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Oregon: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles September 29, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

A public health nurse is dedicated to taking their knowledge as a registered nurse and applying it to the community at large. They work on educating and assisting entire populations to improve their standards of care and access to medical assistance. Public health nurses often work in community health clinics and provide preventive care such as education, health screenings, immunizations, and similar procedures.

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

A public health nurse must be a registered nurse, which means that they must have a minimum of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as a passing score on the NCLEX. It is recommended that nurses interested in working in the public health field seek opportunities to work in public health and public policy.

These interested nurses should also work on developing personal traits such as excellent listening skills, cultural sensitivity, understanding personal limits, working well in large groups, and creatively making the most out of limited resources.

Oregon: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Community health centers focus on serving populations who may not have regular access to health care. More than half of patients seeking treatment in one of the facilities are low income, female, and below the age of 65.

To qualify as a federally funded community health center, the organization must operate in a classified Medically Underserved Area or for a Medically Underserved Population. They must offer a sliding scale for determining cost depending on the patient’s income, and they must provide services to all patients, regardless of ability to pay. There are also various laws dictating reporting requirements and the governance of the organization.

Oregon: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers: 25 organizations with 181 delivery sites

Total patients: 277,605

Seasonal Farm worker Patients: 13,075

Homeless Patients: 22,885

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or Below 100% of Poverty 75% 18% 21%
Percent at or Below 200% of Poverty 94% 39% 40%
Percent Uninsured 42% 17% 16%

Oregon: Health Challenges

Oregon is around the average for the number of patients who have their diabetes under control, timely prenatal care, and have their hypertension under control. This is a strong step in the right direction. Oregon is also doing well with limiting the number of babies born with low birth weights. Those in the state are nearly two percentage points lower than the national average. It is also doing well with asthma therapy.

Unfortunately, the state is lagging far behind the rest of the nation with childhood immunizations; over 25 percent fewer patients receive this preventive medicine. An Oregon public health nurse will also be seeking improvement with cervical cancer screenings, which are more than four percent lower than the average.

Oregon: 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
Oregon 71.46% 70.94% 64.30% 5.57% 17.10% 53.42% 71.29%
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

Public health nurses have a favorable job outlook, as people are realizing the value of community health clinics. This care helps to keep health costs down and improve the quality of life for underserved populations.

With the growing need for nurses nationwide, combined with this realization of the importance of public health, the job outlook for public health nurses, over the next several years, is excellent.

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