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MSN Course Insight: Attributes of Leadership in Public Health Nursing

Today’s public health professionals build careers on vision, influence, and values.

Public health professionals who have the right stuff for 21st-century leadership are deft change agents, agile collaborators, and skillful innovators.

That’s the message from Nick Yphantides, Steven Escoboza, and Nick Macchione, authors of “Leadership in Public Health: New Competencies for the Future,” required reading for RNs in the Walden University course Public Health Nursing Leadership.

MSN Course Insight: Attributes of Leadership in Public Health Nursing

In this master’s in public health nursing course, students use respected articles like “Leadership in Public Health” and other curriculum materials to explore the application of principles and theories of leadership and management in a public health setting. The course also examines the skills public health nurses need to provide effective leadership across partnerships at the local, state, national, and international levels.

Read along with Walden nursing school students to learn more from authors Yphantides, Escoboza, and Macchione about public health nursing leadership skills:1

Essential Attributes of Leadership

Although many theories of leadership have been proposed, we posit that the fundamental attributes of leaders have been constant over time and across continents. Leaders are people with vision—they see a future different than the status quo. They have influence to drive change—they are able to communicate their vision and win others over to embrace and implement it. In addition, leaders are grounded in values, which provide a foundation for vision and a passion to achieve personal and organizational missions. These essentials have characterized leaders for generations, but how they play out in public health continues to evolve.


What has changed in public health over the past 15 years? The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has appropriately been credited with producing major changes in the health system. While its most visible impact has been on coverage and financing, the ACA for the first time created a National Health Strategy and a Prevention and Public Health Fund to help implement it. Several other factors have also contributed to creating an environment that recognizes the essential role of public health, most prominent among them:

  • Widespread acceptance of the ecological model of health
  • Clinical advances in understanding and managing health
  • Recognition of the impact of behavior on health
  • Technological advances in biomedical and management technologies
  • The information technology revolution, including electronic health records and big data analytics
  • Emphasis on a “systems perspective”

The vision for a new health system has best been articulated by [Don] Berwick and colleagues at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in the concept of the “Triple Aim”: “Better health for the population. Better care for the individual. At lower per capita cost.” This vision is concise, expressed in a graphic, and easy to communicate to others. The ACA incorporated all of the Triple Aim concepts. The nationwide embrace of the Triple Aim has made it possible for leaders in public health to champion an explicit vision to transform a fragmented system through open communication, consensus building, stakeholder involvement, and processes for collaborative planning at the local level.


Influence is essential to achieve widespread change. Ideally, it is grounded in knowledge, which can be gained through formal education and expertise; gained through involvement with a broad range of people and institutions; and based upon accomplishments that have brought recognition and respect.

The trends noted above have increased awareness of the value of a systems perspective. The systems perspective, broadly defined, has enabled public health to break out of the siloed role in which it had been typically viewed in the U.S. to become interdisciplinary, interagency, and interorganizational. For example, following 9/11, preparedness efforts integrated public health with military, fire, transportation, healthcare institutions, and social service organizations, among other entities.

Well before Ebola, the global spread of diseases such as SARS and HIV/AIDS created awareness of international networks of public health organizations and the relationship of public health to other public and private sector organizations, from transportation agencies to private employers. The One Health movement, the green movement, and other recent trends reinforce the notion that public health is an integral player in many private as well as public initiatives and policies.

In short, the sphere of influence for public health has broadened immeasurably, creating both the opportunity and the necessity for public health leaders to expand their relationships far beyond their traditional sphere of local and state health departments.

Values and Competencies

The traditional values of public health include service and interdisciplinary cooperation. The concept of “servant leader” characterizes many leaders of health organizations, including public health. Putting collective well-being ahead of personal gain is a priority that today can be measured as well as espoused. The values underpinning the new vision of public health must include a willingness to change, to collaborate, and to be a central player in the health system of the future.

The competencies fundamental to public health leadership include updated knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs). The knowledge base required is much broader than in previous centuries. Leaders must have in-depth understanding of the developments listed above—much broader and more extensive than in the past. In addition, public health leaders must have working familiarity with public policy, strategic planning, information management, social media, managed care, cultural competence, and human resource management, among other topics. Skills include communication with multiple audiences employing new technologies, interorganizational collaboration, networking abilities, advocacy, and change management.

Bring Your Skills to Public Health Nursing

When you’re ready to harness your leadership ability to effect change in your community, choose a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program with a public health nursing specialization. Walden, No. 1 in MSN graduates in the United States,2 offers one of the few public health nursing specializations of its kind entirely online. Walden’s MSN specialization in Public Health Nursing can prepare you to assume leadership roles in assessing communities and populations, identifying high-risk groups, and developing culturally sensitive, acceptable, and realistic population-based nursing interventions.

Walden has three innovative enrollment options in its MSN program tailored to your experience, previous education, and education goals. They are:

  • BSN to MSN Track: For registered nurses entering the program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  • RN to MSN Track: For registered nurses entering the program with a hospital diploma, an associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree other than a BSN.
  • RN to BSN Accelerated into Master’s (AIM): The RN to BSN AIM track is for registered nurses who hold a hospital diploma, an associate degree in nursing, or bachelor’s degree (other than BSN) and an active RN license. With this program of study, you can earn both your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in less time and at a lower cost than earning each degree separately.

With nursing career opportunities projected to grow through 2026,3 the time is right to bring your passion to public health nursing. Learn, grow, and innovate your way to a public health nursing job that offers the challenges and rewards you seek.

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

2Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP code 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse). Includes 2016 preliminary data 

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,