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MSN Course Insight: Disaster Preparedness and Nursing

Walden University nurse executive students gain valuable insights from top professionals.

With the annual number of natural disasters rising,1 preparedness and response plans grow ever more critical. In the healthcare sector, nurses are key players at the heart of those efforts.

“With approximately 2.8 million registered nurses in the United States, nurses represent the largest segment of the U.S. healthcare workforce, and, accordingly, the effectiveness of the healthcare system’s response to a public health emergency or disaster is largely dependent on the surge capacity of the nurse workforce,” according to a research paper published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship.

That research, “Nurses as Leaders in Disaster Preparedness and Response—A Call to Action,” is required reading for students in the Walden University course, Role of the Nurse—Public and Global Health. Through their coursework, nurses in Walden’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Nurse Executive specialization widen their perspectives related to promoting health and preventing disease as they examine health issues that transcend national borders, class, race, ethnicity, and culture. They also consider and reflect on the nurse executive role in settings such as disaster response and relief.

The article provides a comprehensive inside look at the work of 14 nursing subject matter experts who developed a vision for the future of disaster nursing and offered recommendations for nursing practice, education, policy, and research.

Learn along with students in Walden’s Nurse Executive MSN specialization in this excerpt about the future of disaster nursing:1

At a time when disasters and public health emergencies are occurring with increasing frequency, it is essential that the breadth and untapped potential of the nursing profession be fully understood and deployed.

The past decade has shown a dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of natural weather-related, technological, infectious disease, and human-caused disaster events. With approximately 2.8 million registered nurses in the United States, nurses represent the largest segment of the U.S. healthcare workforce, and, accordingly, the effectiveness of the healthcare system’s response to a public health emergency or disaster is largely dependent on the surge capacity of the nurse workforce.

Nurses must be prepared to respond to any disaster or public health emergency. Employed across diverse settings, nurses collaborate on a daily basis with a broad range of public health or healthcare professionals and are well-positioned to partner with health system leaders, individuals, and families to significantly improve population health outcomes and build community resiliency to disasters across the nation.

Yet despite considerable funding for hospital and public health preparedness since the attacks of September 11, 2001, efforts to prepare and mobilize nurses for disaster preparedness and response have been episodic and difficult to sustain. While some disaster preparedness programs have been developed across various government agencies, schools, and professional organizations, formal systems are not in place to provide pre- and post-licensure nurses with consistent, comprehensive, and updated education and training in emergency preparedness and disaster response.

Worldwide, it is commonly acknowledged that nurses play an integral role in disaster response. Globally, disaster nurse readiness is a pressing concern, and nurse leaders from many countries have identified disaster nursing education and training as a vital need. Many are facing the challenge of identifying appropriate disaster nursing competencies and implementing effective education and training programs to prepare their nursing workforce.

To address these and other issues, the group developed a vision for the future of disaster nursing and crafted a broad array of recommendations for nursing practice, education, policy, and research. Here are their recommendations:


  • Healthcare and related organizations support clinical nursing practice during disasters to reflect crisis standards of care and address common barriers to the willingness of nurses to respond to a disaster.
  • Establish a collective effort among nurse leaders to advance the practice of disaster nursing and public health emergency preparedness and response.


  • Develop a national set of disaster nursing competencies to be integrated into the American Association of Colleges of Nursing Essentials of Nursing and National League for Nursing Guidelines for Nursing.
  • Establish coalitions of nursing schools to develop evidence-based and competency-driven didactic and clinical learning opportunities using multiple delivery platforms that can be integrated into the undergraduate and/or graduate nursing curricula.
  • Broaden lifelong, continuing educational opportunities in disaster nursing and public health emergency preparedness and response for nurses through healthcare and related organizations across all healthcare settings.
  • Establish a national clearinghouse of information to provide guidance and resources on disaster nursing.


  • Conduct a thorough review of national policies and planning documents addressing disasters and public health emergencies to ensure that they elevate, prioritize, and address the practice of disaster nursing in federal, state, and local emergency management operations.
  • Encourage a culture of volunteerism through national nursing professional organizations by engaging their members to align with volunteer agencies and participate in disaster response.
  • Facilitate timely and efficient deployment of nurses and other healthcare workers to disaster areas by expanding liability protections for volunteers and providing coverage for volunteers harmed while responding.


  • Establish a research agenda based on a thorough needs assessment to document gaps in literature, nursing knowledge and skills, and available resources.
  • Expand research methods to include interventional studies and use both quantitative and qualitative designs.
  • Increase the number of doctorally prepared nurse scientists serving as principal investigators on disaster research projects.

These recommendations constitute a point of departure for addressing the barriers and facilitators to preparing a national nursing workforce with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to respond to disasters and public health emergencies in a timely and effective manner.

We recognize that these recommendations range in complexity and some may be more challenging to implement than others. Despite such challenges, we believe these recommendations are critical to enhancing national nurse preparedness, which can ultimately increase the resiliency of healthcare organizations and communities more broadly.

Take the Lead as a Nurse Executive

Let an MSN degree help hone your skills as a nurse leader. Walden’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) ¬ Nurse Executive specialization can give you the knowledge and skills you need to take your career to the next level.

Walden’s MSN degree program lets you earn your degree on your terms. You can choose between a course-based format or the flexible competency-based format, designed to work around your busy schedule. And when you pursue your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Nurse Executive, you’ll:

  • Collaborate and share insights with nurses from around the U.S. Engage in an interactive online environment that makes it easier to work while you advance your education.
  • Learn from highly qualified instructors who leverage their practical experience to help you grow as a nurse leader. All of Walden’s MSN – Nurse Executive faculty hold doctoral degrees.
  • Translate knowledge into hands-on practice by designing, developing, and implementing a project in a real healthcare setting.
  • Become a healthcare change agent by applying your enhanced skills and expertise immediately within your professional environment.

Your online MSN program can enhance your leadership skills, leading to nurse executive roles that may include:

  • Chief nursing officer
  • Director of nursing
  • Head nurse
  • Nurse administrator
  • Nurse manager
  • Nursing policy manager
  • Manager of health policy
  • Risk manager

As a nurse executive, you can choose where to focus your efforts in an expanding job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be an additional 71,600 jobs available for medical and health services managers between 2018 and 2028.2

Find your niche and let your expertise and leadership improve patient outcomes across the healthcare landscape.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Nurse Executive specialization. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,