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West Virginia: Outlook and Challenges for Public Care Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 3, 2013

What are Public Health Nurses?

A West Virginia public health nurse works to provide care and educate the populations within a community about the area’s health risks and available services. They work to serve the overall health of populations and communities. Most public health nurses work in federally-funded community clinics—facilities that provide care to populations that are low-income, high-risk, and uninsured.

Some of the responsibilities of public health nurses include:

•Organizing campaigns to educate the community about available health services
•Tracking trends in disease prevalence and their occurrence within the community
•Educating the public about preventable health problems and conditions members of a community face
•Advocating for underserved groups of people to ensure they receive the best possible care

What education or professional experience do you need to become a public health nurse?

First, an RN certification is required to be a public health nurse. This certification typically requires two years’ worth of class work leading to an associate’s degree in nursing. However, this is just the minimum. For nurses who want more opportunities for advancement, a bachelor of science in nursing (a BSN) is recommended.

A BSN is a four-year degree, but it is unlike other bachelor’s programs in that it incorporates both classes on nursing with significant supervised clinical experience. Nurses with a BSN have more experience and credentials to support their job applications. It usually takes about 15-18 months of study beyond the RN license to earn a BSN.

Upon graduation from a BSN program, nurses are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to become certified at this level.

West Virginia: Challenges a Public Health Nurse Might Face

Considering many West Virginia public health nurses work in federally-funded community health clinics, they face challenges that nurses in private clinics don’t have to deal with. These nurses must deal with rapidly-changing federal policies and regulations as well as individual insurance companies, depending on individual patients’ situations.

The following charts give an overview of public health centers in West Virginia and different features of the communities they serve. The first chart shows the amount of West Virginia’s population that uses federally-funded public health centers.

West Virginia: Community Health Center Basics

Number of federally-supported health centers 28
Total Patients 363,677
Seasonal Farm worker Patients 1,644
Homeless Patients 8,646

West Virginia: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 51% 22% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 88% 42% 40%
Percent Uninsured 25% 14% 16%

West Virginia: 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
West Virginia 77.14% 83.56% 67.45% 7.65% 36.82% 52.95% 55.93%
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 Care Nurse

In 2010, the median salary for a public care nurse was $64,690—about $31/hour. Openings for public health nurses—and other registered nurses—are expected to grow 26% between 2010 and 2020, a significantly higher growth rate than that of most occupations. Nurses have always been and will continue to be in high-demand in the future.

Although nurses work closely with patients and fill a need that other health professionals can’t, they will remain an essential part of the health care industry for years to come. Public health care nurses today can look forward to a long, stable career—and opportunities to serve their communities, making a difference in the world around them.

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