How to Choose a Public Health Nursing Degree

This article describes what a public health nursing degree is, how to select a program to earn the degree, and why this is a good career option. We also offer information about a good online degree program for public health nursing.

What Is a Public Health Nursing Degree?

A public health nursing degree is a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a focus on the nursing field. This master’s degree will teach you how to practice nursing with the general public health in mind. You will learn how to promote and protect the health of large populations by using advanced knowledge from nursing and public health sciences. A public health nursing degree focuses strongly on population preventative health, rather than on the health of one individual.

Public health nurses is the biggest segment in the entire professional public health sphere. These nurses serve in many very important roles that safeguard the public health. Public health nurses often work with families and communities in such a way to encourage them to make good health choices and live healthier lives so they do not get sick.

Public health nurses usually are already registered nurses with a bachelor’s in nursing, but some may not have nursing experience when starting the MSN program.They normally work in the following settings:

  • Public health departments
  • State and local government
  • Schools
  • Community health clinics
  • Correctional facilities

These nursing professionals will work largely on primary prevention, illness prevention and the promotion of good health in needy communities.

Public health nurses possess advanced skills in both nursing and public health, making them a very important part of the community. Their detailed clinical knowledge and public health skills make them a critical asset in meeting the needs of our most vulnerable populations.

An MSN in public health nursing will prepare students with the clinical knowledge and skills that they need to obtain RN licensure if they do not have it already.

Why Earn a Public Health Nursing Degree?

There are rapidly growing employment opportunities for professionals who earn their MSN degree in public health nursing. Generally, nursing professionals with a master’s degree will see at least 30% growth in job demand by 2024, which is much faster than average. There also will be more need for public health educators, which public health nurses also may do in their work in the local community.

Advanced practice nurses, such as public health nurses and nurse practitioners, are going to be greatly needed because of the rapid demand increase for nursing and health care services. There are more people with health insurance today and this is driving more health care demand.

Further, there is a stronger focus today on preventing people from getting sick in the first place, so there is more need for nurses who have public health skills to prevent illness.

Skilled public health nurses also are needed to provide more care for aging baby boomers, who are expected to live well into their 80s in many cases.

Public health nurses often work in doctor offices, but also may work in state or private hospitals, outpatient care centers, and public health offices for state and local government.

Choosing Your Public Health Nursing Degree Path

Public health nurses must earn a master of science in nursing, which may be combined in some programs with a master’s in public health or MPH. This program will take at least two or three years to complete.

You will take courses in advanced nursing practice, program development and evaluation for health care, population based public health nursing, public health nursing theory, and public health nursing leadership. Public health courses include epidemiology and environmental health.

Online Degree Options

There are many affordable and flexible online MSN in public health programs available today. An online degree program is ideal for a busy nurse or other type of professional who has full time work obligations and a family. Most of the coursework can be taken online in these programs, although you may need to go to the campus for some intensive weekend sessions once or twice per year.

The University of North Carolina – Charlotte offers an MSN in Community and Public Health that will prepare experienced nurses with the leadership and clinical skills that they need to assess communities and populations.

This is a two year online program that will teach you how to identify high risk groups and work in partnership with communities and stakeholders to develop appropriate public health nursing interventions that promotes the public health.

After you graduate, you will be able to sit for your board certification exam that is proctored by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. After you pass, you will be an Advanced Public Health Nurse.

Graduates of the program have reported that they work in the following areas:

  • Public Health Departments
  • Home Health Agencies
  • Hospice
  • Community Organizations
  • Wellness Centers
  • School Systems
  • Faith Communities
  • Industry
  • Rural/Urban Settings

The public health nursing program has 38 credit hours that most people can complete in 2.5 years. Your required courses include:

  • NURS 6101 – Theoretical Basis for Nursing Practice
  • NURS 6211 – Health Disparities and Nursing
  • NURS 6115 – Health Policy and Planning in the US
  • Spring NURS 6212 – Program Improvement and Evaluation
  • NURS 6160 – Research in Nursing and Health Professionals
  • STAT 6127 – Introduction of Biostatistics
  • HLTH 6202 – Community Epidemiology
  • NURS 6180 – Community/Public Health Nursing
  • NURS 6481 – Internship II (3hrs)

To be admitted into this selective program, you must already be a registered nurse with an active and current license. You also must hold a bachelor’s degree, with a bachelor of science in nursing strongly preferred. If you do not have a nursing degree, you will need to likely take additional courses in leadership management, nursing research, aging and health and community health before you start the MSN program.

Note that speciality classes are only offered twice per year during odd years. So you need to coordinate your education plan with your academic advisor to ensure that you can complete the degree program on time.


Ensuring that your degree program is accredited by a respected accreditation body is of great importance. You will have confidence that you are spending time and money on a valuable degree; this accreditation also will inform employers that your degree is of high quality.

You should be looking for accreditation for your public health nursing program from the Council on Education for Public Health or CEPH. This is the most respected and well known accreditation body for public health programs.

You also should look for accreditation from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing or AACN.