Same old story: Public health nurses love job, don’t love pay

kaleidoscopeNursing is made up of a myriad of different specialties.  It’s like a kaleidoscope, each nurse finding a place where he or she can fit into the vast possibilities of the profession.

One such specialty in the wide panorama of nursing practice is public health nursing.

This is a field that not many nurses consider when they decide on nursing. We are all familiar with working the floor, but what happens when you burn out on that?

Public health nursing can provide a welcome respite – and welcome paycheck – when the whole med-surge thing just isn’t panning out.

Of course, if you have an interest in public health, you may decide to head directly to this specialty.

Most of the time, though, it is a move that looks to change up a nurse’s career.

As with most nursing jobs, a recent study has shown that many public health nurses love their jobs.

That doesn’t make them different from most nurses, but these professionals are finding that the pay is less than stellar.

If this specialty interests you, it helps to know what the field is about and what the nurses on the front lines have to say about the job.

Public Health Nursing Specialty

Public health nursing is about bringing health to the community.  They take nursing knowledge of diseases and apply that learning to helping those within the community overcome the health problems that face them.

Their scope of practice does tend to focus on large groups, but at risk individuals and families in the community are also part of their practice.

Most public health nurses tend to work for the department of health at the city, county, or state level.

They can help to educate individuals about the signs, risk factors, and treatment of communicable diseases.

The conditions these nurses face tend to be ones that spread from human contact.

For instance, STDs and tuberculosis are two prime conditions treated by public health nurses.

From diagnostic testing to medication administration, these nurses are on the front line of these diseases.

Public health nurses are also advocates.  They promote wellness in the community by educating about communicable diseases and providing preventative medicine.

Vaccines for many diseases are administered through the health department, and nurses are generally the ones administering them, educating the patient, and watching for signs of the conditions.

On a macro level, these nurses oversee and evaluate the large programs that the health department initiates.

For instance, a public health nurse may manage the tuberculosis program, determining how well it is working, and developing strategies for improvement.

Then, they are vital in implementing their findings.

Some Numbers from the Front

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation published a report on the state of nurses in the public health field.  A summary of the report can be found here.

The study showed that 85 percent of public health nurses are satisfied with their jobs, and 90 percent feel they make a difference in their communities.

If you are thinking of this specialty as an escape route from working the floor, the happiness factor seems to be high in the field.

However, like most nursing jobs, those who work in it don’t feel they are well compensated for their time.

Only 41 percent say that they are paid what they are worth, and that doesn’t make it different from any other nursing specialty.

“Yes, we love our jobs, and we feel called to them.”

The work that nurses do is worth far more than what they are paid, regardless of the metrics comparing nursing salaries to non-nurses.

In fact, 33 percent of public health nurses think their salary is adequate for the job they do.  This low number could be a result of working for a government agency.

Many health departments are woefully underfunded, and nurses are at the lower end of the pecking order when it comes to compensation.

However, the study results may point to a larger problem in nursing as a whole.

Yes, we love our jobs, and we feel called to them.

Sometimes, just holding a patient’s hand or getting a compliment on your care is enough to make a nurse’s week.

Many nurses in many specialties wouldn’t trade their jobs for the world and feel they make a difference in the lives of patients.

You would be hard pressed to find a nurse who feels they are paid enough, though.

We do difficult work: caring for the sick, soothing the frazzled, and staying at the top of our game.

Public health nursing is like any other nursing specialty: deep level of personal and professional satisfaction with a salary that doesn’t match the responsibilities.

It is a profession wide epidemic, but many nurses may find that public health nursing allows them the freedom to care for community groups while helping individual patients.

, , , ,

Skip to toolbar