What Is Community Health Nursing?

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Community health nursing involves providing care to diverse patients in underserved communities. The role of a community health nurse is that of an advocate, direct patient care provider, patient educator and humanitarian. Community-based nursing occurs in nontraditional settings, such as homeless shelters, schools, correctional facilities and others.

nurse and young patient

One of the many reasons nursing is a great career choice is the vast range of nursing specialties to choose from, such as community health nursing. A community health nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who provides direct care and advocates for the health needs of diverse populations within their community, focusing on underserved populations and those who may not otherwise have access to healthcare.

At Felician University, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program prepares students for various nursing specialties by establishing a solid clinical foundation so students can feel confident as they take the nursing licensure exam. Our ABSN can facilitate your career switch, setting you up for success in any nursing specialty — even community health nursing.

Below is an exploration of community health nursing and its many career opportunities.

The Role of Community Health Nurses

If you’re interested in pursuing this nursing specialty after graduating from nursing school, it’s worth taking a closer look at the specific role of community health nurses.

The day-to-day job responsibilities of these RNs often depend on their work setting and employer, as well as the diverse needs of the patients with whom they work on any given day. In general, however, you can expect a community health nurse to carry out the responsibilities below.

nurse assisting patient in wheelchair

The nursing field is full of career diversity. Explore 10 alternative nursing careers here.

Direct Care in Community Settings

Community nursing is a hands-on role involving direct patient care. One key difference between these RNs and those in other specialties is that community nurses tend to provide direct patient care in nontraditional settings.

For instance, a nurse might staff a blood pressure screening station at a shopping mall or assess patients at community centers. Health screenings, immunizations and other forms of preventive healthcare are the primary focus of these professionals.

Patient Education

Community-based nursing often reaches out to underserved populations. Individuals within these underserved populations may not have high levels of health literacy. Patient education is a significant area of responsibility for community health nurses.

school nurse sitting with child patient

For example, an RN might counsel patients about:

  • Methods of smoking cessation
  • Diabetes management
  • Medication management
  • Healthy nutrition tips
  • Family planning education
  • The importance of health screenings like mammograms
  • Reducing the transmission of infectious diseases

Preventive Healthcare Services

As previously mentioned, community nursing often emphasizes preventive healthcare services. The role of these RNs includes:

  • Administering immunizations
  • Performing screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes
  • Providing well-baby and well-child exams
  • Screening patients for depression and other psychological disorders.

Healthcare Advocacy

To some extent, all nurses serve as advocates for their patients. They give their patients a voice and work to provide access to needed care. In community nursing, healthcare advocacy is a particular focus.

nursing student putting stethoscope in ears

Remember that these RNs often work with underserved populations suffering from healthcare disparities, such as lack of or insufficient access to health services. It’s the job of these professionals to advocate on behalf of their communities to improve access to needed health resources.

Community-Based Nursing Locales

Community health nursing generally occurs outside traditional healthcare settings like hospitals and nursing homes. Instead, these RNs meet their patients where they’re at. As a community health nurse, you could pursue a position in many diverse workplace settings, such as those below.

Community Health Centers

A community health center, or community clinic, is a nonprofit health clinic located in areas with underserved populations. Their mission is to deliver a comprehensive range of primary care services to all community members, regardless of their insurance plan (if any) and ability to pay. Many patients at these centers receive care free of charge or on a sliding scale based on income.

Homeless Shelters

Individuals living in homeless shelters face considerable obstacles. Often, their primary goal is to find permanent housing and employment, which can prove challenging if a person lacks an address and reliable access to a phone. Caring for one’s health can take a backseat.

The role of a community health nurse is to provide health services to homeless shelter residents dealing with a diverse range of health challenges and to connect them to community resources.

doctor giving shots to patients in homeless shelter

Aid Organizations

Many nonprofit aid organizations connect patients needing humanitarian assistance to medical services from doctors and nurses.

In this type of work environment, you might find work within the U.S. or overseas as a foreign humanitarian worker. Overseas humanitarian work can be challenging yet immensely rewarding.

Correctional Facilities

Nurses who work in correctional facilities often wear many hats. On any given shift, you might find yourself providing preventive care, emergency triage, case management, infection control, public health services and other types of health services.

Correctional facilities can be challenging work environments, as the patients may sometimes display unpredictable behaviors or suffer from a variety of issues, including contagious diseases, injuries caused by acts of violence and substance abuse. Emotional resilience and strong patient advocacy skills are crucial.

Government Agencies

Many community health nurses work for government agencies, typically at the local or state level; however, federal positions are generally more common. As a nurse employed by the local or state government, you would likely work in a publicly funded community health clinic or be responsible for planning and implementing community health programs and resources.


K-12 schools and higher educational institutions are additional workplace options for community health professionals. The typical responsibilities include assessing and treating students who become ill or injured on school grounds, communicating with parents and administering medications and immunizations.

Did you know some nurses can work remotely? Learn about pursuing a career in telehealth nursing.

patient video chat with nurse on laptop

Key Qualities of a Community Health Nurse

An aspiring community-based nursing professional can benefit from having a wide range of skills and personal characteristics. Here’s a look at some of the top skills and qualities developed through nursing education and clinical experience.

Communication Skills

Communication skills are at or near the top of the list for most nurses, including those working in community settings. For this nursing specialty, communication skills are crucial because patient education and advocacy are significant parts of the job.

Communication involves more than simply telling patients how to use their diabetes medications or petitioning a state agency to allocate more healthcare dollars to a clinic.

In these settings, active listening skills are vital because nurses must empower underserved individuals who may feel marginalized, unseen and ignored by society. Simply listening to a patient and validating their concerns can go a long way toward making that individual feel empowered.

two students working on white board


A community health nurse may deal with a variety of health issues during any given shift, from patients who need referrals for reproductive care or have uncontrolled diabetes to unhoused people with malnutrition and hypothermia. These professionals can benefit from staying highly flexible and having the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Compassion and Empathy

Compassion for others is often why people pursue a nursing career; they want to help make a positive difference in their communities. Empathy — the ability to relate to another person’s situation and experiences — is also essential.

However, when faced with high patient caseloads and other challenges, community-based RNs can suffer from burnout. They must cultivate emotional resilience and practice self-care to prevent compassion fatigue.

Case Management and Organization

Community-based nurses need strong organizational skills, which naturally translate well to case management proficiencies. They work with many individuals and families; each patient also needs case management services, which generally consist of treatment planning, disease/health management and ongoing evaluation.

Your Career in Community Health Nursing Starts at Felician

Felician nursing student typing on laptop

If you’re passionate about community health nursing or another nursing specialty, your rewarding new career could begin at Felician University. You may be eligible for our accelerated nursing degree programs if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or at least 60 non-nursing college credits.

Unlike other universities offering accelerated nursing degrees, we offer two distinct options. Choose from the Hybrid ABSN program in Parsippany, NJ, or the On-Ground ABSN program in Rutherford, and graduate ready to take the licensure exam and start your nursing career.

Contact our dedicated admissions counselors today to learn if an accelerated nursing degree program is right for you.