Updating the Definition and Role of Public Health Nursing to Advance and Guide the Specialty

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National changes in the context for public health services are influencing the nature of public health nursing practice. Despite this, the document that defines public health nursing as a specialty—The Definition and Role of Public Health Nursing—has remained in wide use since its publication in 1996 without a review or update. With support from the American Public Health Association (APHA) Public Health Nursing Section, a national Task Force, was formed in November 2012 to update the definition of public health nursing, using processes that reflected deliberative democratic principles. A yearlong process was employed that included a modified Delphi technique and various modes of engagement such as online discussion boards, questionnaires, and public comment to review. The resulting 2013 document consisted of a reaffirmation of the one-sentence 1996 definition, while updating supporting documentation to align with the current social, economic, political, and health care context. The 2013 document was strongly endorsed by vote of the APHA Public Health Nursing Section elected leadership. The 2013 definition and document affirm the relevance of a population-focused definition of public health nursing to complex systems addressed in current practice and articulate critical roles of public health nurses (PHN) in these settings.

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