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Rhode Island: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 6, 2013

What Does A Public Health Nurse Do?

The responsibilities of nurses employed in public health care can vary tremendously, depending on the location of the employer. However, given the small size of Rhode Island, there is not as much variability with nursing as there is in other states.

The general responsibility of the Rhode Island public health nurse is to respond to community health care needs. This may involve providing on-the-scene care in the event of an epidemic or teaching preventative measures that stem the outbreak of illness in the first place.

What Education and Professional Training are Public Health Nurses Required Obtaining?

In Rhode Island, public health nurses are not eligible for employment until they have held certification as registered nurses (RN). This certification is typically achieved while attending an accredited four-year institution, although certain community colleges also have programs leading to licensure as an RN.

Those interested in working in public health, but unable to complete a four-year degree, may be able to obtain lower certification and work as public nurse assistants or aids. Advancement may be possible for public health nurses able to obtain higher degrees or forms of certification.

Rhode Island: Challenges a Public Nurse May Face

The small size of Rhode Island is beneficial when considered in conjunction with the relatively high number of community health clinics. Residents have easy access to the health care they need and most are happy to take advantage of this increased availability.

Included below is information related to the number of community health clinics in Rhode Island as well as the populations these clinics serve:

Rhode Island: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 43
Total Patients 122,437
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 500
Homeless Patients 2,501

Rhode Island: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 71% 18% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 94% 36% 40%
Percent Uninsured 31% 12% 16%

Rhode Island: Health Challenges

A Rhode Island public health nurse is benefited by high awareness of health issues and related preventative measures. The result has been a high rate of immunization among the state’s children, leading to fewer infectious diseases passed around elementary and secondary schools.

Ready availability of physicians is also helpful, especially as Rhode Island has higher rates of insurance coverage and thus, a greater likelihood for its residents to stop in at available physicians’ clinics. For those who are unable to afford traditional physicians, the community health clinics are at a per capita high when compared to many other states.

Problems currently impacting health care in Rhode Island include a high prevalence of binge drinking among residents and increasing mental health issues. Both problems can be addressed by promoting more educational programs at community health clinics.

Diabetes Control Timely Prenatal Care Hypertension Control Low Birth Weight Childhood Immunization Cervical Cancer Screening Asthma Therapy
Rhode Island 74.36% 62.81% 59.57% 8.32% 42.87% 66.35% 86.29%
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.

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