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Alabama: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles September 28, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

Within their state, Alabama public health nurses fulfill a unique role in medical society. They work not only with patients, but also are responsible for ensuring that society as a whole remains healthy, cared-for and disease-free. They work with wide groups of people at the population, family and individual level, providing appropriate care and education to ensure these groups remain in good health.

What Education, Professional Experience do you need to become a Public Health Nurse?

All public health nurses are required to first become Registered Nurses, which means that they possess an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. After obtaining the degree, Registered Nurses have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, and whatever checkpoints their individual states may require. Professional experience for public health nursing involves openness toward diversity, impoverished settings, and often, bilingual skills.

Alabama: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Most public health nurses work in community health centers, also known as Federally Qualified Health Centers. These are non-profit organizations that deliver healthcare (medical, dental, mental health) to underserved patients in low-income areas. These clinics are funded under Section 330 of the U.S. Public Health Service Act.

In Alabama, public health nurses should be aware of the following facts and trends to stay up to date with community health.

Alabama: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 14
Total Patients 310,673
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 10,664
Homeless Patients 13,960

Alabama: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or Below 100% of Poverty 73% 23% 21%
Percent at or Below 200% of Poverty 92% 47% 40%
Percent Uninsured 52% 16% 16%

Alabama: Health Challenges

On the positive side, Alabamans with diabetes and hypertension tend to have these issues under control. New mothers seek timely prenatal care (in the first trimester) more often than not, and patients with asthma are likely to be receiving appropriate drugs to mitigate their symptoms.

Unfortunately, working in Alabama also presents challenges to the public health nurse. One such is low birth weight, which is higher than many other states in the nation. Rates for childhood immunization and cervical cancer screening are also low – little above half of the population for each – and could stand some intervention.

Alabama: What Public Health Nurses can expect at Community Health Centers

Diabetes Control Timely Prenatal Care Hypertension Control Low Birth Weight Childhood Immunization Cervical Cancer Screening Asthma Therapy
Alabama 71.22% 64.22% 60.29% 12.56% 50.12% 54.04% 71.24%
U.S. Average 70.9% 70.0% 63.3% 7.4% 43.8% 57.8% 69.1%

What the Numbers Mean

Diabetes Control: The percentage of adults, age 18 to 75, with diabetes who have their blood sugar under control, defined as an HbA1c under 9 percent.

Timely Prenatal Care: The percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester.

Hypertension Control: The percentage of adults, age 18 to 85, with hypertension who have their blood pressure under control, defined as under 140/90.

Low Birth Weight: The percentage of babies born with birth weight below 2,500 grams.

Childhood Immunization: The percentage of children who receive 10 federally recommended vaccines by 2 years of age.

Cervical Cancer Screening: The percentage of women, age 24 to 64, with at least one Pap test in the prior three years.

Asthma Therapy: The percentage of patients, age 5 to 40, who have persistent asthma and receive asthma drugs.

Job Outlook for a Public Health Nurse

Despite the challenges of working with underserved communities, working as an Alabama public health nurse is likely to be extremely rewarding. The rewards, fortunately, are not limited merely to job satisfaction: Registered Nursing (of which public health nursing is a subset) is likely to continue as a lucrative field in which to work.

The median pay, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $64,690 per year in 2010, while the number of jobs for 2010-2020 is projected to climb 26%, higher than the national average. All in all, it is a great time to get into public health nursing.

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