Community Health Nurse

A community health nurse is a registered nurse who promotes and protects the health of individuals, families, and communities. They work in various settings, including hospitals, schools, clinics, and public health agencies. They provide direct patient care, education, and outreach to the broader community. They develop and implement programs to improve the health of vulnerable populations, such as those living in poverty or with chronic illnesses. In addition, community health nurses advocate for policies that will improve the community’s overall health. By working to prevent illness and injury, they help create a healthier population.

To become a community health nurse, one must first complete an accredited nursing program and earn a nursing degree. Aspiring community health nurses can choose from a two-year associate’s degree in nursing or a four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing. Once they have completed their nursing education and obtained licensure, community health nurses must complete a community health nursing program. These programs are typically offered at the graduate level as a master’s of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice degree and prepare nurses to work with diverse populations in various settings. 

While the role of a community health nurse is very similar to that of a public health nurse, there are some key differences. Public health nurses’ work is often focused on preventing infectious diseases and on the health of the population as a whole. In contrast, community health nurses are concerned with the individuals’ well-being and how it contributes to the health of a community or specific population. Public health nurses are often involved in policy, whereas community health nurses are on the ground working directly with clients.   

All community health nurses must be registered nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), the demand for registered nurses is on par with all jobs in the US. There will be an estimated 6 percent increase in jobs for registered nurses nationally between 2021 and 2031. On average, the 3,047,530 nurses across the country earn $82,750 annually (BLS May 2021). 

Continue reading to learn more about the role of community health nurses, top education programs, and licensing requirements.

Community Health Nurse Specializations & Degree Types

There are many types of community health nurses, each with specialized skills and knowledge. Some common specializations include public health nursing, school nursing, home health nursing, and hospice nursing. 

Community health nurses can also specialize in working with specific populations, such as children, the elderly, or people with chronic illnesses. No matter their specialization, all community health nurses share the goal of promoting and protecting the health of the public.

Community health nurses typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing, although some may have a master’s of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice degree. In addition to their coursework in nursing, they also take classes in public health, psychology, sociology, and other related fields. This combination of skills and knowledge allows them to address their communities’ unique needs effectively.

Admissions Requirements for Community Health Nurse Programs

The requirements for admission into nursing education programs vary depending on the level of the program and the institution. However, some general requirements are common to most programs. Prospective students must have a high school diploma or equivalent and complete prerequisite coursework in mathematics, sciences, and English. 

In addition, many programs require applicants to take a standardized entrance exam, such as the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). While the specific requirements may differ, all nursing education programs require applicants to have a strong academic foundation to succeed.

Advanced degrees such as a master’s of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice will have additional requirements, including a current and active nursing license, prior education, and work experience.

Community Health Nurse Program Accreditation

The two primary accrediting bodies for nursing programs are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation is essential for nurse education programs for several reasons. For one, it ensures that the program meets high standards for education and training. This, in turn, helps to ensure that nurses who graduate from the program are well-prepared to provide quality care. Additionally, accreditation can also help improve the program’s reputation, leading to even more benefits for students and educators.

On-Campus Community Health Nurse Degree Programs

Allen College

The master of science in nursing in community/public health nursing at Allen College provides students with the opportunity to advance their nursing and public health knowledge. The program is designed to give students the skills and knowledge necessary to address the health disparities of vulnerable populations. Graduates of the program will be able to integrate theory, research, and experiential knowledge into advanced public health practice. The program is available both full and part-time and can be combined with a nurse practitioner track.

To be eligible for admission, students must already have a bachelor’s of science in nursing and prerequisite coursework in Nursing research, statistics, and Community Health. Applicants must also have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 to be considered. All students enrolling in this program are eligible for an automatic 25 percent tuition deduction. 

  • Location: Waterloo, IA
  • Duration: Two-and-a-half years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $687 per credit

Wayne State University – College of Nursing

At Wayne State University College of Nursing, students can earn their master’s of science in nursing in advanced public health nursing (APHN). This program prepares nurses for advanced care of populations and communities, focusing on the challenges facing urban populations. There is a strong emphasis on community assessment, program planning and implementation, leadership strategies, health policy development, and program evaluation. Community partnerships and collaborations are utilized throughout the curriculum. 

This program aims to prepare nurses who meet the APHN core competencies in education, practice, leadership, and research. Required coursework includes research for evidence-based practice, biostatistics, epidemiology, community-based participatory research, and comprehensive community assessment.

  • Location: Detroit, MI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,864.17 per credit

San Francisco State University – School of Nursing

Registered nurses who have completed a bachelor’s degree other than nursing can earn both their bachelor’s of science in nursing and their master’s of science in nursing with the entry-level master’s of science in nursing at San Francisco State University School of Nursing. This six-semester program prepares students to sit for the NCLEX exam and become registered nurses. Aspiring community health nurses can complete the public/community health emphasis as part of their degree. 

