The COVID-19 pandemic put long-standing health disparities in the headlines, with racial and ethnic minority groups experiencing higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death. While disadvantaged populations are too often at greater risk for public health concerns, the pandemic was only one of many challenges they faced.
Nurses, by far, make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce and spend more time with patients than other healthcare providers, putting nurses at the forefront of advancing health equity. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Public and Population Health can prepare nursing professionals to take on leadership roles in achieving health equity. For instance, Worcester State University’s innovative MSN in Public and Population Health online program includes the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills to public health projects focused on social change within any community.
What Are Health Disparities?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines health disparities as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by populations that have been disadvantaged by their social or economic status, geographic location, and environment.”
Health disparities affect groups of people based on factors such as:
- Race and ethnicity
- Socioeconomic status
- Geographic location
- Disability status
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Preferred language
Type 2 diabetes, for example, is considered a preventable disease. Yet, as the Commonwealth Fund notes, deaths attributed to diabetes are far more common for Black and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) people than White people. Infant mortality rates are also higher among Black and AIAN people.
You may be familiar with the idea that zip codes can influence life expectancy. Communities with high poverty rates may lack access to healthy food, stable housing, healthcare providers, and even clean air.
How Are Leaders Addressing Health Disparities?
Nurses cannot be expected to solve the root causes of health disparities, such as structural racism. But as patient advocates, nurses can make health equity a pillar of care. Advocating for culturally competent care, patient safety, and community resources are just a few of the many ways nurses can promote health equity, which the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines as “a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.”
Earning an MSN in Public and Population Health prepares nurses to influence health equity at leadership levels. Implementing social needs screenings in primary care is a familiar example. Additional examples of initiatives to reduce health disparities include:
- Designing, implementing, and evaluating evidence-based programs to address social determinants of health (SDOH), such as community partnerships to reduce vaping among adolescents
- Reducing barriers to telehealth, such as advocating for policy changes related to insurance coverage and provider licensing
- Implementing policies to improve nursing workforce diversity across all levels, including eliminating barriers such as bias that limits career advancement
- Advocating at executive and policy levels to improve individual and population health outcomes, such as using their voices to influence legislation at local, state, and federal levels
How Does Worcester State’s MSN in Public and Population Health Prepare Leaders to Advance Health Equity?
If you are ready to take on higher-level leadership roles to promote health equity, Worcester State’s MSN in Public and Population Health online program can prepare you to develop and implement solutions.
Coursework builds expertise in key areas such as:
- Public health law and ethics, system infrastructure, health equity, and health disparities
- The role of federal, state, and local government in public health and the economics and financing of public health programs
- Evidence-based practice in improving public and population health
- Principles of epidemiology and methods for identifying the distribution of disease and other threats to health
- Informatics, including the use of data mining to achieve healthcare goals
- Global public health, with an emphasis on environmental, social, and economic determinants of health
- Real-world applications to improve health equity
- Leadership and management in public health settings, with a focus on collaborative partnerships
How would it feel to be a force in eliminating health disparities in your community and beyond? Worcester State University’s MSN in Public and Population Health online program can broaden nurses’ scope to influence wider audiences in achieving health equity for all.