What Is a Community Health Nurse?

A community health nurse helps fill the health system gaps for underserved populations. Discover what their responsibilities are and different career paths.
Whitby Nursing Lab at St. Catherine University

Community health nurses fill health system gaps for underserved populations. They go to organizations, schools, and businesses to offer health education, medical services, and rehabilitation.

Through career paths such as school nursing, public health, and faith community nursing, community health nurses work within their communities to improve residents’ overall health.  

Community Health Nurse Responsibilities

What exactly does a community health nurse do? Simply put, they aim to improve the health of community members. They do this in many ways, including through:

  • Medical treatment
  • Rehabilitation
  • Health education
  • Advocacy
  • Research
  • Collaboration with other healthcare workers and with government agencies 

Community health nurses work in schools, churches, and government agencies. They focus on vulnerable populations, including low-income families, people living in rural areas, immigrants, and individuals with disabilities. 

The relationship between community health nurses and their patients is egalitarian, meaning they share the responsibility of the patient’s health outcome. 

The responsibilities of these nurses differ in each career path, but all community health nurses promote healthy living, disease prevention, and necessary medical treatment. Additionally, community health nurses create programs that promote community health and collect data to identify community needs. Careers can be pursued in public health, faith community nursing, and school nursing. 

Public Health    

Public health nurses work specifically in disease prevention and health promotion. One role includes operating immunization clinics. These clinics are most commonly held for influenza, but these days they also focus on administering the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Public health nurses also prepare to respond quickly during public health crises — such as natural disasters, epidemics or pandemics, and the impacts of climate change.

Another role of public health nurses is spearheading efforts toward healthy living. For example, they often lead discussion groups, educating people on the dangers of lifestyle choices such as smoking or too much sun exposure. The goal is to change habits that can have a great impact on an individual’s health — so much so that these choices are considered public health crises. 

Public health nurses also work on overall specific and common health concerns within their communities. For example, they often help families improve their nutrition. 

Faith Community Nursing 

Faith community nurses, often known as parish nurses, provide health education for a specific church parish. They also counsel their faith communities on health issues, and perform medical evaluations for congregation members like administering blood pressure screenings in their place of worship or at a hospital. 

Faith community nurses focus on the combined medical and spiritual outcomes of their patients. They offer spiritual care by leading religious studies or praying with patients. 

While faith community nurses often work in their own place of worship, they also visit or work in hospitals and visit patients’ homes to provide spiritual as well as physical care. 

Faith community nurses also refer their patients to other community services as needed. These may include clinics, specialists, or health education seminars.

School Nursing

School nurses work at school sites, focusing on student health. They are responsible for administering immunizations, as well as medication to students with chronic health problems. 

Working with both physicians and parents, school nurses monitor students who have health issues. They also care for students who may develop a health issue, like an illness or injury, during the school day. Significantly, school nurses are often the only healthcare provider that some low-income students see.

While their main patients are students, school nurses also work with teachers and other staff. They give medical advice when needed and educate them on student illnesses, as well as how to deal with health emergencies in the classroom or how to assist with ongoing health monitoring for students who need it. 

Work Environments

Community health nurses work in a variety of environments, including:

  • Government agencies (such as the U.S. Public Health Service) 
  • Social service agencies
  • Religious institutions 
  • Schools 
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient centers

The largest employer of these is the government, which employs 18% of community health workers, including nurses, followed by individual and family services at 17% and religious, civic, and similar organizations at 14%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Community health nurses often work in the field in their communities, providing health services like blood pressure screenings at malls, running immunization clinics, and conducting disease screenings.

Education

A community health nurse must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to work for many organizations. Graduate degrees, such as the Doctor of Nursing PracticeEntry-Level Master of Science in Nursing, or Nurse Educator Master of Science in Nursing offered by St. Catherine University, can help a community health nurse advance to leadership roles through courses that include Nurse Educator as Leader and Leadership for Designing Systems for Nursing Education.

It is also beneficial for community health nurses to have specialized knowledge of a specific community/culture and the ability to speak a second language so they can better communicate with patients, according to the BLS. 

Job Outlook and Salary

This field of health educators and community health workers is projected to grow 13% in the next 10 years, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. The median salary for community health workers was $40,360 in May 2019. 

Grow Your Career as a Community Health Nurse at St. Catherine University