• community nursing;
  • generalist nurse;
  • public health nursing;
  • qualitative research

nic philibin c.a., griffiths c., byrne g., horan p., brady a.-m. & begley c. (2010) The role of the public health nurse in a changing society. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(4), 743–752.


Title. The role of the public health nurse in a changing society.

Aim.  This study is a report of a study to clarify the role of the public health nurse in one Irish community care area in the light of acknowledged problems in defining boundaries of the role.

Background.  Demographic developments and planned reorientation towards primary care of the health service in Ireland have changed the workload of public health nurses, which is unique compared with other countries. However, there is a lack of clarity and consequent problems in defining the role of the Irish public health nurse.

Method.  A descriptive qualitative study was conducted with 25 representatives of community nursing from one county in Ireland with a population of 209,077 and a complement of 65 full-time equivalent public health nurses. Purposive sampling was used and 21 public health nurses, two registered general nurses, one assistant director and one school nurse participated. Tape-recorded, individual semi-structured interviews were conducted over a 15-month period from 2002 to 2004. The constant comparative method was used for analysis.

Findings.  Four themes emerged: ‘Jack of all trades: the role of the public health nurse defined and described’, ‘the essence of the role’, ‘challenges to the role of the public health nurse’ and ‘communication’. The first theme is discussed in this paper.

Conclusion.  Public health nurses need to define and redesign their role so that they no longer think that they are the catch-all service in the community. This will enable them to deal with the rapid demographic, sociological and cultural changes in the population, a change that has international resonance.