Public Health Careers for RNs
Public health nurses are involved in meeting the health care needs of the community as a whole, rather than one individual at a time. With their backgrounds in tending to individuals, registered nurses (RNs) are in the unique position of being able to bridge the gap between the sick or vulnerable and policy makers or health planners. They help design strategies for intervention, programs to address the community's health issues, and approaches for preventing illness. They can also serve in advocacy roles, bringing the concerns of individuals and families to decision-makers.
Public health isn't often emphasized in nursing programs, but there are many different opportunities for RNs to pursue public health careers. Public health nurses' work may touch the areas of communicable diseases, women's health, child health, school health, immunizations, STD clinics, or home health. It can involve any or all of these areas on any given day, or it can involve dealing with responses to disasters or large-scale emergencies. Public health nurses can deal with communities of all sizes, whether at the local level or the national level, or work overseas.
The types of nursing careers available within the public health field vary widely. On the nationwide scale, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has many different opportunities available for public health nurses. RNs can work with specific at-risk or vulnerable populations, such as people with AIDS in a particular region, providing primary care, care management, and health education. The CDC also employs nurses in its health outreach efforts overseas, like epidemiologists in its International Emerging Infections Program. These nurses assist in the CDC's efforts to prevent, prepare for, or confront infectious diseases around the world, in a number of different roles, from administrative positions to research to educators and more.
There are multiple ways to pursue career paths in public health nursing. An RN degree will prepare nurses for many positions in the field, though certain specialized or higher-level administrative roles may be more accessible to those with advanced degrees like master's or doctorates. Taking an entry level position in the field can help aspiring public health nurses narrow in on a path they'd like to pursue within the field.
Because public health is a broad field that encompasses so many different roles, it contains practically limitless opportunities for those with varied interests or the desire for a dynamic, stimulating career path. Using the tools that an RN degree could equip them with, public health nurses can serve the interests of entire communities, the nation, or the world as a whole. They can help form the policies that will affect the health and well-being of entire populations. For anyone drawn to the idea of impacting health on a larger scale, a career in public health nursing is worth considering.
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MPH@UNC is the online Master of Public Health (MPH) program from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, which is ranked the No. 1 public school of public health and No. 2 school of public health on U.S. News’ list, most recently published in 2015. The program offers a Leadership in Practice concentration and can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. GRE, GMAT or MCAT scores are required.
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