Public Health Nursing vs. Community Health Nursing

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Public health and community health nursing are two careers within the medical field that focus on educating and treating a specific group of patients. Each of these professionals works for public organisations and local or federal government bodies. If you're interested in the nursing field, you may consider one of these two specialities. In this article, we share a list of comparisons between public health nursing vs. community health nursing, explain their educational requirements and share specialisation areas each professional can pursue.

Public health nursing vs. community health nursing

It's helpful to understand the differences between public health nursing vs. community health nursing. This can help you pick which career may be best for you. Here's a list of comparisons between the two:


Though these careers seem similar, they each share different definitions. Understanding the differences between their definitions can help you learn more about these roles. Here's an explanation of each:

Community health nursing

Community health nursing is a niche area of public health nursing that focuses more specifically on advocating for healthcare and medical services to local communities or populations that need them. They review data to determine which individuals need the most help in accessing and using healthcare resources and work with local healthcare facilities and government agencies to ensure those individuals receive the care they need to live a healthy life.

Public health nursing

Public health nursing is an area of public health in which qualified nursing professionals use their knowledge to review state and area health data to make conclusions about health trends. Public health nursing also focuses on educating the public on preventative nutrition, exercise and hygiene tips to maintain the health of members of the public and those around them.

Related: Guide to the Types of Nursing Interventions (With Examples)

Work environment

Public health and community health nursing differ in that public health professionals typically work for the federal government, whereas community health professionals work for state or local governments. Though both public health and community nurses typically divide their time between medical laboratories, hospitals and other healthcare facilities and office buildings. Since public health nurses typically work for larger organisations, they may have a more diverse set of patients and colleagues than community health professionals.

Job focus

Public health nursing and community health nursing differ in areas of focus. Public health nurses review historical records, scientific studies and population data to determine how to prevent injuries or illnesses and promote health across populations. In contrast, community health nurses focus more on the resources that community members have access to that support health and well-being.

For example, a public health nurse links infrequent hand-washing and sanitation procedures to an increase in the number of people who get the flu within a particular state. They create educational materials and use their findings to convey the importance of sanitation to the public before the start of flu season. Community health nurses review health resources available in a county within the state, and actively partake in administering flu vaccinations to patients in their spare time.

Related: 13 Responsibilities of Nurses (Plus Skills and Specialities)

Salary expectations

The salary of public and community health nurses can depend on their experience level, certifications, employer, location and educational background. As these professionals are each registered nurses, they can expect to earn an average salary of $517,167 per year. Since each of these professionals works in a speciality field, they may earn more or less depending on their employer. If you're interested in increasing your salary, you can negotiate this with your employer.

Related: How To Negotiate Your Salary (Steps and Tips)


Public health nursing includes a variety of different roles that allow professionals to achieve career goals and obtain more senior roles over time. Here are some examples of roles in public health nursing:

  • public health worker

  • public health nurse

  • public health nurse practitioner

  • public health doctor

  • public health administrator

  • public health analyst

Here are some examples of community health job titles to give you an idea of alternative job areas in community health nursing:

  • community health worker

  • community health nurse

  • community health advocate

  • community health navigator

  • community health educator

  • community health data analyst


Since they are both nursing professionals in related fields, community and public health nurses typically develop similar skills. Here are some technical and soft skills these professionals often develop:

  • Communication: Communication skills allow these nursing professionals to interact with their patients and colleagues. They also benefit from written communication skills, as it allows them to create reports and update patient charts.

  • Time management: Since each of these professionals may treat a large volume of patients each day, it's important for them to have time management skills to ensure they can complete their tasks and serve their community.

  • Diagnosis: Nurses are able to examine patients and diagnose their condition to help find a treatment plan. They often complete tests and consult their medical colleague's opinions during this process.

  • Leadership: These professionals often act as trustworthy consultants in their communities and workplaces. Their leadership skills help them effectively communicate and guide patients to better health practices.

  • Teaching: Public and community health nurses use their teaching skills to inform their community about conditions that may affect them and share information about vaccines and other general health practices.

  • Empathy: Empathy is the ability to be compassionate towards others. This can help nurses put their patients at ease and motivate them to find the best treatment plans for their patients.

Related: 19 Important Technical and Interpersonal Nursing Skills for Your CV

Education requirements for public and community health nurses

Becoming a public health or community health nurse often requires the same educational path. This is a key similarity between these careers. Here are the steps you can take to meet the education requirements for these roles:

1. Become a registered nurse

The first step to working as a public health or community nurse is to gain an education at the collegial level and become a qualified registered nurse (RN). There are two appropriate pathways for prospective nurses to take. An associate degree in nursing is a two-year degree program that provides nursing students with in-class and clinical instruction that prepares them to take the licensing examination and administer patient care.

In contrast, a bachelor's degree in nursing is a four-year degree program for prospective nurses. During this time, bachelor's degree nursing students can explore speciality areas of nursing like public health and choose a speciality track to complete along with standard courses.

2. Earn a license

After becoming a registered nurse, earn a certification that allows you to begin working with the public. To earn a nursing license in Hong Kong, you can enrol in a general registration programme at The Nursing Council of Hong Kong to take the nursing registration exam. After you pass this exam, you can earn your license.

Related: 7 Highest-Paid Nursing Jobs (Including Tips to Get One)

3. Gain experience in the public health field

For nursing professionals looking to specialise in public health or community health, they can benefit from applying for jobs with public health organisations or healthcare facilities. You may also benefit from working as an RN in hospital settings to better understand patient care needs, healthcare policies, and different health conditions.

4. Consider a master's degree

A master's degree in public health is a two-year program that allows public health professionals to further their education and conduct in-depth research on one or more topics relating to public health. With a master's degree in public health, public health nurses and community health nurses can apply advanced expertise to their communities. This can also give them the opportunity to increase their salary.

Specialisations for public or community health nurses

Public and community health nurses can both specialise in similar focuses. Some of the most common specialisations for these professionals include:

  • Home health care: Home health care nurses work with members of the community in their patient's homes to provide quality care to elderly or disabled people.

  • Case management: Case management nurses work with patients who have chronic conditions. These professionals advocate for high-quality treatment plans for their patients and ensure they receive the medical support and intervention for their condition.

  • Clinical nursing: Public and community health nurses who specialise in clinical nursing typically focus on a specific condition within the community and work to make treatment plans for patients and spread community awareness.

  • Occupational nursing: Professionals with this speciality work to provide health care to other professionals and employees in the community.

  • School nursing: School nurses work in universities and primary and secondary schools to provide care for the students there. They may also put together materials to educate students on common conditions.

  • Pharmaceutical nursing: Nurses in this subfield work in pharmacies and administer vaccines and medications to the public. Some pharmacies feature clinics that nurses oversee for less severe conditions, such as the flu.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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