The role of the public health nurse is many and varied: this article covers the main aspects of the work of the public health nurse and when you are most likely to need their services.

What is a public health nurse?

A public health nurse or a public nurse is a trained nurse whose work and focus is on community health. They may work in a variety of settings including in schools, for the government, and for special health projects running in the community.

Public health nursing is about educating and promoting health and wellbeing across the community and working to prevent diseases amongst the public.

Public health nurses work with health strategies and big picture scenarios to help a community move toward best health practices and outcomes.

Public health nurses undertake a variety of roles including:

  • Providing health education and assessment in schools
  • Running immunisation programs in schools
  • Organising sexual health classes and clinics in schools – including contraception information and advice
  • Organising and running public health campaigns to help prevent disease
  • Visiting people in their homes to provide health assessments
  • Referring patients to other health professionals
  • Providing follow-up care for people with notifiable diseases such as tuberculosis and meningitis – and work to help stop the spread of such diseases
  • Working with special groups such as refugees, sexually abused children, or in areas such as low income housing projects

When should I see a public nurse?

If you are worried that you have been in contact with someone with a serious contagious disease, then talk to your doctor about the need for follow up work by a public health nurse.

Likewise if you have issues with the health of your house or local environment or community, contact a public nurse.

Immunisation programmes (eg. the recent meningitis programme) may be conducted through the school by public health nurses. If you have any queries about such programmes, then you can talk to a public health nurse or your GP.

You may also want to find out what programs your child’s school runs in terms of sexual health and contraception. This can vary enormously from school to school – talk to the relevant public health nurse to find out what is covered and at what age.

How do I find a public health nurse?

  • Enquire at your children’s school
  • Speak to your GP
  • Contact the Professional Organisations listed below

What will the nurse do?

This depends upon the nature of the reason you are seeing them. Generally they will assess your health needs and take appropriate action – perhaps in liaison with other health professionals such as your GP.

What can I do to improve my family’s health?

Teach your children health safety when in public situations. For example:
  • Not to share drink bottles or food with friends
  • Cover their mouth when sneezing and coughing
  • Seek medical attention for persistent coughs or skin infections
  • Encourage balanced nutrition for the entire family / whanau
  • Encourage and support your children in physical activities and sports

Ensure you and your children are aware of services that are available. (You may wish your teenage children to be aware of local sexual health clinics in your area and how they access support when necessary.)

Seek out information on immunisation programmes – from public health nurses, GPs, Ministry of Health and other reputable sources – to enable an informed choice on immunisation.

Useful websites & articles:

For further information on the Immunisation programme for children in New Zealand, visit our Kiwi Families articles.


Website of the Nursing Council of New Zealand

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Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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Edwina Stevenson

Hi Kimberley I am an RTLB (Resource teacher learning and behaviour) currently study Child protection through childmatters. One of our assignments is to write a fact sheet on a child service we work alongside. I have chosen Public Health Nurses in schools. The type of information I would like to include in my fact sheet is – The name of your service Brief background including establishment date and place, subsequent development. Mission statement and organisational goals. What does the service offer and for whom Where is service provided, staff, time frames, funding……. Cost to client How are referrals made and… Read more »

Rochelle Gribble

Hi Edwina,

We just have basic information on the Public Health Nurse service- you need to contact them directly for more details.



Edwina Stevenson

Thanks Rochelle much appreciated


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