Distance Learning Ideal Solution to Train Public Health Nurses

Meeting on the need to prepare public health nurses for changes in public health systems

In 1996 and 1998, Columbia University School of Nursing hosted meetings to:

  1. Explore the need of public health nurses for appropriate information on changes in public health practices to assist them in making career choices and developing appropriate skills and becoming more effective.
  2. Identify the potential of distance-based learning technology as the vehicle to make this information available nationwide in a cost-effective manner.

Key Results

Under the grant, project staff:

  • Held two meetings in Atlanta, Ga., on July 11, 1996, and May 12–13, 1998, attended by leading practitioners, federal and state agency staff, educators, experts in distance-based learning and representatives from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). (See Appendices 1 and 2 for lists of participants.)
  • Identified:
    • The major forces affecting public health.
    • The most critical skills public health nurses need for the future and how to deliver them using distance learning.
    • Existing state-level training resources.
  • Developed a specific plan for a distance-learning curriculum with a primary target audience of staff nurses in state and local public health agencies.
    • The educational program was designed as a two-year continuing education program with satellite broadcasts as the main presentation format.
      • The primary goal of the distance-learning curriculum was building the capacity of public health nurses to provide health care to a population. For example, public health nurses in managed care organizations may focus on the provision of well-child care, immunizations for the pediatric population, and comprehensive care for pregnant women, while those in the public sector would continue to monitor immunization rates and assure that the appropriate population receives immunizations and other services.
    • The program focuses on six key learning areas:
      1. Individual vs. population-focused nursing practice.
      2. Past and current perspectives on public health nursing practice.
      3. Application of key nursing knowledge to community public health practice.
      4. Principles and skills of population health.
      5. Use of communication and information technology in public health practice.
      6. Communication of the benefits of public health nursing practice.

The program could be self-supporting with about 1,000 participants per session, but outside funding would be needed to launch the first module. An oversight committee was established at the meeting with participation from the associations and institutions represented.

This project has provided a template for another RWJF-funded project aimed at identifying the skills, knowledge, and training needs of all public health professionals (see Program Results on ID# 032018). Looking forward, it might become a field test on the use of distance learning to reach a widely scattered audience.


RWJF provided $24,104 in funding from April 1996 to May 1998 to support the project.

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