Spotlight on Public Health Nurses

Most people expect to see a nurse in the doctor’s office, but many would be surprised to know just how many nurses are working outside of those offices. Public health nurses work all over the place to promote the health and safety of all. They work in schools, prisons, community health centers and even out of mobile vans. These health care professionals work hard to prevent disease and injury while educating the public.

Always changing, always learning

Jessica Langille is a registered nurse in a busy metro DC hospital, and she has worked in a variety of nursing roles throughout her career. She now works with adult inpatients who have various chronic and acute medical conditions. “I have always been interested in the medical field, likely because my mother is a medical secretary and also because she has chronic health issues,” shared Jessica. “I wanted to know why and what to expect I guess. I loved the idea of knowing how to help someone when they were hurt.”

Initially planning to become a doctor, Jessica completed her bachelors of science in nursing from the University of Rhode Island. She was concerned about work-life balance as a doctor and wanted to be sure she was able to be around her family, when she started one. At age 18, in her first nursing class she immediately knew it was what she was meant to do. It’s never been just a job, but a career she could identify with, and she hasn’t stopped believing that.

“The beauty of nursing is that it can change with you and the career adapts to what you need in your life,” Jessica said. She’s done a variety of jobs as a nurse and has enjoyed them all. “I enjoyed writing hospital policy for a while to see what it took and how it worked. I started teaching to have an easier work day while I had small children and my husband traveled. I loved teaching and decided to get my Master’s degree. It has been something that I have enjoyed. I love watching students have what Oprah calls an ‘A-ha!’ moment, where suddenly the pieces fall into place.”

Jessica completed her masters of Science in nursing from George Mason University and then also completed the Certified Medical Surgical Register Nurse (CMSRN) course and plans to complete the Progressive Care Nursing (PCCN) certification this year. Her current roles as a nurse include training new nurses and patient care. “I also teach at the collegiate level for aspiring nurses at accredited programs with traditional baccalaureate students as well as accelerated/second degree students. I have remade a Return-to-Practice course where nurses who have left the nursing field are returning to it and need a refresher. The course is geared toward working in the hospital.”

Looking forward, as a student

Discovering that nursing lined up with who she was helped Jessica stay motivated throughout the tough schooling. She advises young nurses to take a step back and evaluate why they pursued nursing to begin with. “It’s hard to keep up with the constant demands of patients, administrators and the rest of the world, so take a minute to just breathe,” she said.

She also suggests that all prospective health care professionals make smart decisions, starting early on. “Think about the next 5 or 10 years and what it is you want that to look like and how you will get there. Also, if you don’t love it, it won’t love you back. If it doesn’t make sense then you missed something. Nursing just makes sense. Please remember you will see the very best and the very worst of people. Don’t forget there will always be both and take it with a grain of salt. Never lose your humanity. What kind of professional do you want to be? Who do you want to work with? Make sure you are the one people want to work with. Lastly, find a nursing buddy. No one will get it like another nurse.”

Staying connected with the nursing community

Jessica stays up-to-date with a variety of resources including the Academy of Medical Surgical Nursing (AMSN) and American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). She lists several others, but also includes that every health care professional needs to take a break from the research and focus on their family or interests.

The Quad Council was established in the early 1980s to represent the interests of public health nursing, including education, practice, leadership and research. Its membership has changed over the years and now includes the Association of Community Health Nurse Educators (ACHNE), Association of Public Health Nurses (APHN) Public Health Nursing Section of the American Public Health Association (PHN Section of APHA) and the National Association of School Nurses (NASN).

Public health nurses make huge impacts on the health of their community by designing and implementing programs specific to the needs in their area. Sometimes this means immunization clinics or food safety workshops. Sometimes it means providing annual exams. Sometimes it means listening to tired, single parents who are up late worrying about their child’s health. As Jessica’s experience proves, public health nurses can really do it all.

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