community health nurses in Maryland make $66,000 on average, while community health nurses in New York make $78,000 on average.

My Experience

Throughout my career, I have focused on non-hospital settings, working in hospice, home health, public health, and case management.

At one point, I served as the public health nurse in a town of 25,000. In this role, I often thought of the health and wellness of the entire population. For instance, I was responsible for running immunization clinics and implementing emergency preparedness in coordination with the local university. I was charged with the tracking and reporting communicable diseases in coordination with state and federal agencies, as well as providing case management and treatment coordination for citizens with tuberculosis.

In that role, I also took on a more traditional community nursing role at times. I visited local senior centers and soup kitchens, coordinated with the town’s many school nurses, and administered hundreds of pediatric and adult vaccinations. For town employees, I designed and implemented wellness education programs and activities, such as walking clubs and lunch-and-learn events.

The Profile of a Community Nurse

Nurses who work in community and public health must enjoy working closely with diverse populations. In a case management role, nurses working in the community may perform outreach to methadone clinics, senior centers, and other facilities, or work with groups of individuals faced with addiction problems or serious illnesses.

If you are drawn to such an area of nursing practice, do your due diligence, speak with knowledgeable nurses, and assess the education and experience requirements of specific positions. Informational interviews and intensive research will serve you well, and if public health and community nursing call you, know that you have a wide range of possibilities open to you.

Want to explore about different paths for prospective nurses? Follow this link to learn more about different nursing careers, and ask nursing experts like Keith Carlson your questions about the field.