Becoming a Public Health Nurse Practitioner

A public health nurse practitioner working with an elderly woman in her community
A public health nurse practitioner working with an elderly woman in her community

Nurse practitioners impact the health and well-being of patients by providing holistic care that emphasizes health promotion and disease prevention. There is no public health-specific certification for NPs. So, becoming a public health nurse practitioner is an opportunity to obtain an existing certification, such as Family Nurse Practitioner, and apply that specific knowledge to the core values of improving the health of whole communities or populations.

Public health models address prevention and determinants of health that affect entire groups of people, often those who face social and economic barriers to quality health care. The American Public Health Association (APHA) identifies “health equity” as a core value and guiding priority for practitioners in the field. Research recently published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has identified a critical need for increased numbers of advanced practice nurses with the expertise to navigate the complexities in public health.


What is Public Health?

Nurses who focus on public health integrate knowledge from nursing, social science and public health to educate communities and advocate for practices that improve the quality of life for populations. They are proactive leaders in social issues that affect public health, and they are prepared to respond to public health crises.

The American Public Health Association lists major topics of contemporary concern for professionals in the field, including:

  • COVID-19
  • Gun violence
  • Immigration
  • Mental health
  • Racism
  • Substance abuse
  • Vaccines

Many challenges in public health are highly correlated to inadequate health care access that disproportionately affects at-risk communities, such as people experiencing poverty and minority populations. A report from the federal initiative Healthy People 2030 identifies underlying factors for groups of people who encounter limitations in health services. Issues include:

  • Lack of health insurance: Uninsured individuals may receive less preventative care and health care monitoring.
  • Transportation challenges: Persons lacking a dependable means of getting to care providers are at higher risk for negative outcomes of serious medical conditions.
  • Shortages of health care providers: Efficient health care delivery depends on the availability of resources in communities.

Registered nurses at all levels are vital in meeting growing health care demands across diverse communities. Nurses with advanced education are equipped to practice at a higher nursing level and offer specialized leadership in public health.


Advanced Practice Nurses in Public Health

The NIH report cited earlier explains that advanced practice nurses are highly prepared for leadership in public health nursing. Specifically, nurse leaders demonstrate skills in:

  • Communication
  • Developing partnerships
  • Systems-level implementation
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Addressing health equity

Advanced practice nurses, including nurse practitioners, are a key voice in advocacy, education and systems innovation that altogether shape the quality of public health. Public health nurse practitioners work in varied settings such as health care organizations, governments and educational institutions. They play critical roles in areas such as:

  • Research
  • Health policy
  • Disaster response
  • Community disease prevention
  • Infectious outbreaks
  • Community addiction crises


Public Health and Primary Care

Research summarized by Healthy People 2030 also gives insight into the essential connection between public health nursing and primary care. Evidence shows that people with regular access to primary care experience better health outcomes because they are more likely to receive vital preventative services and to seek care early for illness or injury.

Disparities within communities, however, may limit access to primary care. Overcoming barriers to health services can improve the quality of public health across entire groups of people.

Nurse practitioners are filling critical gaps in the availability of primary care in underserved areas, such as rural locations where reports show that NPs serve in approximately one-fourth of primary care roles. To meet continually growing demands, these numbers will need to increase and expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners.

According to data from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, almost 90 percent of NPs licensed in the United States are certified to provide primary care. The most common area of specialization is family primary care, with family nurse practitioners (FNPs) accounting for almost two-thirds of nurse practitioner graduations.

Highly skilled in preventative care and health promotion for diverse populations, FNPs are uniquely prepared for careers in public health.


How Can Marymount University Prepare You to Become a Public Health Nurse Practitioner?

Registered nurses with graduate-level education are prepared as leaders in health care, including public health nursing. Earning an advanced degree or certificate as a family nurse practitioner gives you the knowledge and skills to become a public health nurse practitioner.


Program Content

Marymount’s CCNE-accredited online FNP degree programs follow a curriculum that is strongly focused on ethics and evidence-informed care. With foundational concepts in public health, core courses include:

  • Population Health: Provides global and national perspectives with a focus on the determinants of health, health disparities and population-oriented prevention from an epidemiological approach.
  • Innovative Models of Care Delivery: Prepares students to demonstrate clinical, organizational and systems-level leadership, including organizational and policy arenas.
  • Leadership, Quality & Ethics in Health Care: Develops evidenced-based leadership skills as core nursing competencies to improve patient care quality and strengthen nursing as a profession.


Degree Options

Depending on your current academic preparation and career goals, choose from three online FNP programs at Marymount.


Online Master of Science in Nursing — Family Nurse Practitioner

For BSN-prepared registered nurses, the MSN-FNP program can be completed in just over two years. Course content includes a total of 45 credit hours and 700 clinical hours, plus one on-campus residency.


Online Doctor of Nursing Practice — Family Nurse Practitioner

BSN-prepared registered nurses aspiring to advanced health care leadership can achieve the highest nursing education level with a DNP-FNP degree. This program includes 63–70 total credit hours and 1,000+ clinical hours, plus two on-campus residencies.


Family Nurse Practitioner — Post-Master’s Certification 

MSN-prepared registered nurses can complete a Post-Master’s FNP Certificate in just 20 months. Course content includes 30 credit hours and 700 clinical hours, plus two on-campus residencies.

All programs include clinical placement services to fit your goals, at no additional cost. For the DNP-FNP program and post-master’s certification, the second residency experience includes meeting with a member of Congress to discuss health policy legislation.


Take the Next Step Towards Your Career as an Advanced Practice Nurse

Public health nursing is one of many ways family nurse practitioners are impacting the future of health care. Contact one of our student advisors to discuss the Marymount University online FNP degree path that is best for you.