Population Health Nurses are truly the healthcare practitioners of the future. This specialized role stems from Public Health Nursing, which, in the ‘90s, was defined as “the practice of promoting and protecting the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences” (American Public Health Association).
Since then, healthcare practitioners and policy-makers have called attention to the health inequities and specialized needs of certain populations nationwide. New approaches to healthcare encourage a collective, holistic approach. Population health, simplified, is all about empowerment of communities through healthy living, education, and simple access points to healthcare. We don’t have to venture too far to say that, within the span of less than thirty years, population health nurses have found themselves riding the wave of a national healthcare revolution. What has helped to cause this shift in healthcare perspective? What does it mean for the future of nursing? Read on to find out.
Think back to a recent, enormous change in healthcare legislation that truly altered the field. It’s the Affordable Care Act (ACA), from 2010! The ACA shone a bright spotlight on the relationship between some groups of people, and the benefits of healthcare. “Preparing Nurses for New Roles in Population Health Management,” a 2016 publication by the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP), elaborates on what we mean when we’re talking about population health today.
“Groups” otherwise known as “populations” can by defined by geographic area, or shared characteristics such as ethnicity, religion, occupation, age, disability, sexual orientation, education, health status, or race. Government programs and policies relevant to population health nursing, such as addressing overall healthcare, individual behavior, social and physical environment, and genetics, affect population mortality and rates of well-being. At the same time, individual health and quality of life influences the overall strength of a given group or community. It’s a complicated relationship, but this diagram, modeled by some of the founders of the ACA, makes it easier to understand.
Why is this important? Because population health nursing casts a wide net to improve communities, focusing on distribution in ways that can’t be taken for granted: accessing rural and at-risk groups, and giving those groups a fighting chance. That’s the exciting, professional world that a population health nurse becomes part of.
Population health nurses are responsible for the assessment, care, and treatment, of populations – whether that is a group of individuals, families, a community, organization, or entire demographic. These nurses must utilize their nursing skills and knowledge to plan, implement, coordinate, and deliver care plans in their assigned population. Of course, the role can vary place to place. Some population health nurses might focus on disease prevention in certain populations, providing vaccinations and immunizations against disease. Some population health nurses might work on comprehensive case management, providing treatments, resources, and service referrals within their population group. Most population health nurses, however, will use methods of evidence-based care and coordination to provide their services and efficient care plans to populations in need.
One of the most interesting things about population health management, is that these healthcare practitioners become a vital part of communities in new ways. Population health nurses work as part of a team-based effort that stretches beyond the hospital. They might find themselves working in non-traditional settings, such as health departments, schools homes, health clinics, correctional facilities, and sometimes even in mobile settings, like a van or dog sled!
This is a great reason why joining the ranks of almost 3 million RNs and working in population health is such an impactful way to utilize your knowledge and passion.
Further statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show other good promises for these nurses, such as a median pay rate of $70k. Not surprisingly, the job outlook for RNs is growing much faster than average (15%) due to several nationwide trends: growing rates of obesity and diabetes, prolonged care as the baby boomers live long lives into their elder years, and an emphasis on preventive care. All of these trends affect the population health nurse role.
Putting yourself in the thick of policy change as a population health nurse, is a great way to help the United States and the world build a healthier future. The question is, how do you become a population health nurse? Most employers require at least a Bachelor’s in Nursing degree, however, more and more are seeking out candidates with a Master’s in Nursing. Certain MSN programs will offer public health nursing and population health specific coursework, for RNs looking to advance their career. Some MSN degrees, such as the one at Goodwin College, are very population health focused, and a great path to pursue for those looking to dive into the field quickly (and stand out while doing so).
Find out how you can become a population health nurse through Goodwin College’s MSN program in less than 20-months part-time and fully online. Start changing more than just lives daily. Reach whole communities, instigate policy change, and impact hundreds in a positive way, day after day. Now, that’s inspiring.