When I was first applying to nursing school, I pictured myself spending the next two years of my life memorizing medications, studying diseases and learning to care for sick patients.

I never imagined that I would find myself working in a small community in Minnesota, working alongside public health nurses to provide immunizations for school children and teachers, coordinate care for individuals in their homes, provide women and children with healthy food and nutritional education or care for incarcerated individuals in a county jail.

My name is Ann Bradbury; I am a senior nursing student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was raised in a small, rural town near Madison, Wis., called Brooklyn.

Since September, I have been traveling to Caledonia twice a week to work with nurses in the Houston County Public Health Department.

I have had so many enlightening experiences and will share them with others in hopes that more people will begin using public health as a valuable resource in their community.

My first encounter with public health came last June when I spent a month in the country of Uganda. During my time there, I was fortunate to see how people live and receive healthcare services.

In the urban areas, we visited a pediatric malnutrition clinic that provides treatment for severely malnourished children throughout the country, as well as an HIV/AIDS clinic that provides treatment, counseling and medications to HIV-positive individuals living in extreme poverty.

We also spent a week living in a rural community where most residents live everyday without electricity or running water.

The community has a small hospital where we helped with growth screenings and immunizations for infants and children, screenings for pregnant mothers, and health education for men and women.

We also traveled to several homes within the community to ask residents about their health needs and provide families with much-needed clothing and mosquito nets to help prevent malaria, which runs rampant throughout the country.

While Uganda and the rest of eastern Africa is very different from Houston County, the intent of the services public health provides is similar - to protect and promote health and prevent disease among our populations.

In Houston County, I have worked with public health workers of various backgrounds and specialties to provide care throughout the county.

I have worked alongside a dietitian and public health nurses at the local WIC clinic that provides supplemental food and nutrition education to women, infants and children.

Additionally, I have worked with public health nurses specializing in infectious disease during flu immunization clinics, to provide individuals with other immunizations such as whooping cough, and have gained understanding of what the public health department does to report, treat and control infectious diseases.

Many of Houston County's public health nurses work within the community to visit individuals in their homes, providing family health education and screenings, medication setups and coordination for home health aide visits.

I have had the chance to accompany nurses during many of these home visits, as well as accompany Houston County's jail nurse during visits with incarcerated individuals.

The Public Health Department also has a health educator who provides valuable health information to individuals.

Houston County Public Health provides the community with valuable preventative health services, such as immunizations, screenings and education, that are available to you and your family free of charge or at low cost, and many of these services can actually save you time and money in the long run.

Throughout my time in Houston County, I have learned that the public health nurses and other employees in the department support the health of the county in an endless number of ways.

If there is a service they do not provide or question they cannot answer, public health nurses will work hard to refer you to another agency or resource for information.