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Montana: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles September 28, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

Public health nurses are dedicated to working with communities, tending to entire populations. They work to educate people about various health issues and concerns, increase the population’s access to health care, and improve the standard health of the community. They monitor health trends and look for risks to the health of the community.

They do considerable work with preventing disease through immunization, education, health screenings, and increasing awareness about the health care options available. Public health nurses frequently do health presentations in schools, community centers, senior centers, and related community areas.

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

Public health nurses must begin by becoming registered nurses. This will require either a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree in nursing, although the former is preferred in this specific subfield. Once the degree is completed, the aspiring nurse must take and pass the NCLEX to receive their license. Occasionally graduate level education is required for certain public health nursing positions, especially those that involve supervisory roles.

It is recommended that while the nurse is studying for the degree, they seek opportunities to work within the community and to receive additional training related to public health, how public policy affects health care, and related subjects.

There are a few areas where public health nurses will excel if they are to be successful within public health nursing. They should be able to work well with large groups, be sensitive to cultural differences, be able to creatively manage scarce resources, listen attentively, understand personal limits, and have goals of helping as many people as possible.

Montana: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Federally funded community health clinics focus on providing care primarily for underserved populations. The majority of the patients are below the federal poverty level, and they are less likely to have health insurance.

The population served is also largely female and young, although the number of older working adults between the ages of 45 and 64 is growing. Two-thirds of the people served belong to racial or ethnic minority grounds, and nearly one-third are best served in a language other than English.

Here are a few charts to help with understanding the demographics served by these public health clinics.

Montana: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally – supported health centers: 15 organizations and 82 delivery sites

Total Patients: 96,682

Seasonal Farm worker Patients: 6,439

Homeless Patients: 8,730

Montana: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or Below 100% of Poverty 64% 17% 21%
Percent at or Below 200% of Poverty 88% 40% 40%
Percent Uninsured 50% 17% 16%

Montana: Health Challenges

Montana has had a number of positive outcomes related to their public health care. The number of patients with their diabetes under control, who receive timely prenatal care, and who receive the asthma therapy needed are all above the national averages. There are also fewer babies born with low birth weight, compared to the national average.

The number of patients who have their hypertension under control is right around average compared to the rest of the country. On the other hand, a Montana public health nurse will have to work on improving the childhood immunization rates and the rates of cervical cancer screenings, which lag more than 10 percent behind the national average.

Diabetes Control Timely Prenatal Care Hypertension Control Low Birth Weight Childhood Immunization Cervical Cancer Screening Asthma Therapy
Montana 76.03% 77.32% 63.58% 6.55% 29.31% 44.73% 79.75%
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

As the federal and state governments realize the value of community health clinics providing preventive care and education to help lower overall healthcare costs as well as general public recognition of the need for health care in impoverished areas, the need for public health care nurses continues to grow. The outlook is considered strong in this field. There especially is a need for bilingual nurses.

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