A career as a Public Health Nurse can be a fulfilling career for someone who wishes to find the middle ground between clinical practice and community health.

If you are currently a registered nurse, it is likely that most of your experience has been focused on individual patient care: with a specialization in Public Health, however, you may find yourself working with large communities at a time by designing strategies to prevent disease, raising awareness of health issues, and working to promote health education.

The many disparities in our modern healthcare system have driven many passionate registered nurses to obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to become leaders in making informed decisions in order to improve community health, especially in at-risk communities.

As such, you might consider a career in Public Health Nursing if you are interested in the following topics:

  • Focusing on primary prevention and health promotion within communities.
  • Designing, implementing and assessing nursing services to varying communities, making use of your specific knowledge of public health and policy
  • Taking a leadership role in healthcare environments, and offering orientation and consultation to public health professionals- registered nurses, doctors, community workers- as well as patients.
  • Leading or coordinating longitudinal studies aimed to improve health through targeted behaviors, policies, and environmental change

What Can an MSN Specialization in Public Health Do For Me?

Public Health is an incredibly vast field, with many different applications. As such, an accredited Master’s program will generally a encompass many different theoretical and practical contents. Below, we have categorized and listed some of the essential skills involved in a specialization in Public Health:

Analytical Skills in Nursing

Nurses specializing in public health will necessarily need to be able to understand and public health applications of quantitative and qualitative data. Analytical courses can impart the information technology skills needed for accessing, collecting, cleaning, analyzing, maintaining, and evaluating data. Nursing students may also evaluate the efficacy of health programs, and design health surveys in order to better understand the communities they work with.

Program Planning in Public Health

As many public health nurses work in the public sector, it is important for them to be able to identify funding opportunities for organizational public health goals. This and similar courses can provide nursing students with the skills necessary to research health literature and draft evidence-based documents. It may also provide them with an introductory knowledge of laws pertaining to policy development, to be further studied in more advanced classes.

The Communicational and Cultural Dimensions of Public Health

Public health nurses may often need to advocate for policies, programs, and resources at the local, state and federal levels. In order to do so, they must be able to convey health data and information to professionals and the public using a variety of approaches, and with cultural and linguistic proficiency.

This and similar courses aim to help nursing students understand the dynamics between health and culture, and equip them with the tools necessary to educate communities on how to improve health for themselves and especially their most vulnerable populations.

Do Additional Specializations Exist in the Public Health Field?

Given Public Health’s breadth, many students who pursue graduate degrees choose to specialize in a certain subset of the field. The following are just three examples of some of the most common specializations within a Public Health program:

Biostatistics and Informatics

Biostatistics is the analysis of healthcare-related data. Public health professionals with knowledge of biostatistics use models to track the health of a population, as well as to identify patterns and trends. Those interested in this field may also consider a career in Nursing Informatics, a related field that focuses more on the collection and analysis of data rather than its application in research. This specialty may be ideal for those who enjoy working with numbers and data.

Environmental Health

A nurse specialized in the field of Environmental Health obtains the theoretical knowledge and the practical skills necessary to take on the health issues related to such pressing topics as growing levels of air pollution and climate change. Students concentrating in environmental health can learn about the many environmental factors that affect a community’s health, such as water and air quality, exposure to chemicals such as pesticides, and the effect that socio-economic factors can have on the health of entire neighborhoods. After graduation, they may go on to work in positions focused on prevention, research or community outreach to minimize the impact of these environmental risks.

Health Policy and Management

A specialization in Health Policy and Management is meant to give individuals the knowledge and skill-set necessary to design effective policies with regards to medical care. It is an interdisciplinary field which extends into the range of economics, politics, management, and finance. Nurses who consider this specialization may have a course load heavy in law, ethics and health care. This may be an ideal specialization for candidates with high critical thinking skills, who wish to occupy leadership roles in their field.

How Much is Tuition for an Online Program?

As with any program, tuition prices will vary according to the institution. Nurses who wish to specialize in Public Health have an interesting option most other specialists don’t:

  • they can choose to get a dual Master’s, both in Science of Nursing (MSN) and Public Health (MPH), or
  • they might consider simply obtaining their MPH in addition to their experience as an RN.

Such dual-programs are rarely offered completely online, but we have listed three options below.

Benedictine University

Between $650 and $670 per credit hour – Average completion time, 3 years

Emory University

$32,984 per semester – Average completion time, 3 years

University of Health Science Center

$5,500 per semester (in-state tuition); $17,600 (out of state) – Average completion time, 2 to 3 years

Before making a decision, you should consider if obtaining a dual Masters degree is a reasonable objective for you. If not, you might consider simply pursuing an MPH in addition to your experience as a registered nurse; below, we have listed three options rated among the most affordable.

University of Illinois at Chicago

$16,050 per semester (in-state tuition); $26,396 (out of state) – Average completion time, 2 years

Concordia University

$9,175 per semester – Average completion time, 2 years

Kent State University

$10,652 (in-state); $18,168 (out of state) – Average completion time, 2 years

What Salary Can I Expect?

Given that a registered nurse with a Master’s in Public Health or dual MSN/MPH can work in a wide variety of positions, salaries can differ substantially.

One typical example of a career path for those with an MSN/MPH is the field of epidemiology: the study of patterns and causes of diseases. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, epidemiologists with an MPH earned an average of $69,660 dollars in 2017.

MPH recipients looking for more of a leadership and administrative role might consider a career as a Medical and Health Service Managers: on average, they earned $98,350 last year.

Be sure to identify the possible career paths that correspond to your specific specialization, in order to better investigate your potential salary.

Is a Career in Public Health Right For Me?

A Master’s in Public Health is quite unique among nursing specializations, due to the fact that it offers such a wide variety of work possibilities and environments. While most nurses work with single patients at a time, a Public Health Nurse is specialized to deal with the health issues that affect entire communities.

As such, a public health nurse may often pursue leadership roles, including as Program Coordinators/Directors for health education programs or clinical services. Or, depending on their specialization, public health nurses might work directly with clinical data, and use their knowledge to analyze and interpret it in regards to the health of large communities at a time, in an attempt to better design and implement efficient illness prevention and care.

In addition, public health nurses can be found working in a wide variety of settings. Most of the demand comes from the public sector, including local and state health departments, federal and state agencies, and schools. However, there are many potential employment opportunities to be found in the private sector for a qualified public health nurse, including non-profits and non-governmental organizations.

Employment for nurses in-general appears to be on the rise: according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 16 percent growth is expected in the field throughout 2026. If you are passionate about working with communities, health education, and improving safety and health for large groups of people, now might be a good time to get involved in this degree path. An MSN can direct you to the right opportunities, tools, and professionals found in the world of public health.