As much as 50% of public health department budgets are federally funded, but budget cuts have restricted salaries levels so much that they essentially can't compete with hospital or office-based nursing salaries. Salaries for public health nurses at state health departments in 31 states range from $42,998 to $71,892 for RNs.
None of the health departments cited in the RWJF report expect to see their budgets increase a great deal in the near term, which will further challenge recruiting efforts.
Aside from payroll constraints, education and training also present challenges to attracting and retaining staff. Of the nearly 2,500 currently vacant nursing positions in public health departments, 45% call for RN licensure.
"As health reform is implemented, and as public health agencies are transforming to a more population-health-oriented role in promoting health and protecting communities, public health nurses will need additional training to keep pace with the changes," stated Pamela G. Russo, MD, MPH, RWJF senior program officer in a media release.
"There's a tremendous amount of autonomy and personal decision-making [as a public health nurse]. You get better opportunities to make independent assessments, so it increases the nurse's job satisfaction and offers up a real meaningful position for nurses to have," said Paul Jarris , MD, MBA, executive director of the Association of State and Territory Health Officials, a nonprofit organization representing U.S. public health agencies, in an interview.