Context: Public health workforce trends demonstrate threats to a vital national resource. The current shortage of public health nurses is due to a variety of factors. One route to addressing the public health nursing shortage is to increase the level of interest in public health as a career option for nurses.
Objective: The main objective of this study was to examine the relationship of nursing education program and field experience characteristics on the level of interest in a public health career among student nurses.
Design: Cross-sectional, online surveys of undergraduate student nurses were conducted over 6 semesters to assess the relationship of field practicum characteristics and level of interest in a public health career.
Setting: Undergraduate student nurses (N = 882) enrolled in traditional baccalaureate nursing programs (n = 18) and online associate to baccalaureate degree completion programs (n = 2) in one US state participated in the survey after completing the required community or public health coursework and field experiences.
Main Outcome Measure: Level of interest in a career in public health was measured using a 4-point Likert-type scale anchored by “no interest” and “very strong interest.”
Results: Overall, 46% of respondents expressed either moderate or strong interest in a future career in public health. Having had a field experience in a local health department was the only type of experience associated with stronger interest in a public health career. Enrollment in baccalaureate completion programs was associated with higher interest, and enrollment in programs located in a region of the state where students were significantly less likely to have field experiences in local health departments was associated with lower interest.
Conclusion: Career interests for nurses are developed in part through field experiences while in nursing school. Interest in public health careers may be nurtured through field experiences in local health departments.
This study examines the relationship of nursing education program and field experience characteristics on the level of interest in a public health career among student nurses.
School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.
Correspondence: Susan J. Zahner, DrPH, MPH, RN, School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Madison, H6/240 CSC 600 Highland Ave, Madison, WI 53792-2455 (firstname.lastname@example.org.).
This project was supported by a grant from the Division of Nursing, Bureau of Health Professions, Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services (grant DHHS/PHS/HRSA #D11HP07731) Linking Education and Practice for Excellence in Public Health Nursing.
The authors thank Yacob Tedla, Kari Marconnet, Nancy Boehm, Jennifer Kowalkowsky, Julie Cavey, Sarah Miner, and Tracy Wilson, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who participated in various aspects of the project.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest.