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Pennsylvania: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 3, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

A public health nurse is a registered nurse who takes their knowledge about the field of medicine and uses it to treat entire populations. Public health nurses often work in community health clinics and similar facilities offering preventive care. In addition, they work in early detection, as well as education, to help communities achieve better overall health.

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

A public health nurse must first become registered nurses, which entails receiving a nursing degree from either a bachelor’s degree or associate’s degree program and passing the NCLEX. Some public health nursing positions, especially those in supervisory roles are also required to have graduate level work completed.

While attending school, it is recommended that nurses, interested in public health, search for opportunities to study and work in areas related to public health and public policy. They should also work on cultivating personal qualities, such as creativity and management skills with limited resources, good listening skills, and cultural sensitivity.

Pennsylvania: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Federally funded community health clinics are designed to serve those who might struggle to find regular health care. They must have a sliding scale to adjust payments according to the income of the patient. They must also work to serve classified Medically Underserved Areas or Medically Underserved Populations. The majority of the people who seek treatment in these clinics are under the age of 65, below the poverty level, and are female.

Here is some information in chart form to help better communicate those who are assisted by these public health clinics.

Pennsylvania: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally – supported health centers: 35 organizations and 230 delivery sites

Total patients: 617,646

Seasonal Farm worker Patients: 3,456

Homeless Patients: 46,451

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 67% 17% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 92% 36% 40%
Percent Uninsured 27% 11% 16%

Pennsylvania: Health Challenges

Pennsylvania is doing moderately well with helping patients control their diabetes and hypertension, with numbers just above the national averages. They are also doing well with helping children receive their immunizations, where nearly six percent more children have received this preventive medicine. They also have strong rates compared to the national average in cervical cancer screenings.

Unfortunately, a Pennsylvania public health nurse will find the state has room for improvement with asthma therapy and helping patients control their symptoms. They are also just below the average in the number of babies born with a low birth weight.

Pennsylvania: 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
Pennsylvania 71.75% 70.46% 64.69% 7.26% 49.77% 61.24% 60.55%
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 outlook for nurses in general over the next several years is projected to be positive as the population ages, and as there is a growing emphasis on preventive care. This later emphasis is also responsible for the positive growth for public health nurses.

As elected officials realize the extent to which preventive care and helping medicine reach populations that medically are underserved helps to control overall healthcare costs, they are becoming more willing to invest in these clinics, which will result in more nurses being needed.

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