Choosing the Best MSN Specialty to Meet Your Career Goals

Choosing the Best MSN Specialty to Meet Your Career Goals

Getting your MSN degree in nursing is a significant step in mapping out the next part of a nursing career. But making this decision and choosing the right program for your personal and professional goals takes a lot of research and thought.

An MSN degree offers more profound knowledge and experience, leading to more significant career opportunities. However, with many specialized degree options, you must reflect and research to find the best program.

MSN programs are diverse and focused on specific career paths, including nurse practitioner, so choosing the right program for you will pay off.

“It’s important to look at your career goals and your interests,” says Dr. Latina Brooks, Ph.D., CNP, FAANP, and assistant professor and director of the Master of Science in Nursing Program and the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western University. For example, she says if you’re seeking more knowledge or something different from your current career path, you’d naturally look to an MSN degree as one way to move forward.

If you want to become an advanced practice nurse practitioner (APRN), look for schools that offer clinical programs aligned with what you see yourself doing. Many nurses can narrow down their preferences while in their pre-licensure programs and through required clinical rotations and nonclinical courses, says Brooks.

“It starts in the RN programs, and then while they are working as an RN or in different areas, they will understand their strengths and interests,” she says. With that clarity, you can start to think about what you need to do to meet your career goals.

Changing Advanced Practice Qualifications

While the MSN is the fundamental path to advanced practice and licensure as a nurse practitioner, there are changes toward making the DNP a benchmark requirement for NP work. The difference seeks to ensure consistency of experience upon graduation with an MSN. Still, only some nurses want to pursue a DNP path, says Anne Derouin, DNP, APRN, CPNP, PMHS, FAANP, assistant dean and director of the MSN program at Duke University School of Nursing.

“A very dynamic change is happening,” she says, “and not all nurses are prepared in the same way.” Unlike a BSN program, where the end goal is to graduate and become a working registered nurse, the master’s degree in nursing offers vastly different outcomes.


Anne Derouin, DNP, APRN, CPNP, PMHS, FAANP, is the assistant dean and director of the MSN program at Duke University School of Nursing

As a prospective MSN student, you’ll quickly notice curriculums vary widely. To find the program that matches the degree you need for the job you want, check all program guidelines and options to see all the courses and what the curriculum requires based on your credentials. While some programs are shorter, they aren’t necessarily going to give you the clinical hours you need for a particular role or that an organization requires.

Accelerated programs for those with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing may require students to complete prerequisites to advance into an MSN program. Other schools have MSN programs that are accelerated MSN/DNP programs, so you’ll graduate with both degrees.

Pay Attention to Your Interests

“When I counsel students considering a master’s degree, I ask what they are passionate about and what patients or populations they love to care for,” says Derouin. The answers should guide prospective MSN students because they will show the result that will help them become the nurse they want to be.

MSN programs can be clinical for an advanced nurse practitioner specialization or nonclinical for nurses who want to work in management, with data or technology in informatics, or who plan to become an educator.

Within the APRN clinical routes, there are additional choices.

A family nurse practitioner path offers the greatest flexibility and job potential, but Derouin says it’s not the best option for every nurse. For a student to make that decision, she says, you’ll need to be comfortable caring for patients across the lifespan.

A pediatric specialization will give greater you depth and breadth of experience and knowledge if you prefer to work with infants and children. And if you enjoy working with older or cardiac patients, the degree path geared toward those populations will offer a better career and skill match, she says. “Then you are no longer a generalist but an expert,” Derouin says. “Think of what you love to do and hone your skills in that area.”

Brooks agrees, noting that nurses should keep their minds open when considering different paths. For example, nurses who enjoy technology or business might find careers in nursing informatics or management that blends their interests and goals.

Look into Every Aspect of MSN Programs

When assessing programs, Derouin advises students to look at certain factors. For example, ensure each program is accredited and that the faculty are practicing nurse practitioners or nurse educators, as those faculty will have the most current industry knowledge.

Ask about clinical placement, she says, as it’s an extraordinarily competitive part of many programs. Find out what kind of clinical access is available, if the school places students, or if the students have to research and secure their placements.

And use your time out of school to find out more. Ask people in your chosen field if you can shadow them or talk with them to see their daily work. “Most NPs are willing to share their journey into their role,” Derouin says.

“If you go on to graduate-level education, it opens up a whole other world of all that you can do,” says Brooks.

If researching an MSN path, you still aren’t sure what area of nursing you want to pursue, or if you have the resources to devote to an advanced degree, she recommends taking more time to make a decision. “You don’t want to waste your time or money if you’re not sure it’s something you want to jump into,” says Brooks. Then, investigate all the possibilities to reap the full benefits of an advanced degree.

“With graduate programs, there are so many avenues you can take, and that’s the beauty of our profession,” says Brooks. “There are so many aspects to nursing.”

