How to Become a Community Nurse: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a community health nurse. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in community health nursing. View article »

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Should I Become a Community Nurse?

Registered nurses who want to have a larger impact on the community, including lower income patients and those without health insurance, may want to consider becoming community nurses. Community nurses educate the public on health promotion, run blood drives, direct public health screenings, and provide counseling services, among other duties.

Some community nurses focus on a particular aspect of healthcare, like HIV/AIDS or mental health treatment. Community nurses help people directly by providing healthcare, and they can also be involved with social and healthcare policy and reform. The work of nurses can be physically demanding, including a great deal of standing and walking, in addition to sometimes having to lift or move patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's for entry-level positions; master's degree for management positions
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure and Certification Must pass the NCLEX-RN to become licensed; voluntary certification in public health nursing is available
Experience Some community nursing employers prefer candidates with one or two years' experience; managerial jobs may require at least 4 years' of experience
Key Skills Demonstrate compassion and patience, as well as strong speaking, critical thinking, organization, and listening skills; competency in using office software, medical records software, and health monitoring equipment
Salary (2015) $67,490 (Median salary for registered nurses in general)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), American Nurses Credentialing Center, O*Net OnLine, Online job postings (November 2012)

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Steps to Becoming a Community Nurse

Community nursing jobs typically require a combination of education, state licensure, and training.

Step 1: Obtain a Nursing Degree

Those wanting to become a community nurse must first complete an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN), or obtain a diploma from an accredited nursing school. Courses include nursing fundamentals, anatomy and physiology, psychology, and nutrition. Clinical rotations through various departments are required to develop practical skills. Depending on the type of program, the education process can take between two and four years.

Get ahead while still in school. Complete courses related to community nursing. When choosing a program, aspiring community nurses should consider programs that offer courses in public health policy and community outreach. Schools with clinical programs in community healthcare settings could also give one an edge by providing relevant experience.

Step 2: Get Licensed

After earning a degree in nursing, individuals must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) in order to become registered nurses. Nursing graduates must also contact the state board of nursing in the state where they want to practice to determine what other requirements may be needed in order to be licensed. After receiving licensure, it is important that nurses maintain and renew their licenses as needed.

Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree in Nursing

Registered nurses may work as community nurses without earning a graduate degree. It is important for nurses to investigate prospective employers' and organizations' requirements of their community nurses, as this step may not be needed. On the other hand, those who want to specialize their field of nursing in order to better manage the needs of the community may choose to earn a Master of Science degree in Nursing (MSN) or a Master in Public Health (MPH). With a master's degree, registered nurses may find it easier to influence decision and policy in terms of addressing community health needs.

Step 4: Become Certified as a Community Nurse Specialist

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Advanced Public Health Nurse-Board Certified (APHN-BC) credential. Only registered nurses who have a license to practice in the state where they want to be a community nurse and have a graduate degree in public or community health nursing may seek certification. After passing the ANCC certification examination, nurses must partake in professional development training and renew their credential every five years.

Step 5: Join an Association or Nursing Organization

Community nurses may want to join a professional association not only for professional support, but also to make sure they keep informed on developing research, legislative changes, and new ways to benefit the community. For example, membership with the Association of Community Health Nursing Educators (ACHNE) or the American Public Health Association (APHA) provides nurses with a venue for discussion and education on changing practice, research, and education needs. By joining these kinds of organizations, community nurses can help their communities not just at the local level, but also influence healthcare reform on a much larger scale.

Community nurses have a nursing degree and state licensure. Some jobs may require a graduate degree. Voluntary certification and membership in professional organizations may improve job prospects and career enhancement.

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