The Public Health Nursing Work Environment: Review of the Research Literature

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Public health nurses (PHNs) work to address critical health issues at the individual, family, and population levels. In recent years, a global nursing shortage has posed a significant challenge to the recruitment and retention of PHNs. Hospital-based research has shown that a healthy and productive work environment is vital to successful nursing recruitment and retention. Specific organizational characteristics have been linked to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job vacancies, and turnover rates. Although it is presumed that similarities exist between the public health and acute care nursing work environments, further evaluation is required. This literature review was conducted to identify studies that characterize the PHN work environment. An online database search was conducted to identify prospective PHN studies published between 2000 and 2010. Definitions were established for screening purposes. Twenty-nine PHN studies in the United States and abroad met criteria for inclusion in this review. Satisfaction with teamwork and job autonomy generally was reported. However, inadequate PHN staffing was described as a concern, with problems magnified during prolonged response to public health emergencies. Insufficient control over PHN practice was reported as well. Perceptions regarding other work environment characteristics were mixed or were not measured in detail. More in-depth research is recommended with the ultimate goal of improving PHN recruitment and retention.

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