Public Health Nurses of Canada

Public Health Nurses (PHNs) are registered nurses with a baccalaureate degree in nursing. To become a public health nurse requires first training to be a registered nurse (RN). Many nurses care for one patient at a time, but public health nurses care for whole populations. They work with entire communities of people, educating them on health issues, working to improve community health and safety, and increasing access to care.

The belief that many factors can affect somebody's health is integral to public health nursing. Such factors include genetic makeup, lifestyle, and environment. A nurse at a hospital might treat a patient with a severe cough and attribute the cause to bronchitis. A public health nurse is likely to be interested in how many people in that community have contracted bronchitis and why. Rather than wait for patients to come to a hospital or clinic with an illness, public health nurses go into communities to try to help people improve their health and prevent disease.

While many other nurses focus their efforts primarily on treating patients' ailments, public health nurses often focus more on health education. They use the knowledge and skills they learned in nursing school and from their work experience to give people useful and reliable information about how to protect their health. Their role may include preventive care, screening services, and health education.

Public health nurses provide direct health care services to individuals of vulnerable and at-risk populations. While other nurses treat people who come to them in clinics and hospitals, public health nurses seek people who may have limited access to health care.

Many people in the communities in which public health nurses work don't visit medical professionals very often, because of limited time, financial constraints, or because it's difficult to do so. Meeting with a public health nurse gives them an opportunity to discuss issues they've been experiencing but haven't yet addressed. These nurses may be able to notice minor issues before they develop into larger issues or suggest different routines or practices to improve their health.

Schools, businesses, and organizations occasionally call on public health nurses to give immunizations and vaccinations to their students, staff, and community members. Some people are more inclined to receive an immunization or vaccination if a nurse comes to where they work or learn. Immunization and vaccination programs can significantly improve the overall health of a community.


(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 5196065)

Canadian Public Health Nurse Joyce Driver by her car, September 1953.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3604101)

A Saskatchewan Public Health Nurse School Inspector is discussing health with a pupil, c1952.

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3614964)

An eye operation is performed on Nootaragyook, an Eskimo from Pond Inlet, in the hospital of the C.G.S. C.D. Howe, Eastern Arctic patrol vessel. Left to right: David Ford of Port Hope, Ont., interpreter; Dr. C.A. Davies, Vancouver; Miss K. Isabel Thomas, Public Health Nurse, Canadian Institute for the Blind, Toronto, July 1951.

Public Health and Community Health Nursing in Canada supports a responsive, equitable, consistent, high-quality, recognized, resourced, accountable and sustainable public health nursing workforce that contributes to improving the health of Canadians.

The Canadian Public Health Association is a national, independent, not-for-profit, voluntary association representing public health in Canada with links to the international public health community. CPHA’s members believe in universal and equitable access to the basic conditions which are necessary to achieve health for all Canadians. CPHA’s mission is to constitute a special national resource in Canada that advocates for the improvement and maintenance of personal and community health according to the public health principles of disease prevention, health promotion and protection and healthy public policy.

Public health/community health nurses contribute in many important ways to the improvement of people’s health in the community. They are leaders of changes to systems in society that support health, and they play key roles in disease, disability, and injury prevention, as well as in health promotion.

Public health is defined as the organized efforts of society to keep people healthy and prevent injury, illness and premature death. It is a combination of programs, services and policies that protect and promote the health of all Canadians.

Public health is a shared responsibility of federal, provincial, and territorial governments, municipalities and Aboriginal Peoples’ organizations, as well as governments that enact laws and regulations whose purpose is to protect both individuals and the general public. In jobs spanning a variety of settings and roles, health professionals work under or within these laws and regulations to address population-wide health challenges. Public health programs may be delivered somewhat differently in different jurisdictions.

Definitions of Public Health/Community Health Nurse

A public health/community health nurse has a baccalaureate degree in nursing and is a member in good standing of a professional regulatory body for registered nurses.

