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New Mexico: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Care Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 3, 2013

What are Public Health Nurses?

A New Mexico public health nurse works on the front lines to provide care and educate their communities about health risks, services, and concerns. Their goal is to work for the overall health of New Mexico populations and communities. Most public health nurses work in federally-funded community health clinics—facilities that provide care to low-income, high-risk segments of the population.

Some of the responsibilities of public health nurses include:

•Organizing campaigns to educate the community about available health services
•Tracking trends in disease prevalence and their occurrence within the community
•Educating the public about preventable health problems and conditions members of a community face
•Advocating for underserved groups of people to ensure they receive the best possible care

What education or professional experience do you need to become a public health nurse?

An RN license is required to be a public health nurse. To become an RN, you must have at least an associate’s degree in nursing and relevant experience. Depending on the position you’re interested in and the level you hope to advance in your career, a BSN (Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing) might be required.

A BSN is a four-year degree, but it is unlike other bachelor’s programs, in that it incorporates both classes work on nursing and significant supervised clinical experience. It usually takes about 15-18 months of study beyond the RN license to earn a BSN.

A BSN gives nurses more opportunities to serve in a variety of clinics and venues, as well as more opportunities for advancement. With a BSN, nurses often also have the ability to interact with patience on a more in-depth basis. Upon graduation, nurses are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to become certified at this level.

New Mexico: Challenges a Public Health Nurse Might Face

Public health nurses in New Mexico deal with significant challenges that often test their dedication and flexibility. Many public health nurses work in public health clinics, which usually serve a younger, low-income, predominately female population.

Because public health nurses usually work in federally-funded health community health centers and clinics, they have to deal both with federal policies, regulations, and red tape and sometimes with insurance companies, as well. Nurses must have a high level of dedication and passion to enjoy this type of work.

The following charts give an overview of public health centers in New Mexico and different features of the communities they serve. The first chart shows the amount of New Mexico’s population that uses federally-funded public health centers.

New Mexico: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 15
Total Patients 275,748
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 12,105
Homeless Patients 11,568

New Mexico: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 72% 26% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 91% 47% 40%
Percent Uninsured 39% 21% 16%

New Mexico: Health Challenges

Some positive indications of the health of New Mexico residents include a higher percentage of individuals who have their diabetes under control, more people diagnosed with hypertension who are undergoing treatment, a higher occurrence of children receiving the recommended immunizations, and a significantly higher-than-average number of people receiving medication for diagnosed asthma.

However, many of the statistics are lower than average, as well; fewer women between 24 and 64 are screened for cervical cancer, and fewer pregnant women receive timely prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy.

New Mexico: 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
New Mexico 76.70% 66.92% 66.93% 6.39% 44.29% 54.16% 84.16%
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 Care Nurse

Public health nurses have been and continue to be in high demand. In 2010, the median salary for a public care nurse was $64,690—about $31/hour. Openings for public health nurses—and other registered nurses—are expected to grow 26% between 2010 and 2020, a significantly higher growth rate than that of most occupations.

Considering that nurses fill a gap that no other health professional can, they will remain an integral part of the health care system and the job market for years to come. By serving their communities and working with doctors and patients to provide the best possible care, public health nurses can look forward to a promising future—making a difference in their communities and enjoying a stable career.

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