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.