Who We Are

About Public Health Nursing

Public health nursing is the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing and social and public health sciences.

Public health nurses are directly engaged in the core public health functions of assessment, assurance and policy development. In any setting, the role of public health nurses focuses on promoting health, maintaining of the health of populations and preventing illness, injury or disability.

Public health nurses interpret and articulate the health and illness experiences of diverse and often vulnerable residents to health planners and policymakers as well as assist members of the community in talking about their problems and aspirations. Evidence and data drive the practice of public health nurses, who translate knowledge from the health and social sciences to individuals and population groups through direct care, programs and advocacy. 


Public health nursing leads the way in building healthy communities, achieving health equity and social justice and improving quality of life for all communities. 

Mission Statement

Public health nurses advance the health of the population in partnership with the community through evidence-based practice, education and research. Serving as a national voice for public health nurses, the APHA Public Health Nursing Section:

  • provides a national forum for nurses to discuss and exchange ideas and knowledge;
  • facilitates research on matters related to public health and nursing;
  • plans and coordinates activities with other APHA Sections to achieve organizational goals;
  • serves as a repository for public health nursing history and traditions;
  • promotes the inclusion of public health nurses in all deliberations about health policy and research in which nurses have expertise, interest and a unique perspective to contribute;
  • fosters the personal and professional development of members through advocacy training and policy development;
  • serves as an advocate for populations at risk and in need of health and related services; and
  • advocates for health for all by promoting of a broad view of health and forming partnerships across multiple sectors.

Strategic Priorities

Public Health Nursing Section strategic priorities:

  • Ensure social justice and eliminate health disparities.
  • Strengthen the public health workforce.
  • Actively engage students.
  • Promote environmental health.


The Public Health Nursing Section of the American Public Health Association had a protracted start that was initiated in 1918 and delayed by World War I.  Finally in 1920 APHA's Governing Council adopted a resolution that a PHN Section be established.  This was followed by an initial probationary period.  The PHN Section held its first meeting in 1922 attended by 175 public health nurses. The APHA Governing Council appointed the PHN Section as a regular section of the association in 1923.

The Section has always focused on the status of public health and the ever-changing requirements for a competent public health nursing work force.  Each decade the definition and role of public health nurses has been revised with the most recent revision, “The Definition and Practice of Public Health Nursing,” published in 2013.

Section leadership works both independently and collaboratively.  This is central to the section. In response to the Institute of Medicine’s 1988 report, “The Future of Public Health,” the chair of the PHN Section initiated a caucus among leaders of the 4 organizations (PHN Section/APHA, American Nurses Association, Association of State & Territorial Nursing Directors (now known as the Association of Public Health Nurses), and Association of Community Health Nurse Educators); this lead to the formation of the Quad Council of Public Health Nursing Organizations in 1989.  The Quad Council Coalition of Public Health Nursing Organizations now includes the National Association of School Nurses.

In addition the PHN Section is proactive and responds to the needs of vulnerable populations and the wide health and social issues of the day.  These are addressed during section meetings and in resolutions.