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District of Columbia: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 6, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

A District of Columbia public health nurse provides health education and primary care management services for the population. This is different from the role of most nurses, which care for patients on an individual basis. In other words, “By working with whole communities, public health nurses are able to educate people about health issues, improve community health and safety, and increase access to care.”

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

Public health nurses in the District of Columbia will need four to six years of education, in addition to some level of experience working as a nurse. This includes a minimum of an associate’s degree as a licensed registered nurse (RN). Preference is given to applicants with more advanced degrees, and many public health nurses have a bachelors or masters degree.

District of Columbia: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Public health nurses will often work in federally-funded community health clinics with patients in “medically underserved areas”. A federally-funded community health clinic will be focused on providing primary dental, mental health, and medical services using a sliding fee scale. This ensures that services are provided regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.

Furthermore, the federal funding of these community health clinics is only designed to be a portion of the total budget. These clinics are continually looking for additional resources in the community which can be leveraged to meet their goals.

Since the District of Columbia lies outside of the fifty states in the US, the health statistics for this population are tallied separately. However, these numbers are difficult to compare to the other states. Within the District of Columbia, there is a more densely packed population and a much smaller land mass than any of the other fifty states.
This presents unique challenges and advantages for public health nurses and federally-funded community health clinics.

District of Columbia: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 42
Total Patients 109,612
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 99
Homeless Patients 9,786

District of Columbia: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 89% 25% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 98% 40% 40%
Percent Uninsured 27% 12% 16%

District of Columbia: Health Challenges

Compared with the national averages at community health centers, the District of Columbia is right on par for diabetes control, timely prenatal care, and asthma therapy. Additionally, the District of Columbia is doing slightly better than average in the area of childhood immunization, and much higher than average in the area of cervical cancer screening.

However, there is a lot of room for the District of Columbia to improve on hypertension control and low birth weight.

District of Columbia: 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
District of Columbia 69.86% 68.53% 56.46% 8.48% 45.59% 71.34% 70.79%
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 who receive asthma drugs.

Job Outlook for a Public Health Nurse

According to the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, public health nurses can expect an average salary of $64,690, with an entry-level education requirement of an associate degree, and a faster than average (26%) job outlook leading into 2020.

This sentiment is echoed by ExploreHealthCareers.org, although they do recommend increasing your earning potential and marketability with a bachelor degree and becoming bilingual (Spanish/English).

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