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News | Dec. 12, 2022

Public Health Nurses: Heroes for Health

By Jennifer Gwaltney

In a world where public health is constantly being challenged, the need for front-line contenders in the fight against threats is rapidly increasing. Thus, the work of the Public Health Nurse (PHN) is nothing short of heroic. While focusing on the current well-being of the public, they must also plan and prioritize future approaches to prevent disease and promote health in order to keep our Warfighter population healthy and fit to fight and win. Within their own small community, PHNs rely on collaboration to identify ways to reduce inefficiencies and advocate for opportunities to impact Warfighter readiness.

Collaboration and Teamwork
Collaboration was the idea behind the Health Promotion (HP)/Warfighter Wellness (W2) Champion Training/Meeting hosted by the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC)’s Health Promotion and Wellness (HPW) Department, held August 22-26, 2022 in Virginia Beach. Following that successful event, HPW spoke with CDR Tracy Krauss, NC, US Navy, DNP, MPH, MS Public Health Specialty Leader, OIC – Tetrad, to get her insights on Public Health Nurses and their role, both now and in the future.

“Public health is a vast field, spanning many disciplines reaching into various other fields,” said Krauss. “That’s why successful collaboration skills are a must.” She pointed to the importance of events like the Health Promotion/Warfighter Wellness Champion Training/Meeting and the opportunity to be in the room with so many experts. “It allowed us to collaborate on programs, initiatives, coalitions and much more.”

This emphasis on teamwork is vital to the success of PHNs and the main focus of their work, which is the health of the community, surveillance and disease prevention. Such a multi-faceted role requires “a holistic approach to community wellness,” said Krauss, due to the geographic, educational, economic and social factors that can influence health. “PHNs are responsible for breaking down barriers to health equity.” Overcoming those obstacles make it possible “to develop and sustain the capacity to meet current and future challenges to public health while maintaining the progress already achieved.”

Heroes in Action
Breaking down barriers and facing whatever public health threats come their way make PHNs the epitome of heroism. As they endlessly wage the fight for population health, Krauss sees an aging population, along with changing racial and ethnic patterns as top issues, coupled with the growth of information technologies and health-related partnerships and transformations in health care, such as delivery systems and public health work force needs.

The Path to Public Health Nursing
With so many socioeconomic issues on the rise, the demand for Public Health Nurses is growing. According to Krauss, the preferred path for a PHN is a graduate degree in Public Health, although another option is to complete the 1940 core competencies with a Public Health Nurse. The competencies are a set of foundational knowledge and skills to help public health organizations prepare for accreditation, meet training needs and improve performance, in addition to completing two additional courses through the Navy Marine Corp Public Health Center and obtaining one year of work experience in the specialty.

Ultimately, the work of a PHN is that of promoting the health of communities. “Although we can work with patients one-on-one, our primary focus is on the community as a whole,” said Krauss. As heroes for health, we can count on PHNs to remain strong in their fight against the diseases and the causes that put Warfighters and the entire population at risk.

For more on the HP/W2 Champion Training/Meeting hosted by the NMCPHC’s HPW Department, held August 22-26, 2022 in Virginia Beach:
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