Dear Nursing Grads: Please go directly into Community/Public Health Nursing

First District Nurses in Melbourne
First District Nurses in Melbourne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That is, of course, if you are at all interested in this type of nursing work. Please do not believe anyone (and especially not your nursing professors who have probably not worked as a nurse anywhere since the 1970s) if they tell you to first work as a nurse in a hospital to “get experience.” That simply is not true. People can and do hire new grads for community/public health nursing. Hiring decisions for these sorts of jobs have more to do with the individual applicant—with his or her personality traits (flexibility, patience, humor among others), understanding of (or interest in learning about) community resources, passion for patient/community education and empowerment, and a personal value placed on prevention vs. costly curative/acute care. In your resume and interview remember to include any relevant work (including volunteer or service-learning before or during nursing school) experience in health and social service provision in the community. Do your homework before an interview—including making sure you understand important terms used in the job description. For instance, “harm reduction” does not mean sitting close to a door to escape from a potentially volatile patient…

Non-hospital places to consider when job-hunting: public health departments, community health clinics, nurse-managed community clinics, Health Care for the Homeless clinics, migrant health clinics, Indian Health Service clinics, home care/hospice agencies, nursing homes/long-term care facilities, school-based clinics (and school nursing in general), and occupational health clinics (including perhaps jail/corrections health care?). Similar to hospital residency programs for new nursing grads, some health departments and community clinics are piloting paid internships for new grads/new hires. Health departments in Wisconsin and North Carolina have examples of these.

And despite setbacks/job losses brought on by the recent Recession, health departments and community health programs are hiring nurses. And if the Affordable Care Act survives the caprices of the US Supreme Court, health care reform promises to bring a substantial increase in public health/community nursing jobs—or as the Future of Nursing IOM report states, it promises “to return the profession (of nursing) to its roots in the public health movement of the early 20th Century.” (pg 24).

If you are wondering whether going directly into public/community health nursing after graduation precludes you from ever getting a hospital job in the future—that is not the case either. Especially now with hospital systems’ focus on health care transitions, patient education, and patient care management/coordination, having had previous experience in public/community health nursing is an advantage. Hospital units always do additional training for any/all new hires anyway, so you can get back up to speed on the relevant patient care equipment, meds, etc.

Meanwhile, how to find jobs in public health/community health nursing? Like with any job search, working your personal contacts is important. Ask your community/public health nursing professor or clinical instructor (a fair number of students asked me–hence this blog post response). In the Pacific Northwest, here are places I recommend looking for jobs:

University of Washington School of Public Health online Job Postings (search with ‘nursing’ and there currently are six listings, including some cool-sounding Public Health Nursing jobs in Eugene, Oregon).

Public Health—Seattle and King County online Job Postings (some amazing ones currently for the Nurse Family Partnership among others—and yes, they do and have hired new grads).

Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers online Job Postings.

And–thank you Paula for these suggested sites:

Washington State Public Health Association “New Job Opportunities” online postings

American Public Health Association online careers search (this one requires you to create an account but you don’t have to be/become an APHA member to do so. You can then upload/post your resume if you want–is easy to use and a relatively sophisticated job search system.)

Happy job hunting!

~p.s. For those of you who would love to go right into public/community health nursing but find yourselves in a hospital or other setting instead–don’t despair of ever being able to transition back into the community. Just try to find opportunities to volunteer in a community setting, doing health/social services sort of work. That will help you build your resume and skills for making the transition back out of acute care.