Forum on the Future of Public Health Nursing

The size, makeup, and preparation of the governmental public health system’s workforce greatly affects the ability of agencies to protect and improve the health of people in their jurisdictions. Although comprehensive data on the overall public health workforce are lacking, there is consensus that public health nurses (PHNs) constitute the largest professional segment of the public health workforce, and that they assume a wide variety of roles in health departments, including providing clinical care to individuals, health planning, surveillance, management, and serving as directors at the local and state levels.

Multiple forces are influencing the context of public health and the many roles public health nurses play. These include:

  1. Impact of health reform;
  2. Cuts in public health budgets and staff due to budget shortfalls; 
  3. New consensus definitions on the scope and competencies of public health nurses;
  4. Recommendations from the Institute of Medicine 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, including that 80 percent of nurses achieve bachelor-level degrees by 2020;
  5. Public health agency accreditation and adoption of quality improvement measures; and
  6. Transition in public health toward a greater emphasis on chronic disease prevention and interventions. 

In February 2012, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) convened a wide range of stakeholders, including leaders and experts representing the public health workforce, to gain insights into these issues. The result was the Forum on the Future of Public Health Nursing. This report describes the results from the Forum process, including surveys and interviews conducted prior to the Forum, material covered during it, and the priority recommendations of those who attended, gathered through a survey conducted afterward.