American Public Health Association
800 I Street, NW • Washington, DC 20001-3710
(202) 777-APHA • Fax: (202) 777-2534 •

The Role of Public Health Nurses

Public health nurses integrate community involvement and knowledge about the entire population with personal, clinical understandings of the health and illness experiences of individuals and families within the population. They translate and articulate the health and illness experiences of diverse, often vulnerable individuals and families in the population to health planners and policy makers, and assist members of the community to voice their problems and aspirations. Public health nurses are knowledgeable about multiple strategies for intervention, from those applicable to the entire population, to those for the family, and the individual. Public health nurses translate knowledge from the health and social sciences to individuals and population groups through targeted interventions, programs, and advocacy.

Public health nursing may be practiced by one public health nurse or by a group of public health nurses working collaboratively. In both instances, public health nurses are directly engaged in the inter-disciplinary activities of the core public health functions of assessment, assurance and policy development. Interventions or strategies may be targeted to multiple levels depending on where the most effective outcomes are possible. They include strategies aimed at entire population groups, families, or individuals. In any setting, the role of public health nurses focuses on the prevention of illness, injury or disability, the promotion of health, and maintenance of the health of populations.

Examples of Activities of Public Health Nurses

The activities of public health nurses include the following:

  1. Provide essential input to interdisciplinary programs that monitor, anticipate, and respond to public health problems in population groups, regardless of which disease or public health threat is identified;
  2. Evaluate health trends and risk factors of population groups and help determine priorities for targeted interventions;
  3. Work with communities or specific population groups within the community to develop public policy and targeted health promotion and disease prevention activities;
  4. Participate in assessing and evaluating health care services to ensure that people are informed of programs and services available and are assisted in the utilization of available services.

Provide health education, care management and primary care to individuals and families who are members of vulnerable populations and high risk groups.