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Kentucky: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles September 29, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

The American Public Health Association describes the purpose of public health nurses as individuals who “integrate community involvement and knowledge about the entire population with personal, clinical understandings of health and illness experiences of individuals and families within the population.” Public health nurses deal with entire populations instead of caring for one patient at a time.

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

Being licensed as a registered nurse (RN) is one of the requirements of becoming a public health nurse. Minimal education requirements include having an associate degree, although a bachelor degree in nursing may be required depending on the job description.

A Kentucky public health nurse works with diverse populations. Nurses must have a willingness to work with individuals and families from low income backgrounds and have openness towards cultural diversity. Bilingual skills in English and Spanish are welcome talents currently sought by employers.

Kentucky: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Over 20 million people currently receive care from nearly 1,200 community health clinics located throughout the nation. Most of these care recipients come from low income backgrounds, and many of them lack insurance. The federal government has embarked upon a study to determine if patients are receiving the appropriate care. The following is a gathering of information showing the statistics behind the clinical performance of health centers across Kentucky.

Kentucky: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 19
Total Patients 275,179
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 1,493
Homeless Patients 13,748

Kentucky: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 57% 23% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 79% 43% 40%
Percent Uninsured 38% 15% 16%

Kentucky: Health Challenges

On a positive note, Kentucky ranks about average in the percentage of adults suffering from diabetes who have their blood sugar under control. The same can be said about patients of Kentucky community health clinics who have their blood pressure under control. There are a slightly lower percentage of patients seeking timely prenatal care and a correspondingly higher number of low birth-weight babies than the U.S. average. On a more challenging note, fewer community health clinic patients seek cervical cancer screening, asthma therapy or immunizations for their children.

Kentucky: 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
Kentucky 70.82% 67.58% 62.21% 9.61% 42.16% 43.65% 56.04%
U.S. Average 70.9% 70.0% 63.3% 7.4% 43.8% 57.8% 69.10%

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 nine 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

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a registered nurse can expect to make a median annual salary of $64,000. The average annual salary for a public health nurse is approximately $51,000, although this figure usually varies among employers. The nursing field shows great promise for future growth, as experts expect nursing jobs to increase by twenty-six percent by 2020. Given that over 2 million people are currently working as registered nurses, a twenty-six percent increase tallies out to over 700,000 new positions by the next decade.

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