A Look at Population Health Nursing

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When you decide to switch careers in favor of becoming a nurse, you have plenty of specialization options to consider, such as population health nursing. What is population health nursing? It’s a specialty that studies and supports the health of an entire population, such as a neighborhood, city or region.

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One of the exciting aspects of a career in nursing is the incredible diversity of specializations available in the healthcare industry, such as population health nursing. As a population health nurse, you would serve as an advocate and educator for patients as you work to build stronger, healthier communities.

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What Is Population Health Nursing?

Before you decide to pursue a career as a population health nurse, you should understand the answer to the question, “What is population health nursing?” Population health nursing is a specialty sometimes confused with public health nursing. In fact, the two terms are often used interchangeably, as they are quite similar. However, there are some important yet subtle differences.

Population health is an area of specialization that explores the health status and outcomes of a population, such as a community, city or state. In some cases, a population health expert will focus on the health determinants of an area as small as a single neighborhood or as large as a region.

Public health is a closely related specialty that may also examine the health issues affecting an entire population. However, while that population could be defined by geographical boundaries, a public health nurse is more likely to define a population by other factors, such as disability status, age, gender, race or immigration status. In addition, public health tends to focus more on researching health issues to better inform public health policies, as well as provide education and outreach.

Population health nursing emphasizes the impact of the social determinants of health (SDOH). For example, an SDOH might include the prevailing attitudes of a population regarding public safety issues (e.g., wearing a helmet while on a motorcycle) or a population’s ability to access health care services, fresh food, or safe spaces for physical activity.

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Among the many benefits of population health nursing is the focus on preventive health care. For example, a population health nurse might determine that a particular population has a high rate of lung cancer. As a result, the nurse might advocate for greater access to smoking cessation programs in the community, better availability of radon detection kits, or advocate for legislation to decrease air pollution.

Types of Population Health Nursing

Now that you’re more familiar with how population health nursing can serve communities, you may be itching to build a career path toward becoming a population health nurse. But before you do, you should know there are plenty of job titles within this specialization to choose from. Consider the following options.

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Patient Educator

It’s common for people to ignore their health until they develop symptoms and need health care. Yet, health literacy is important for everyone, regardless of their current health status. Health literacy refers to the capacity to understand and apply health information. This enables people to make informed decisions that reduce their risk of health problems or help them manage their care more effectively.

A patient educator’s job is to empower people with greater health literacy. A patient educator may help the following types of people:

  • An obstetric patient who needs help figuring out what to eat during pregnancy
  • The family of a dementia patient who is unsure how to care for their loved one at home
  • A patient diagnosed with a severe medical condition who needs to make important treatment decisions
  • A surgical patient who is being discharged and must recover at home

As a patient educator, you could play an invaluable role in helping patients take charge of their health.

Patient Advocate

A patient advocate is quite similar to a patient educator. In fact, at some facilities, the two roles may be merged. This type of population health nursing career involves guiding patients through the healthcare system and coordinating care among different providers.

For instance, a patient advocate may work with someone who recently had a cancer screening that resulted in some red flags. The patient advocate would help that person through the process of obtaining a diagnosis, establishing a treatment plan, receiving treatment, and accessing follow-up care. Patient advocates don’t only coordinate care, however. They can also help connect patients to vital resources, such as financial, legal, and social support services throughout the community.

Community Health Nurse

A community health nurse works to identify common health problems within a community and increase access to healthcare services, particularly in underserved areas. This type of population health nurse may develop intervention plans to improve the health and safety of a community and individuals. For example, they can perform a community assessment to identify issues and implement programs to address them.

The role of a community health nurse can be divided into two main categories: providing direct patient care (clinical) and serving as a resource to educate the public about health issues (non-clinical). In other words, a community health nurse might work in a community health clinic to provide health screenings and other services to the population. That nurse might also collaborate with other health care providers to address the social determinants of health and raise the quality of life for the entire community.

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Nursing Care Coordinator

The job of a nursing care coordinator is similar to that of a patient educator and a patient advocate. However, there is an emphasis on the transition of care. Consider this scenario: An older adult underwent stent placement to treat a heart attack and was hospitalized in the ICU for several days. She was referred to several specialists, including a cardiologist, a nutritionist and a cardiac rehabilitation program. Upon discharge, her family has trouble keeping track of all the referrals, appointments and new medications.

Fortunately, the family caregivers can rely on the assistance of a nursing care coordinator, who is responsible for tracking, coordinating and implementing every aspect of the patient’s treatment and rehabilitation plan. The nursing care coordinator makes sure the family caregivers understand the treatment plan and discharge instructions, offers tips on medication management and explains the various aspects of home care. This professional can connect the patient and family caregivers to various community resources, such as heart disease support groups, mental health counseling and healthy cooking classes.

Primary Care or Ambulatory Care Nursing

Primary care nursing is another role that can fall within the umbrella term of population health nursing. A primary care nurse often serves as the first point of contact for patients. Primary care nurses provide preventive wellness services and curative modalities. Some of the specific job duties a primary care nurse will typically perform include the following:

  • Conducting an initial patient assessment, including vital signs
  • Talking to the patient about their medical history and current symptoms and recording the data
  • Collecting samples for laboratory analysis
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing and administering medications
  • Delivering patient and family caregiver education
  • Referring the patient to other providers, including specialists, when appropriate

The job duties that a primary care nurse fulfills will depend on the state and specific employer.

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Start Your Nursing Journey at CSP Global

Are you ready to pursue a meaningful career in population health nursing? If you have at least 54 non-nursing college credits, you may be eligible to apply for the ABSN program at CSP Global. Speak with an admissions counselor today to find out if you could earn your BSN in as few as 16 months. The well-rounded ABSN program will enable you to acquire the nursing knowledge and clinical skills you need to pursue a successful nursing career.