The unique niche (and diverse roles) for Public Health nurses

When nurses come to work at Public Health – Seattle & King County (PHSKC), they come with a purpose.

“The nurses who choose public health as their practice are strongly rooted in service. They want to be of service to those who are vulnerable,” says Amy Curtis, a Registered Nurse who leads recruiting efforts for Office of Nursing at PHSKC. “There is a strong commitment to equity and social justice.”

Barbara Huffman, registered nurse on board the Seattle Mobile Medical Van

Despite the national shortage in nursing, we are still finding extraordinary nurses for PHSKC because the work holds so many unique rewards. And with more than 320 Public Health Nurses, it’s one of the largest job classes at the agency.

Public Health nurses are frequently working with King County’s most vulnerable people – whose health is impacted by income, homelessness, addiction, age or other factors. The nurses draw on a combination of technical and interpersonal skills as they:

  • Mentor and build trusting relationships with women who are pregnant or new moms who are identified to be at high risk (through First Steps-Maternity Support Services or Nurse-Family Partnership programs)
  • Deliver primary care in unique settings, such as inside schools and on mobile medical vans, and at clinics that serve people living homeless
  • Educate people with tuberculosis or other communicable diseases, and assist in investigative-work to prevent diseases from spreading (with the tuberculosis clinic or communicable disease team)
  • Treat individuals who end up in the County jail and may have injuries, wounds or ongoing health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension

The breadth of work spans from family planning and sexually transmitted disease clinics, to the Breast, Cervical and Colon Health program.

For National Nurses Week this year, the Office of Nursing is launching a new blog to raise the visibility of public health nursing and encourage nurses to share their stories.

The blog (which is in soft-launch mode this month and is running a contest to help pick a name), features a story from the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Nursing at Seattle Pacific University, Antwinett O. Lee:

“Over the years, many people have asked me why I did not become a doctor and I always tell them that I was called to be a nurse. I chose nursing because of the diversity of roles, experiences, and settings available to the profession of nursing.”

Public Health nursing is considered a sub-specialty within nursing, with a focus on prevention and the social context that impacts an individual’s health – factors ranging from access to healthy food to transportation to education.

“For example, I’m thinking of a recent client with an eight-month-old baby,” says Curtis. “This family had just lost their housing, and they called one of our Public Health nurses, who worked tirelessly to help them find resources and housing. It was emotional, and the impact is lasting for both the client and the nurse.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine has honored our nurses during National Nurses Week, with the following proclamation.Nurses Week proclamation


(published on 5/9/2018)

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.