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MSN Course Insight: Assessing Community Health Problems

Study alongside Walden University students with this required reading taken from the Master of Science in Nursing degree course Role of the Nurse—Global and Public Health.

Where you live can directly affect how healthy you are. If you live in the epicenter of a disease outbreak, your risk of contracting the disease is high. Likewise, if you live in an area with significant air pollution, you’re at greater risk for lung ailments. And the correlations go further.

Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) has found significant geographical patterns in the prevalence of disease, with higher- and middle-income nations suffering from different sets of health problems than lower-income nations.1 This has a lot to do with access to nutrition and healthcare, as well as the way poverty and affluence lead to differences in lifestyle choices.

MSN Course Insight: Assessing Community Health Problems

As a nurse, you’ve likely noted how income levels and various geographical factors (like rural vs. urban vs. suburban) can affect a patient’s overall health. But the kind of anecdotal evidence you can gather in a hospital or clinic is unlikely to give you the tools you need to alleviate or eliminate health problems that are prevalent in a specific community. If you want to make a real difference in public health, you first have to know how to properly assess a population’s health problems.

This is advanced work for nurses. Typically, you have to take master’s-level coursework to gain the appropriate knowledge. For example, at Walden University, you can gain knowledge on health assessments by taking the course Role of the Nurse—Global and Public Health, which is part of the university’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. In the course, MSN nursing students examine a range of public health topics, including how to conduct health assessments.

One of the core texts—Marcia Stanhope’s Public Health Nursing: Population-Centered Health Care in the Community—provides an eight-step method of health assessment within a community. These steps are:

  1. Examine local epidemiological data (e.g., incidence, morbidity, and mortality rates) to identify major health problems.
  2. Examine local health services data to identify major causes of hospitalizations and emergency department visits. Consult with key community leaders (e.g., political, religious, business, educational, health, and cultural leaders) about their perceptions of identified community health problems.
  3. Mobilize community groups to elicit discussions and identify perceived health priorities within the community (e.g., focus groups, neighborhood forums, or community-wide forums).
  4. Analyze community environmental health hazards and pollutants (e.g., water, sewage, air, toxic waste).
  5. Examine indicators of community knowledge and practices of preventive health behaviors (e.g., use of infant car seats, safe playgrounds, lighted streets, seat belt use, designated driver programs).
  6. Identify cultural priorities and beliefs about health among different social, cultural, racial, or national origin groups.
  7. Assess community members’ interpretations of and degrees of trust in federal, state, and local assistance programs.
  8. Engage community members in conducting surveys to assess specific health problems.

How Can You Focus Your Nursing Career on Public Health?

If you’re interested in helping communities decrease incidences of disease and other health problems, consider shifting your nursing career toward a public health career. That doesn’t mean you have to stop being a nurse. In fact, you can become a public health nurse—a path made much more possible through an MSN program that includes a public health nursing specialization.

Through the right master’s in nursing program, like the one offered at Walden, you can gain advanced nursing and public health knowledge that can help you succeed in the public health nursing field. In addition to learning how to assess health problems, you can learn how to develop and lead public health programs. In this way, a master’s degree in nursing can be like a master’s in public health, except with a focus on bringing nursing skills into the public health arena.

Of course, earning an MSN degree does require going to nursing school, which can seem daunting. Fortunately, online learning is making attending graduate school much more feasible for working nurses like you. In an online MSN program, you won’t have to worry about living near or even driving to a campus. Instead, online nursing schools give you the ability to take your courses from home or from anywhere else you have internet access. Additionally, when you earn a master’s in nursing online, you’ll have the freedom to choose when in the day you complete your coursework—a level of flexibility that can allow you to keep working full time while you complete your online degree program.

We need public health professionals who can assess health problems and develop solutions. In particular, we need public health nurses who can use both medical and public health knowledge to solve problems. Through a master’s in nursing program with a public health nursing specialization, you can gain that knowledge. And online education can make it possible.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an Master of Science in Nursing with a Public Health Nursing specialization degree program online. 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,