The public health/community health nurse:

• combines knowledge from public health science, primary health care (including the determinants of health), nursing science, and the social sciences;4,15• focuses on promoting, protecting, and preserving the health of populations;

• links the health and illness experiences of individuals, families, and communities to population health promotion practice;

• recognizes that a community’s health is closely linked to the health of its members and is often reflected first in individual and family health experiences;

• recognizes that healthy communities and systems that support health contribute to opportunities for health for individuals, families, groups, and populations; and

• practices in increasingly diverse settings, such as community health centres, schools, street clinics, youth centres, and nursing outposts, and with diverse partners, to meet the health needs of specific populations.

Public health/community health nursing is a synthesis of nursing theory and publichealth science. The basis for public health/community health nursing includes a wide range of models and theories, such as:

• population health promotion and primary health care (where the focus is on promoting and maintaining health),

• illness and injury prevention,

• community participation, and

• community development.

Nursing Public health/community health nurses…

• are self-motivated and self-directed– They work autonomously and independently in a variety of settings.• work collaboratively– They work together and in consultation with the community and with both nursing and other colleagues.

• use evidence to inform their practice decisions– They incorporate research findings into their practice.

• participate in the research process– They do so by identifying clinical nursing problems which lend themselves to research and will aid in the creation of evidence-based nursing practices and effective action for community health.

• share knowledge and skills with students– They do this using a practical training model (preceptor process) that enhances the practice of both parties.

• integrate multiple ways of knowing into their practice– They pursue aesthetic, empirical, ethical, personal, and socio-political knowledge to further their understanding of public health/community health nursing.

• work within a socio-environmental (ecological) model for health promotion– They consider social determinants of health in planning approaches and activities.

• are responsible for maintaining both professional nursing standards and public health standards– They do so by:

being accountable for the quality of their own practice,

evaluating their own performance and ongoing professional development,

taking responsibility for meeting core competencies for practice, and

striving for excellence by making sure that their knowledge is current and that they engage in lifelong learning.

Public health/community health nursing practice is guided by the Canadian NursesAssociation’s (CNA) Code of Ethics.

Nurses in all domains of practice bear the ethical responsibilities identified undereach of the seven primary nursing values.

• Providing safe, compassionate, competent and ethical care• Promoting health and well-being

• Promoting and respecting informed decision-making

• Preserving dignity

• Maintaining privacy and confidentiality

• Promoting justice

• Being accountable

Canadian Nurses Association

To function in their roles, public health/community health nurses must use advanced decision-making strategies such as the nursing process, which combines judgment, action, responsibility, and accountability. Public health/community health nurses must take the time to inform themselves about current community health issues and new technologies, so they can properly apply public health science and epidemiological principles to their work.

Date of issue: July 30, 1958 Printer: Canadian Bank Note Company Design: Gerald Mathew Trottier.

Canadian Nurses Association

The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) was founded in 1908 when representatives from 16 Canadian nursing bodies met in Ottawa to form the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses (CNATN). By 1924, every province was represented; in that year, the group changed its name to the Canadian Nurses Association. The organization has since grown to represent over 135,000 nurses throughout the country, with goals of improving health outcomes and strengthening Canada’s publicly funded, not-for-profit health system.

The stamps commemorate the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Association. The earlier one shows a capped and somewhat serious appearing nurse in profile. This was the first Canadian stamp in which a living model (other than a monarch) was used to illustrate a stamp’s theme. Depictions of three types of nursing activity – caring, treating, and helping – can be seen on the first-day cover. The nurse in the 2008 stamp also has a professional demeanor, emphasized by the tray of medical instruments that she is carrying. The background color is meant to represent the ambiance of a hospital room at night.

The lamps to the left of the nurse on the 1958 stamp and in the CNA logos on the first day covers derive from Florence Nightingale, who carried one while she made her night-time patient rounds (“the Lady of the Lamp”). The 1958 logo was created specifically for the 50th anniversary; in addition to the symbolic lamp, it included a maple leaf to emphasize the association’s Canadian roots. An updated 1994 logo maintains the lamp and maple leaf but in more stylized versions; the two parallel flames are meant to underline the bilingual nature of the Association.

Date of issue: June 16, 2008 Printer: Canadian Bank Note Company Design: Gottschalk+Ash International

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