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Utah: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles September 29, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

A Utah public health nurse fills a dynamic role within the community. The American Public Health Association has described public health nurses as professionals who work at community health clinics, and effectively integrate community involvement and knowledge about the entire population.

They also have a personal and clinical understanding of the illness and health experiences of families and individuals within a population. Public health nurses provide education, care management as well as primary care to families and individuals who tend to be members of high risk groups and vulnerable populations.

What education, professional experience do you need to become a Public Health Nurse?

Public health nurses must be licensed registered nurses (RNs.) Meeting necessary degree requirements includes having at least an associate’s degree. Depending upon the job description issued by prospective employers, a Bachelors Degree in Nursing may be required.

Key characteristics and specific personal qualities tend to play a vital role for those in the field of nursing. Public health nurses are often required to work with diverse and varied populations, therefore, they must have the needed skills and qualities in order to be effective in the nursing field. These include:

•A tolerance and openness toward cultural diversity
•Willingness to work with underserved and low-income families and individuals
•Passion and creativity
•Multi-language skills: nurses who speak both English and Spanish tend to be in higher demand

Utah: Challenges a Public Health Nurse may face

Our nation’s 1,200-plus community health centers provide care to upwards of 20 million people. Most of these people are poor, and a lot of them are not insured. The federal government has recently started measuring quality of care at these centers in order to determine whether or not patients are receiving quality and appropriate care.

The data listed below includes the most recent information that is available about clinical performance averages in Utah.

The Population

Number of federally-supported health centers:

  • Organizations: 11
  • Delivery centers: 46

Total Patients: 114,877
Number of Seasonal Farm worker Patients: 4,958
Number of Homeless Patients: 7,429

Utah: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or Below 100% of Poverty 78% 16% 21%
Percent at or Below 200% of Poverty 97% 35% 40%
Percent Uninsured 59% 14% 16%

Health Challenges

On the bright side, compared to the national average, the Utah public health nurse in community health clinics is seeing higher birth weights than the national average, and cervical cancer screenings are around the national average.

However, Utah needs to work on a better rate of diabetes control, more asthma treatments for asthma patients, more timely prenatal care and better hypertension control.

Utah: 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
Utah 67.62% 66.29% 58.06% 4.83% 37.46% 57.87% 59.58%
U.S. Average 70.9% 70.0% 63.3% 7.4% 43.8% 57.8% 62.10%

What the numbers mean

Diabetes Control: The percentage of adults between the ages of 18 to 75 with diabetes whose blood sugar is under control, defined as an HbA1c fewer than 9%.

Timely Prenatal Care: The percentage of pregnant women who receive prenatal care in their first trimester.

Hypertension Control: The percentage of adults, aged 18 – 85, with hypertension but who have their blood pressure under control, defined as under 140/90.

Low Birth Weight: Percentage of babies born with a birth weight that is below 2,500 grams.

Childhood Immunization: Percentage of children who receive 10 federally recommended vaccines by age 2.

Cervical Cancer Screening: The percentage of women ages 24 – 64, who received at least one Pap smear test in the past three years.

Asthma Therapy: Percentage of patients ages 5 – 40 with persistent asthma who receive asthma medications.

Job Outlook for a Public Health Nurse

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national average for registered nurses is a median salary of about $64,000 per year. By contrast, public health nurses average an annual salary of about $51,000; however this can vary by employer. The field of nursing, in general, is expected to grow at least 26%, by the year 2020.

With over 2 million people employed as registered nurses at this time, the expected growth in nursing equals more than 700,000 new jobs, by the year 2020.

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