To be considered for this program, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, have health-related work or volunteer experience, provide three letters of recommendation, and complete prerequisite coursework. Classes students must complete before enrolling include human anatomy with a lab, chemistry, microbiology, and statistics. 

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: Six semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $4,203 for six credits or more 

Emory University – Rollins School of Public Health and Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

Emory University offers a dual master’s of science in nursing and master of public health degree. Dual-degree students will complete their coursework in both the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and the Rollins School of Public Health. 

Students have a choice of nine specialty nursing areas and are prepared to take national certification examinations in both nursing and public health upon graduation. The program is designed to be completed in two years, with a minimum of 32 semester-credits taken at Rollins and 36 MSN semester-hours taken at the School of Nursing. In their first year, students complete coursework in public health for one calendar year before moving on to the School of Nursing.

Candidates for this dual degree program must secure admission at both schools and complete the graduation requirements for both programs. Students must complete a thesis project on the public health side, whereas on the nursing side, they must complete clinicals to gain hands-on nursing skills. 

  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $5,930 per six months 

Yale University – School of Public Health and School of Nursing

Together the School of Public Health and the School of Nursing at Yale offer a joint master of science in nursing (MSN) and a master of public health (MPH). Students can choose to complete their MSN in any of the clinical nursing specialties offered, except nurse midwifery. They can select from chronic disease epidemiology, health policy, or social and behavioral sciences for their MPH. Curriculum plans for completing this dual degree are done individually to meet each student’s unique needs. 

As much as possible, the two schools work to have coursework overlap to reduce redundancies. For example, students who take the nursing course Community Health Nursing and Public Health will also satisfy the internship requirements for their MPH degree. On the nursing side, students can waive their statistics course requirement if they have taken a statistics class in public health. 

  • Location: New Haven, CT
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $62,826 per year for tuition

Online or Hybrid Community Health Nurse  Degree Programs

University of Maryland – School of Nursing

The community/public health nursing master’s degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore prepares nurses for leadership roles in addressing large-scale health challenges. The program offers a blended learning format that includes online coursework and face-to-face courses, as well as opportunities for practicum experiences that can be tailored to your interests and career goals. 

Graduates are prepared for a careers as community and public health nurses, which are in high demand due to their ability to see the connections between people and their environment and their focus on population health.

In total, students will complete five in-person classes, five online classes, and two practicums totaling 315 hours. Students in this program can also pursue a dual MSN and master’s of public health or a graduate certificate in care coordination, environmental health, global health, or teaching in nursing and health professions. 

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: Four semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,490 per credit 

Rush University – College of Nursing 

Rush University College of Nursing’s advanced public health nursing (APHN) doctor of nursing practice curriculum builds on traditional clinical master’s programs by providing additional education to improve population outcomes in complex systems. Course content areas include evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership. After graduating from the APHN program, students will be prepared to function as public health nursing specialists who develop policies and interventions to improve the health and healthcare of communities and populations.

To apply, students must submit their application and materials through the Nursing’s Centralized Application Service (NursingCAS) system. Requirements include a BSN with a 3.0 GPA or higher, a personal essay, three letters of recommendation, a current resume, and evidence of community service, scholarly activities, and leadership.   

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: Two-and-a-half to three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,166 per credit

Liberty University

The master of science in nursing in community health nursing from Liberty University is intended to give licensed nurses the skills and knowledge they need to promote health and prevent illness in their communities. Through this program, students will gain an understanding of community health needs and how to assess, treat, and educate populations on health and wellness. 

The practicum hours allow students to start positively impacting their community immediately. The program is offered online, equipping nurses with the flexibility to continue working full-time while completing their degrees.

Required classes for this degree include biostatistics, principles of epidemiology, principles of environmental health, and financial and resource management for nurse leaders. This program is taught from a Christian worldview

  • Location
  • Duration: Two-and-a-half years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $330 per credit

Walden University

With an online master’s of science in nursing with a public health specialization from Walden, students can take the lead in promoting health awareness and equitable access in their community. Through this program, students will gain the interdisciplinary perspective and skills to help empower entire populations to live healthier lives.  Graduates of this program can shift from direct patient care to managing community health initiatives, particularly for the underserved. The tools gained by earning this degree will enable nurses to make a tangible impact, from developing population-based nursing interventions to preparing for and responding to disasters.

Students can enroll in this program with either a BSN or just an RN. If a student wants to pursue additional education, there is a doctor of nursing practice option as well. 

