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Washington: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 6, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

A Washington public health nurse makes it his or her mission to help underserved communities as a whole, as opposed to individuals. Public health nurses certainly work on a one-to-one basis with patients, through community health clinics and other organizations, but they do so with an emphasis on serving entire communities.

According to the American Public Health Association, “Public health nurses integrate community involvement and knowledge about the entire population with personal, clinical understandings of health and illness experiences of individuals and families within the population.”

Public health nurses serve a vital role in the community, working to educate at risk populations as well as healing them.

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

Getting a job as a public health nurse requires that you be a registered nurse (RN). To become an RN, you must have at least an associate’s degree. Depending on where you apply and what position you are applying for, you may need to have a bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN.

Most associate degree programs take around two years to complete. If you are working towards a BSN, you should allow for another 15 to 18 months of schooling. The extra schooling required for a BSN often proves worthwhile, as the degree will offer you more career options as well as help you with career advancement.

It can also be helpful to have professional experience with underserved populations, or at least a willingness to work in such an environment.

Washington: Challenges a Public Health Nurse May Face

Public health nurses typically work at community health centers, many of which are federally funded. According to the National Health Policy Forum, for a community health center to gain federal funding, it must meet certain criteria, including:

Be located in a federally designated medically underserved area

•Serve a federally designated underserved population
•Have a nonprofit, public or tax exempt status
•Provide comprehensive primary health services, including translation services
•Provide services to all in the area regardless of ability to pay

Federally funded community health centers serve predominantly low income populations. The majority of patients are female and young, although the percentage of aging adults served has been growing steadily. The populations served by such health centers are typically diverse, with many speaking languages other than English.

If you are considering a career as a public health nurse, it can be helpful to get an idea of the state of the community health care field.

Washington: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers – 25
Total Patients – 753,269
Seasonal Farm worker Patients – 98,195
Homeless Patients – 71,960

Washington: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 68% 17% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 93% 34% 40%
Percent Uninsured 35% 13% 16%

Washington: Health Challenges

Washington is doing relatively well in some health areas compared to the national average, while, in other areas, it is facing some challenges. The state is slightly above average in the percentage of patients with their diabetes under control, while it is well above average in the number of patients who seek timely prenatal care. It is also slightly below the national average in babies born with a low birth weight.

As far as challenges go, the state is far below average in childhood immunizations as well as in patients with asthma who receive asthma medication.

Washington: 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
Washington 69.21% 77.35% 63.44% 5.95% 29.67% 53.34% 37.09%
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 Public Health Nurses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for nurses is quite good. Jobs are expected to grow over the next ten years at a rate of 26 percent, which is faster than average. Nurses can expect to make an average salary of $64,690 a year. Pay will vary depending on the place of employment, experience and your degree level.

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