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The Role of Nurses in Improving Public Health

Nurses are known for providing patient-centered care. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses put their own safety at risk, offering critical care under extraordinary stress. Public health nurses were also on the frontlines, working to prevent and control the disease, train workers for testing sites, conduct contact tracing, help marginalized communities access vaccines and more.

The pandemic brought attention to gaps in the healthcare system, including the need for more public health nurses. For registered nurses (RNs) who want to empower healthy behaviors at the community level, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the first step.

St. Cloud State University offers an online RN to BSN program that is flexible, affordable and prepares graduates for specialized nursing opportunities, including those in public health. The program’s curriculum includes Introduction to Population Health and Population Health (Asynchronous Clinical), which deepen students’ understanding of this area prepare graduates to assess and plan successful public health interventions.

What Is the Role of Nursing in Public Health?

In 2022, nurses took the top spot in a Gallup rating of honesty and ethics. According to the poll, 81% ranked nurses as having “very high” or “high” standards, compared to 67% for medical doctors, the second highest of 22 occupations.

Since Florence Nightingale’s time, nurses have been recognized for the trusting relationships they build with patients. This foundation of trust and caring helps nurses connect with the most vulnerable members of a community. In doing so, public health nurses can address disparities and promote health equity.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) defines public health nursing as “the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences.” As trusted professionals, public health nurses can mitigate the spread of health misinformation.

For example, school nurses can educate students, staff and families on relevant topics such as vaccines. In addition to school settings, public health nurses work in a variety of areas, such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Health care centers
  • Clinics
  • Community health centers

How Does Earning a BSN Prepare RNs to Improve Health Equity?

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing summarizes growing evidence of the value of earning a BSN. One study found that BSN-trained graduates are more prepared than nurses with associate degrees in 12 out of 16 areas of care related to quality and safety.

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) focuses on skill-based competencies. BSN programs expand on this to prepare RNs to meet the complex demands of healthcare today. For example, St. Cloud State University’s RN to BSN online program includes coursework that emphasizes:

  • Population-focused nursing, public health and community health nursing, with a focus on how social determinants of health (SDOH) — such as income, employment, food security, education, race and housing — can impact health outcomes
  • The relationship between research and evidence-based care
  • Health promotion and disease prevention for individuals, families, groups and populations
  • Nursing leadership and management

Chronic disease is a major focus of public health nursing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases are a leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. They are also preventable. BSN graduates who pursue public health have an opportunity to address the causes of health disparities in common chronic diseases to advance health equity.

What Are the Advantages of Earning a BSN?

The list is long when it comes to reasons to earn a BSN. In addition to improved patient outcomes, benefits include expanded job opportunities and higher earnings. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a BSN degree is considered the entry-level education for RNs. The median annual wage for RNs is $81,220, with the top 10% earning over $129,400 (as of May 2022). Earning a BSN is also excellent preparation for master’s and doctoral nursing programs — degrees that can lead to sizable salary bumps.

The APHA notes that “public health saves money, improves our quality of life, helps children thrive and reduces human suffering.” RNs who aspire to promote long-term health for entire communities may find the ideal career in public health. With nursing programs such as St. Cloud’s RN to BSN, flexible start dates allow nurses to start as soon as they are ready.

Learn more about St. Cloud University’s online RN to BSN program.

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