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Duration: At least two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $457 per credit

The University of Hawaii at Manoa – Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing, students can complete an online advanced population health nursing (APHN) master’s of science in nursing. This program trains registered nurses for leadership positions in population health nursing. This degree focuses on population-level health, wellness, social determinants of health, health promotion, and disease prevention. 

Students learn critical population health skills such as community and population assessment; leadership, complex project/program management; disaster nursing, health services research; and health policy analysis. The 30-39 credit program can be completed in one year as a full-time student or two years as a part-time student.

  • Location: Honolulu, HI
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,896 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Community Health Nurse?

Community health nurses typically have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing, although some may have a master’s degree or higher. After completing high school, it takes four to six years to complete the necessary education to be a community health nurse.

How To Become a Community Health Nurse – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Students must finish high school or get a GED to earn a nursing degree. Nursing programs may be competitive, so students should work hard to maintain a good GPA and take demanding courses such as AP classes. Students may earn college credit by sitting for AP exams while still in high school, lowering the number of credits needed to obtain a degree.

Step 2: Complete a Nursing Program (Eighteen Months to Four Years)

To become a nurse, one must complete a nursing degree. This can be either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). Either degree provides nurses with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively care for patients. The required curriculum covers various topics, including anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics. 

Step 3: Pass NCLEX (Timelines Vary)

To be licensed as an RN, graduates of nursing programs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is a standardized test that assesses a nursing student’s knowledge and skills. 

Nurses must pass the NCLEX to ensure they are competent and safe practitioners. Moreover, the NCLEX ensures that all RNs across the United States have achieved a minimum level of competency and can deliver high-quality care. Passing the NCLEX is a requirement for obtaining RN licensure in most states. 

Step 4: Apply for State Licensure (Timelines Varies)

After passing the NCLEX exam, nurses can apply for state licensure. Depending on the state, additional requirements, such as a criminal background check or proof of continuing education may exist. Candidates should contact their local nursing licensure board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. 

Step 5: Complete Additional Education (Timelines Vary)

While additional education is not necessary, completing an advanced degree such as a master’s of science in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice in community health nursing or advanced public health nursing. Not only do advanced degrees give community health nurses more skills, but it can also lead to increased pay and better job opportunities.

What Do Community Health Nurses Do?

Workplaces for community health nurses include hospitals, churches, non-profits, and government agencies. Their work is focused on low-income and vulnerable populations such as the unhoused and the elderly. Day-to-day tasks will vary based on the population served and the workplace, but typical job duties will include:

  • Offering health education to community members
  • Providing medical services and rehabilitation
  • Collaborating with other healthcare workers and government agencies
  • Planning and implementing health promotion programs
  • Researching to improve community health
  • Dispensing medications and providing immunizations
  • Crafting intervention plans for groups, families, and individuals

Community Health Nurse Certifications & Licensure

To practice nursing, all nurses must obtain a registered nursing (RN) license from their state licensing board. Aspiring RNs must complete an accredited nursing program and pass a national licensing exam to be eligible. This ensures they have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide safe and effective care. 

Additional requirements vary by state but can include a background check, drug screening, and jurisprudence exam. RNs are required to complete continuing education courses to maintain their license. This helps them keep up with changes in the nursing field and maintain their skills. 

In the past, there have been voluntary certifications for community health nurses, but they have either been retired or only available for renewal and not accepting new applicants.

How Much Do Community Health Nurses Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), the 3,047,530 nurses in the US earn $82,750 per year on average. The BLS doesn’t differentiate earnings based on specialty. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $59,450
  • 25th percentile: $61,790
  • 50th  percentile (median): $77,600
  • 75th percentile: $97,580
  • 90th percentile: $120,250

Community Health Nurse Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a community health nurse: 

Become a Health Educator

Health educators are professionals who help people make the best health choices they can. They conduct interviews and questionnaires to assess community wellness and develop tailored strategies to address the concerns they find. They also evaluate and interview participants to measure the program’s effectiveness after implementing plans. Health educators work on various health issues, including sexual health, obesity, nutrition, fitness, and diabetes.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree in health education
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)

Become a Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses work with other medical professionals to improve a community’s health. They work alongside epidemiologists, health educators, physicians, social workers, and administrators to prevent illnesses, deliver education on health topics, and cooperate with community organizations.

  • Typical Education: Master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board of Public Health Examiners

Become a Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is a mid-level practitioner known as an advanced practice registered nurse. Nurse practitioners are trained to evaluate patient needs, order and interpret diagnostic and laboratory tests, diagnose illness, prescribe and administer medications, and establish treatment plans. The scope of practice and the degree of supervision required for this job will vary by state. 

  • Typical Education: Master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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