The Challenge to Grow the Number of Public Health Nurses

Jul 22, 2013, 9:06 AM, Posted by

Lisa Campbell, DNP, RN, APHN-BC, is an associate professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and director of Population Health Consultants, LLC in Victoria, Texas—a company that works to build human capital to improve population health. She serves as newsletter co-editor for the American Public Health Association, Public Health Nursing Section.


With 36 percent of the public health nursing workforce reporting age 56 or older, according to the new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, strategic planning by state and local health departments must include creative strategies to recruit. In order to increase the numbers of nurses in public health, hiring practices will require a paradigm shift. Public health nurses new to the field bring a unique perspective that will assist in bridging the gap between public and private partnerships. Furthermore, public health is charged with adaptive practice innovations to implement programs outlined in the Affordable Care Act. To illustrate this point, I would like to share my public health nursing journey.

I decided to become a public health nurse after being a nurse practitioner for more than 25 years. When I embarked on this journey, I had no idea where it would take me.

My journey included completing a doctorate of nursing practice program in public health nursing. Upon graduation, I could not find a job as a public health nurse or in a public health related field. Instead of settling, I decided to start my own company with the idea of working with other disciplines. Today I am consulting with a local community and have facilitated the completion of the National Public Health Performance Standards Program. Next I will assist with the Community Health Needs Assessment, Community Health Improvement Plan, and strategic plan. 

Never in a million years would I have dreamed of starting my own company but I believe ingenuity and resourcefulness is at the heart of every public health nurse!  

Job satisfaction for me is the freedom to creatively empower populations, and build human capital and capacity in order to sustain programs that will improve the health of populations; this is priceless. Material compensation is secondary.

Take home lessons for those who are in positions to hire: I would suggest a better understanding of how skills translate into practice.

Finally, looking beyond years of experience in a field, other than public health nursing, is fundamental to growing the numbers of public health nurses and infusing the workforce with innovative thinkers with fresh perspectives.

Read more about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work on public health nursing.

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