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Illinois: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 8, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

The American Public Health Association reports that an Illinois public health nurse educates residents in at-risk communities about nutrition, safety, disease-prevention and information about available health care programs and services, such as screening tests.

They help provide pre-natal and well-baby care in community health clinics, administer vaccinations, and advocate with state and federal authorities for better policies and access to health care on behalf of the medically underserved populations in their area.

What Education and Professional Experience is needed to become a Public Health Nurse?

Public health nurses must be licensed registered nurses (RNs), holding at least a two-year associate’s degree. Some positions may require a bachelor’s degree (BSN).

After graduation, a prospective RN must successfully complete the National Council Licensure examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to obtain a nursing license.

Public Health nurses need to be willing to work with low income and under-served populations, be passionate about their work, and open to cultural diversity. Being bilingual (Spanish) is very helpful.

Illinois: Challenges facing Public Health Nurses

The Illinois public health nurse will find that patients are either uninsured or on public insurance such as Medicaid. The majority of patients are young and female, with 93% under age 65, with an increase in older adults between 45 and 64. The following data illustrate the performances of Illinois’ health center clinics.

Illinois: Community Health Center Basics

Many patients served by Public Health nurses are treated at community health clinics which must be located in medically underserved areas (MUA) or a federally designated Medically Underserved Population (MUP). According to the (2010) data of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) (NACHC), Illinois has a total of 521 federally-supported health sites, with 36 participating organizations.

Total number of patients served: 1,092,164
Total number of seasonal farm worker patients: 13,283
Total number of homeless patients: 40,378

Illinois: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 76% 19% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 96% 39% 40%
Percent Uninsured 31% 15% 16%

Illinois: Health Challenges

In Illinois, more patients using community health clinics have access to timely prenatal care than the national average, with higher cervical cancer screenings and hypertension control than the U.S. average. However, the number of low birth weight-babies is higher than nationally, with Illinois below average in diabetes control, childhood immunizations and asthma therapy.

Illinois: 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
Illinois 69.25% 76.45% 63.82% 8.61% 39.87% 61.56% 66.94%
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 and Salary Outlook for Public Health Nurses

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most registered nurses earn a median salary of $64,000 per year. Most public health nurses earn less, between $51,000 and $55,000 annually, which can vary with the organization or other employer. However, many nurses feel that the work’s rewards compensate for a lower salary. By the year 2020, the nursing profession is projected to grow approximately 26 percent by over 700,000 new jobs.

Demand will continue to be high for Spanish-speaking RNs willing to work with underserved diverse populations.

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