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Oklahoma: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 8, 2013

What Does an Oklahoma Public Health Nurse Do?

Public health nursing centers promote and maintain the health of a community. Nurses in this practice area are trained in advocacy, intervention, and prevention as well as in treatment, and they view health against an economic framework.

While public health nurses may provide treatment to individual patients, they also act as liaison between policy makers and community members in order to foster the core health of the overall population.

What Education and Professional Experience Do You Need to Become a Public Health Nurse?

The basic nursing credential required to enter the field of public health nursing is an RN (registered nurse) certification. For most public health positions, the registered nurse will need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN), although there are a few jobs in the field available to RNs with two-year associate degrees.

Additionally, nursing students interested in public health should take extra coursework in areas of public policy, epidemiology, sociology and social work. It is also helpful to seek out training or volunteer opportunities in health advocacy, special cultural issues, or community organizing.

Oklahoma: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Community health clinics are federally-funded outpatient centers which provide medical, dental and mental health care to medically underserved populations. Patients at community health clinics are mostly female and low-income, and two-thirds of them belong to ethnic or racial minorities.

Federal law requires these clinics to set a sliding fee scales for their fees, and patients may not be turned away due to inability to pay. The charts below provide current information about community health clinics in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 64
Total Patients 131,649
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 772
Homeless Patients 4,760

Oklahoma: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 65% 20% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 92% 41% 40%
Percent Uninsured 45% 18% 16%

Health Challenges

Oklahoma has some positive data in its public health statistics when it comes to infants and children. Compared to the national average, fewer babies in Oklahoma are born with low birth weight, and Oklahoma’s childhood immunization rate is higher than the national average.

However, the state is still slightly below average in the number of pregnant women who receive timely prenatal care. While Oklahoma’s numbers are very close to the nationwide averages in the categories of controlling diabetes and hypertension, the state has significant work to do in the areas of cervical cancer screening and asthma therapy.

Oklahoma: 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
Oklahoma 67.7% 66.9% 61.1% 6.9% 45.6% 42.0% 54.0%
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

The average pay for a registered nurse is $64,690 per year, and the job outlook for nurses is expected to grow faster than average in the decade between 2010 and 2020. Public health nurses’ salaries are a bit low, on average, because funding for all aspects of public health care is dependent on government spending.

However, the income possibilities are very dependent on the region, and many public health nurses feel that money is only one small part of the rewards they receive for doing this crucial work.

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