Public Health Nursing Practice Change and Recommendations for Improvement


  • Susan J. Zahner, Dr.P.H., R.N., is Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing, Madison, Wisconsin. Quynh-Nga B. Gredig, M.S., M.P.H., R.N., is Public Health Nurse, North Central Public Health Center, County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, San Diego, California.

* Susan J. Zahner, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing, H6/246 Clinical Sciences Center, 600 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53792-2455. E-mail:


Abstract Objectives: This paper reports the characteristics of recent public health nursing (PHN) practice change experienced by staff-level public health nurses. Recommendations for improving PHN practice offered by study participants are reported and discussed. Design: A cross-sectional written survey was used to collect data from 424 public health nurses in 76 local health departments (LHDs) in Wisconsin (68% response rate) in 2003. Characteristics of practice change were identified using a 15-item-scaled response set. Recommendations on improving practice were made through responses to an open-ended survey question. Content analysis was conducted to identify major themes among the responses. Results: PHN practice has become more population focused. Major themes emerging from the recommendations for practice improvement included increasing system and organizational resources, expanding visibility of public health, and strengthening collaboration. Conclusions: Implications for practice include the need for continuing education in concepts and skills required for population-focused PHN practice, advocacy for more public health resources, and collaboration with academic partners for education and research.