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What Is Community Nursing?

Community health nursing, also called public health nursing or community nursing, combines primary healthcare and nursing practice in a community setting. Community health (CH) nurses provide health services, preventive care, intervention and health education to communities or populations.

In the past, public health nurses worked for the government or the public health department. Their role has since expanded. In fact, some may not work directly with patients. According to “The Definition and Practice of Public Health Nursing” from American Public Health Association, “Public health nursing is the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.”

What Do Community Health Nurses Do?

Unlike a nurse who works with patients one-on-one, community health nurses focus on communities. CH nurses can have various roles in a community setting. They may provide some or all of the following:

  • Health education.
  • Community advocacy.
  • Ensuring a safe and healthy environment.
  • Abuse and neglect prevention.
  • Policy reform.
  • Community development.

What they do depends on the communities they serve; lower income, school, and culturally diverse communities all have different needs. CH nurses also work for public health departments or parishes.

Community Health Nurse Specialties

A nurse working with a lower income population will evaluate their healthcare needs and then find free or low-cost services. They may cover some or all of these areas:

  • Disability identification and support.
  • Pregnancy and infant care education and referrals.
  • Child development assessments.
  • Domestic violence support.
  • Self-care, healthcare and nutrition education.

Some cultures have customs that affect the care they wish to receive. Nurses working with these cultures must build relationships and gain trust in these communities. It allows them to advocate for the community to ensure respect for their beliefs.

The healthcare workforce is becoming more diverse, which is one of the biggest changes in nursing — and a benefit to patients. Nurses with similar cultural backgrounds to the communities they serve know how to respect mores and communicate more effectively.

School Nurses Are Also Community Health Nurses

Another community health specialist is the school nurse. Children who do not feel well go to the school nurse and report their symptoms. If it turns out multiple students have the same illness, the nurse informs the school’s community that there is an illness going around, educates them on its symptoms, and advises them what to do. Some school nurses may also communicate with residents who live near the school to let them know about any trending illnesses or other public health issues.

The Essential Skills of Community Health Nurses

Community nurses rely on data and analysis to assess communities, create plans of action and establish procedures. The Public Health Foundation has established core competencies for public health professionals based on the 10 Essential Public Health Services that are organized into eight domains:

  • Analysis/assessment.
  • Policy development/program planning.
  • Communication.
  • Cultural competency.
  • Community dimension of practice.
  • Public health sciences.
  • Financial planning and management.
  • Leadership and systems thinking.

The core competencies fall into three tiers, which represent the stages of a public health professional’s career. Tier 1 is front-line staff. Tier 2 is program management and supervision. Tier 3 is senior management.

What Education Do You Need to Be a Community Health Nurse?

CH nurses have the same qualifications as other licensed nurses — typically a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The BSN integrates communications, analytics, scientific reasoning and culture, which correlate with the eight domains.

In some cases, the job may require a Master of Science in Nursing. Those interested can meet this requirement through an online MSN program. These programs help students expand their clinical, theoretical, leadership, teaching and research skills. Some programs may also offer concentrations in areas such as administration or education. Online nursing programs allow nurses to continue working while earning a degree.

There is a growing need for more RNs in public health nursing. According to “Public/Population Health Nursing,” the AACN has created a five-year cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The initiative, Academic Partnerships to Improve Health, aims to improve health outcomes by incorporating public health concepts into nursing programs.

Working in community nursing takes patience, advanced communication skills, political savvy and organization. With great challenge comes great rewards, especially for those who work with culturally and socioeconomically diverse populations.

Learn about the Lamar University online RN to BSN program.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Academic Partnerships to Improve Health (APIH)

PHF: Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals

American Public Health Association: The Definition and Practice of Public Health Nursing

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Public Health System and the 10 Essential Public Health Services

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Public/Population Health Nursing

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