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Community Health: What Role Do Nurses Play?

The American Hospital Association (AHA) defines community health, also known as public health, as the "nonclinical approaches for improving health, preventing disease and reducing health disparities through addressing social, behavioral, environmental, economic and medical determinants of health in a geographically defined population." Community health has received renewed attention following the emergence of COVID-19, and nurses working in this specialized field strive to keep their communities and their most vulnerable members safe and healthy.

What Are the Duties of a Community Health Nurse?

Community health nurses promote healthy behaviors and identify barriers that may prevent public compliance. They constantly evaluate the overall health of their community, often assessing the wellness and needs of subsets of the local population like children, the elderly or those predisposed to certain diseases or illnesses. Their responsibilities may involve:

  • Performing screening tests, like blood glucose monitoring or cholesterol testing.
  • Providing educational content, often targeted to specific health concerns or populations;  visiting schools to discuss healthy eating habits or teaching people with high blood pressure to monitor vitals at home are just some examples.  
  • Coordinating various outreach programs in the community, from needle disposal to sexually transmitted disease prevention.
  • Collecting and evaluating data for trends and patterns related to illness and infectious disease.
  • Providing immunizations to all ages.
  • Coordinating public health services following an emergency or disaster.

How Are Community Health Nurses Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Community health nurses have been instrumental in identifying the spread of coronavirus in their communities. They launch robust testing and contract tracing programs to screen individuals, implement quarantines and reduce transmission rates. They work closely with hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities to boost surge capacities and roll out emergency protocols. Public health nurses advise employers on best practices for keeping their businesses open while maintaining a safe environment for both customers and employees. They distribute educational materials and participate in media interviews to spread awareness and encourage the public to make healthy decisions.

With the development of COVID-19 vaccines, community health nurses have shifted their energies toward vaccine distribution to ensure that their highest-risk populations are prioritized. They coordinate the delivery and administration as well as track and report any adverse reactions.

Will Community Health Nursing Change Post-Pandemic?

The pandemic will likely change the nation's approach to community health, prompting a greater emphasis on preparedness and preventive measures. COVID-19 was a wake-up call for many communities who found that their infrastructure was lacking, delaying critical interventions and executing an actionable, cohesive plan. Historically, public health nurses have worked within very limited budgets, but post-pandemic, it is probable that nurses in this specialty will benefit from additional funding.

Nurses interested in a community health career should consider earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which they can complete through a streamlined online RN to BSN program. Accredited programs that include coursework in community-based nursing theories as well as disaster response can be helpful, especially for those who plan to seek certification. Following graduation and the accumulation of five years of experience in a public health position, you will be eligible to pursue professional certification through the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE).

Keeping Communities Safe

For decades, nurses have dedicated their careers to public health initiatives that promote and enhance the safety and well-being of community members. However, the pandemic has highlighted this integral front-line role and brought renewed attention to how nurses oversee the health of populations —      before, during and after crises.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University's Online RN to BSN program.


Sources:

American Hospital Association: What Is Community Health?

American Nurses Association: Public Health Nursing

Association of American Medical Colleges: Want to Help Battle COVID-19? Bring in More Community Health Workers

National Board of Public Health Examiners: Eligibility Requirements

Nurse Journal: How to Become a Public Health RN Nurse + Requirements

WSKG: Community Health Nurses Work to Help Slow COVID-19


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