Nurses routinely encourage their patients to adopt healthy lifestyle choices, but they are involved in promoting quality of life and wellness within entire communities, too. Commonly referred to as “community health nursing,” this growing specialty seeks to improve the health and well-being of individuals and families living in a specific geographic area.

Why Is Community Health Promotion Important?

While community members have shared similarities that contribute to their overall health statuses, such as limited access to primary care or poor air quality, they also have varying risk profiles based on their individual genetic factors, lifestyles and environments. Community health nurses aim to first proactively identify these shared and individual risk factors before illness and disease take hold, and then implement targeted preventive care strategies.

Because community health nurses work solely with residents of a defined geographic area, they can catch issues and concerns much earlier and customize screening and educational programs to assist those most in need. Through frequent monitoring and engagement, nurses provide patients — who normally have limited access to critical services — an opportunity to receive timely care, improve their health and diminish the potential for developing long-term complications and comorbidities. Early interventions are also effective at reducing future strain on hospitals and healthcare providers.

Although at-risk populations vary depending on the location, community-based nursing is typically most beneficial for individuals and families of lower socioeconomic statuses and who lack access to transportation, social support systems and healthcare infrastructure. Such populations may include those who are unable to advocate for themselves, perhaps due to illness, condition or age, as well as individuals at increased risk because of their behaviors or lifestyles, such as:

  • Children and infants
  • Pregnant women
  • Elderly individuals
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • Users of tobacco and e-cigarettes

What Do Community Health Nurses Do?

As an integral component of the public health system, community health nurses help identify issues that are affecting residents, and in response, coordinate interventions and treatments to address and prevent those issues. They are advocates for underserved and vulnerable populations and are actively involved in the management of public health crises.

Some of their primary duties include:

Monitoring trends and risks. Nurses monitor public health, as well as social and behavioral data, to identify emerging trends and risk factors affecting a community.

Establishing initiatives. Based on these findings, nurses establish initiatives and programs to address, minimize and prevent the impact of at-risk behaviors and prominent health trends.

Conducting screenings. They regularly conduct free or low-cost health screenings and hold immunization clinics. These interactions with the public offer another point of data collection to monitor the success of interventions and track developing trends.

Providing education. A significant role of community-based nursing involves providing health education to the public. This includes general discussions about disease management and prevention as well as specific issues affecting the community, such as the importance of childhood vaccinations, coping with opiate addiction and managing mental health. Nurses may distribute informational flyers, hand out medical supplies or speak at schools, workplaces and community centers.

How Do You Become a Community Health Nurse?

Nurses interested in this specialty must understand how factors, like cultural and spiritual preferences, values and socioeconomic status, affect distribution of healthcare. A Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) program is a great first step, as it offers relevant coursework in community-based nursing and health promotion strategies. While certification is not necessary, nurses who graduate from such a program and obtain five years of public health experience are eligible to pursue the Certification of Public Health (CPH) offered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE).

Community health nurses are invaluable to cities and towns throughout the nation. By tracking trends, identifying vulnerable and at-risk populations, and developing screening programs and educational content, they promote health and equal access to care for all residents.

Learn more about the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s online RN to BSN program.


American Nurses Association: Public Health Nursing

EveryNurse: What Is a Community Health Nurse?

National Board of Public Health Examiners: Credentialing Public Health Leaders