Public health is a growing and exciting field that focuses on the health of entire communities, with an emphasis on education and prevention. While public health workers may, of course, still diagnose and treat illnesses, their focus is more on helping individuals and communities learn ways to stay healthy in the long-term. If you already have a nursing degree or are working toward one, you may be wondering if your nursing degree can help you move into the public health field.
Public Health Nursing
The short answer is yes. You can definitely move into the public health field with a nursing degree. Training and qualifying as a registered nurse is generally required for public health work, so you first step, if you haven’t done it already, will be to acquire at least an associate’s degree and preferably a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then become a certified RN. If you know well in advance that you will be entering public health, it would be a good idea to take as much pertinent coursework and gain as much practical experience as you can. Let your teachers and mentors know that you are interested in public health issues. The American Public Health Association also maintains a list of internships and fellowships that healthcare students may work in to grain practical skills and experience.
Public health nurses work via a holistic approach with individuals and communities. They try to assess health trends and problems in certain communities. Many times, public health nurses and other public health workers serve within medically under-served populations. They work to educate people about good health and nutrition, focusing on preventative care. As a public health nurse you may find yourself giving talks in schools or clinics, providing screening services or immunizations, and working with families and individuals – particularly vulnerable community members like mothers, children and the elderly – to give them the tools and knowledge they need to live better, healthier lives. Sometimes public health nurses also go into areas that are recovering from a crisis situation.
An RN with experience and good people skills will likely do well in the public health field. If you remain in the field, however, and want to enter supervisory or management roles, you may decide you need further education. There are a number of advanced degrees at the masters and doctoral levels that could help you further your career in public health. Depending on your interests and skills, you may want to enroll in a Master of Public Health (MPH) program, a Master of Health Administration (MHA) program or a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH). Each of these degrees, and others, emphasizes different skill sets and areas of public health. Some of the common ones are Health Education, Health Services Administration, Nutrition, Global Health, Occupational Safety and Health and Maternal and Child Health.
With a growing interest in preventive health care, especially as health care costs continue to increase, the public health field is a busy and growing one. It affords excellent opportunities for nurses with a passion for holistic, communal care and health education.