Love My Job … But Not My Salary: A Snapshot of America’s Public Health Nurses

Jun 27, 2013, 11:37 AM

A report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) finds the nation’s public health nurses report very high levels of job satisfaction and feel they are making a difference in their communities. But they also report concerns about job stability, compensation, and lack of opportunities for promotion in light of budget-tightening at many state and local health departments.


The findings come from the new report, Enumeration and Characterization of the Public Health Nurse Workforce: Findings of the 2012 Public Health Nurse Workforce Surveys. It was produced by the University of Michigan Center of Excellence in Public Health Workforce Studies and funded by RWJF. It is the first comprehensive assessment of the size, composition, educational background, experience, retirement intention, job function, and job satisfaction of nurses who work for state and local health departments.


The new study also finds that more than two in five public health departments report having “a great deal of difficulty” hiring nurses, and nearly as many state and local health departments report having insufficient resources to fill vacant nurse positions.

“It should be a high priority to address gaps and take steps to strengthen the public health nursing workforce,” said Pamela G. Russo, MD, MPH, RWJF senior program officer, said in a news release about the report. “Public health nurses are likely to need training to keep pace with the changes as health care reform is implemented and public health agencies focus more on population health. The size, makeup, and preparation of the public health nursing workforce greatly affect the ability of agencies to protect and improve the health of people in their jurisdictions.”

The nation’s public health nurse workforce is estimated at 34,521 full-time equivalent RNs. The new report also finds that just 4 percent of public health nurses self-identify as Hispanic/Latino, and 95 percent of those in leadership positions self-identify as White.

Read the report and recommendations from the project’s advisory committee.
See a video of Paul Kuehnert, team director of Public Health at RWJF, discussing the report’s findings.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.