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The Pros and Cons of Public Health Nursing in Rural and Urban Areas

There are advantages and challenges to focusing your nursing career on public health.

Some parts of the U.S. are not nearly as healthy as others. Specifically, rural areas and impoverished urban neighborhoods can suffer from below-average health. To combat this, community health centers, nonprofit groups, and government agencies work to bring needed healthcare and health education to these communities. It’s a difficult job. But for the nurses who work in public health, the positives can make up for the challenges.

What Is Public Health Nursing, Exactly?

Public health nurses are part public health specialist and part healthcare provider. Their role is to improve the overall health of a larger population. To do this, they help develop, initiate, and manage public health programs, advocate for public health policies, educate the community on important health matters, and provide direct healthcare to individuals in need.

The Pros and Cons of Public Health Nursing in Rural and Urban Areas

Because public health nurses have the skills to promote public health and treat patients, they work for a large number of organizations in a wide-variety of settings. Public health nurses are employed by community health centers, community clinics, schools, churches, nonprofit organizations, public health departments, and other government agencies.

What Are the Challenges in Public Health Nursing?

Poor Community Health
Whether working in a rural area or in an impoverished urban neighborhood, public health nurses often help those with serious health problems. In rural areas, remoteness and other factors of geography and culture lead to residents having fewer quality healthcare interactions and having worse health outcomes than people living in more populated areas.* In impoverished urban areas, environmental pollutants, poor nutrition, and the inability to afford healthcare lead to a myriad of health problems, particularly in children.† As a nurse working in these communities, you have to be prepared to address preventative care and systemic barriers to better health, and help community members who may be suffering from multiple acute and chronic conditions.

Limited Resources
In both rural and impoverished urban communities, health resources are often scarce. The community itself may lack funds and nonprofits and public health departments do not typically have expansive budgets. This can leave you facing a number of challenges as a pubic health nurse. You may lack the space to provide clinical service, you may be short on supplies for providing treatments and creating educational materials, and you may not have much in the way of a staff or other assistance.

Lots of Work
It’s not easy to turn around the health of a community that has traditionally suffered from poor health. A lot has to be done to remove barriers to healthcare, improve environmental conditions, and help the community learn healthy behaviors. It can take years before there’s a measurable improvement in the community’s health. And, even then, there will likely be a long climb ahead. At times, the situation can seem intractable. For you to succeed as a public health nurse in a rural community setting, you have to be patient and understand that it will take lots of work to make meaningful progress.

What Makes Public Health Nursing Worth It?

The People
Most people can go their whole lives without getting to know anyone from a rural community or an impoverished urban neighborhood. That limits their understanding of their nation and humanity in general. But as a public health nurse, you’ll get to meet and work with a wide range of people who have diverse and unique stories. If you want a broader, fuller life, public health nursing can be a great profession. You’ll also have the opportunity to make a difference to an entire community.

The Creativity
When you’re trying to improve the health of a community, there’s a lot of room for new ideas and initiatives. Public health nurses often have the opportunity to come up with new methods of communication, new messages, and new programs designed to improve the community’s health. This makes community health nursing a great fit if you’re creative and enjoy developing new solutions.

The Satisfaction
Helping others can make you happy. That’s not just a truism; scientific research has shown that the pleasure-sensing areas of our brains activate when we give to others.‡ Few nursing careers allow you to give as much as does public health nursing. Whether you’re working a public health nursing job, a community clinic nursing job, a rural nurse practitioner job, or working as a public health nurse in any other capacity, being involved in public health gives you an extraordinary opportunity to give back, create social change, and live a happier life.

How Can You Go Into Public Health Nursing?

One of the best ways to make a difference in public health is to earn a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in Public Health. Not only can a master’s degree in nursing give you the advanced skills you need to help entire communities, it can qualify you for the most important public health leadership roles.

Thanks to online education, completing an MSN program is more convenient than ever before. Through an online MSN program, you can handle the majority of your coursework from home. Plus, when you earn your master’s in nursing online, you don’t have to upend your work schedule to attend classes. Instead, you’ll have the flexibility to attend classes at whatever time of day works best for you. That’s why, when looking at nursing schools, you should consider those offering online learning.

One online nursing school you should definitely consider is Walden University. It’s CCNE-accredited master’s in nursing program graduates more MSN students than any other university in the U.S.§ Students choose Walden because it offers a faculty that’s 100% doctorally prepared, is partnered with over 300 leading healthcare employers and associations, and gives you the opportunity to choose from eight master of science in nursing specializations, including public health nursing. Plus, if you’re an RN, you can enroll in Walden’s RN to MSN online program, even if you don’t hold a bachelor’s degree.

Public health nursing can be a challenging and rewarding career. You can help yourself excel in it by enrolling in the MSN program at Walden.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rural Health Care Still Subpar for Most Quality Measures, Data Show, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on the internet at

†C. Conway, Poor Health: When Poverty Becomes Disease, University of California San Francisco, on the internet at

‡J. Santi, The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others, Time, on the internet at

§Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP code 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,