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Wisconsin: Outlook and Challenges for Public Health Nurses

Higher Education Articles October 7, 2013

What does a Public Health Nurse do?

According to the American Public Health Association, a Wisconsin public health nurse educates patients living in medically underserved communities about nutrition, safety, disease-prevention and other health issues. In addition, they provide information about available health care programs and services, screening tests, pre-natal and well-baby care in community health clinics; administer vaccinations to school children; and advocate for better policies and access to health care, on behalf of the vulnerable populations in their service area.

What Education and Professional Experience is needed to become a Public Health Nurse?

Public health nurses need to be licensed registered nurses (RNs), holding at least an associate’s degree, which normally requires about two years for completion. Some positions require a four-year bachelor’s degree (BSN) as well as work experience.

After graduation, the prospective RN must successfully complete the National Council Licensure examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to obtain a license to practice nursing. Public health nurses need to be able to work with low income and under-served populations, be passionate about their work, and open to cultural diversity. Being able to speak Spanish and English is very helpful.

Wisconsin: Challenges Public Health Nurses may face

While the Wisconsin public health nurse may find that most community health center patients tend to young and female, as with other states, there has been an increase in older working-age adults. The following data illustrate the performances of Wisconsin’s federally-supported health clinics.

Wisconsin: Community Health Center Basics

Federally-funded community health clinics must be located in a medically underserved area (MUA) or a federally designated Medically Underserved Population (MUP). The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) reports that as of 2010, the latest available data, Wisconsin had 86 federally-funded health care delivery sites, with 16 organizations.

Total number of patients served: 265,924
Total number of seasonal farm worker patients: 1,539
Total number of homeless patients: 13,424

Wisconsin: Community Health Center Clientele Data

Category Health Care Center Population State Population U.S. Population
Percent at or below 100% of Poverty 63% 14% 21%
Percent at or below 200% of Poverty 92% 32% 40%
Percent Uninsured 23% 9% 16%

Wisconsin: Health Challenges

Wisconsin is higher than the nation’s federally-funded health care center average in controlling hypertension, providing timely prenatal care, and considerably higher in providing cervical cancer screening. The state drops below the U.S. average in the areas of diabetes control, childhood immunizations, asthma therapy, and is higher than the nation’s average in low birth-weight babies.

Wisconsin: 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
Wisconsin 71.51% 72.4% 66.74% 7.19% 43.90% 67.70% 69.22%
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

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most registered nurses earn a median salary of $64,000 annually. Public health nurses tend to earn less, between $51,000 and $55,000 per year, which can vary with the organization or other employer. For most public health nurses, the work’s rewards compensate for a lower salary.

By the year 2020, the nursing profession is projected to grow approximately 26 percent with over 700,000 new jobs available. Demand will continue to be high for Spanish-speaking RNs willing to work with underserved diverse populations.

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