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What Is Community Health Nursing?

Community health nursing is a rapidly growing nursing subspecialty that aims to improve the health and well-being of individuals in a certain geographic area. Given widespread physician and healthcare provider shortages, rural locations increasingly reliant on creating a strong network of community health nurses.

What Is a Community Health Nurse?

A community health nurse is an RN who works closely with residents of a local community, often providing direct care and educational services to the individuals and families who live there. Community health nurses are part of the public health sector, defined by the American Nurses Association (ANA) as "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?

Community health nurses are instrumental in maintaining the health of a community and advocating for the needs of its citizens. While they do administer medical care, the primary goal of community health nurses is to promote disease prevention and the development of healthy behaviors and habits.

Nurses interested in community health typically pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to enhance their clinical decision-making, research skills and evidence-based practice. The online RN to BSN program at The University of Alabama in Huntsville incorporates coursework and direct practice experience to help graduates understand the responsibilities of caring for diverse communities.

The job responsibilities of community health nurses are wide and varied. Professionals may:

  • administer vaccinations;
  • coordinate with clinics for immunizations and wellness checks;
  • track disease prevalence in the community;
  • distribute medications and other products, such as glucose testing strips;
  • identify underserved and at-risk individuals or groups;
  • perform research to pinpoint potential interventions;
  • provide educational content and counseling; and
  • speak at schools, community centers and businesses to educate about healthy habits and disease prevention.

In Alabama, community health nurses are essential to the state's healthcare infrastructure. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health Nursing Division, these nurses supply "nutritional counseling, family planning education, case management, wellness screening, disease treatment, child/adult immunization and emergency preparedness information/training to the over four million citizens of our state."

Where Do Community Health Nurses Work? 

Community health nurses may work in several settings within a community, but most commonly are employed by:

  • local or state health departments;
  • specialty clinics, like those focusing on communicable diseases or maternal care;
  • community health centers;
  • nonprofit organizations;
  • research facilities; and
  • schools, colleges and universities.

Why Is Community Health Nursing Vital to Public Health?  

The COVID-19 pandemic has reiterated the vital role of community health nurses. They ensure that public health initiatives are carried out at the local level and that community members have access to the care and information necessary to prevent illness and disease. Throughout the pandemic, community health nurses have worked diligently to inform residents about best practices for avoiding infection and reducing transmission. They have also organized vaccination clinics and educational outreach programs.

While community health nurses maintain the health of individual communities throughout the nation, their presence is significant to rural communities, where shortages of healthcare providers and nurses are common, as are higher rates of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. They help rural community members manage these chronic conditions as well as oversee the provision of acute care and preventive services.

Without community health nurses, larger public health measures are difficult to achieve. For example, in a February 2021 interview with local news station WBRC, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association, Dr. Don Williamson, suggested the state's slow COVID-19 vaccination rollout may be due to nursing shortages, which affect 62 of Alabama's 67 counties.  

Community health nurses are key contributors to the nation's public health framework. By focusing on disease management, preventive care and educational and advocacy initiatives, they optimize the health of a community's members.

Learn more about The University of Alabama in Huntsville's online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

Alabama Department of Public Health: Nursing

American Nurses Association: Public Health Nursing

Daily Nurse: Rural Health Nurse

#EveryNurse: Community Health Nurse

WBRC: President of the Alabama Hospital Association Says Health Care Professional Shortage May Be Behind the Slow Vaccination Rollout

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