Check out our Career Center to connect with employers seeking diverse nursing candidates.

Bridging the Gap: Preparing the Nursing Leaders of Tomorrow

The current health care crisis is multifaceted, ongoing, and incredibly significant to those within the profession. The reform the country is currently experiencing came as a result of several factors: high cost of treatment, ineffective payment methods, and millions of uninsured Americans in need. Though these problems have begun to enter the national conversation, there are still many issues that need to be addressed and fixed.

Nurses are often referred to as the front line of the health care system—meaning that the changes occurring on a national level will affect them directly, perhaps even first. With the coming reform, health care facilities and their nursing staff must account for slashed budgets, reduced personnel, and political pressure. Moreover, President Obama recently set aside more than $36 billion to create a nationwide network of electronic health records—a massive undertaking that will require a combination of proven communication skills and strategic management to implement, use, and manage.

In addition to these changes, the population is aging, Medicare funding is in jeopardy, and the nursing shortage is projected to grow to one million by 2020. As the public gains access to health care, the lack of nurses will be felt even more acutely.

Nurses must equip themselves with the skills necessary to manage and help solve these crises.

The next generation of nursing leaders will be charged with placing an emphasis on interpersonal and interdepartmental communication—translating and acting as a diplomat between the clinical and business sides of health care institutions. Nursing leaders must have a strong working knowledge of clinical practice and the business of health care, all within an everchanging political arena. Nurses holding both a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) and a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) will be better equipped to understand both sides of the equation.

This may be unfamiliar territory for the nursing profession. Executives must be able to identify key health care trends, watch regulatory rules and legislation—and be able to implement changes within their own organization based on these findings.

Dual degrees in nursing and business help nurses manage these responsibilities in more ways than one could count. Registered nurses are not generally educated in the business side of health care, and while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is excellent preparation for nursing clinical practice, patient care is far removed from the fiscal responsibility of bringing consumption and cost to sustainable levels. A business-trained leader, such as an M.B.A.-prepared executive, may be able to provide financial analysis of factors associated with treatment, providing the cost in real dollars and highlighting areas of strength or problematic gaps. Yet, while that training may prove invaluable in discovering economic stopgaps, understanding financial problems is not effective in providing a cost benefit unless a clinical solution can be found as well. Therein lies the primary benefits of obtaining dual M.S.N./M.B.A. degrees—understanding and linking both sides of health care.

M.S.N./M.B.A. programs aim to prepare students for mid- to upper-level management roles in health care organizations, including chief nursing executives, nursing managers, nursing supervisors, nursing educators, nursing informaticists, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and more. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, by 2015 health care costs will hit $4 trillion and account for 20% of the U.S. economy. By 2012, the number of nursing executives is expected to increase faster than most health care professions. Still, in today’s diffi cult economic environment, being as educationally competitive as possible is key to securing a position as a nursing executive.

Employers will be looking for nursing executive candidates skilled in communication and conflict resolution, leaders who have the ability to cultivate an ongoing conversation between patients, staff, and administration. M.S.N./ M.B.A. degree programs also generally provide more targeted business preparation, training students in areas such as relationship management, organizational leadership, business relations, and change management—skills which are more crucial now than ever.

Class work, prerequisites, clinical requirements, and other details of these dual degree programs vary widely. Students may obtain their dual degree at one school or through articulation agreements between two distinct schools of nursing and business. Accelerated programs often combine these studies even further, saving students both time and money. At Chamberlain College of Nursing, courses such as Leadership Role Development, Health Policy, and Informatics prepare graduates to serve as effective nursing leaders, able to understand the politics and decisions inherent in health care leadership. Business studies, including Managerial Accounting, Marketing Management, and Business Economics help students develop strong analytical abilities, understand health care economics, learn to resolve organization and business issues, execute health care strategies, and foster communication and interpersonal skills.

In order for the health care field to flourish in the face of a continuing recession and monumental policy changes, the profession must seek out and support individuals prepared for both the monetary and clinical challenges. The time for aspiring health care leaders to gather the knowledge and credentials they need is now. The industry’s success depends just as much on cost savings as on the finite resources vital to maintaining crucial care—namely, the people and practices that allow health care to function. Future nursing leaders must further prepare themselves to manage every facet of the coming changes to the industry, including attaining knowledge of both the business and the science of health care.

Old Enough to Learn Better

As a senior at Chicago State University, Beverly Stewart has a schedule filled with classes and extracurricular activities, including a position in student government, as well as a job doing hospice work as a certified nursing assistant. In May, she will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Her classmate Markitha Reacco is also in her final year of the Chicago State nursing program. Reacco combines her rigorous classload with an EKG technician job at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center and volunteer work at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. She says becoming a nurse has been a lifelong dream.

Stewart and Reacco may sound like typical “20-something” nursing students—but in reality they are part of an emerging trend of nursing students who are getting their professional education later in life. Stewart is a 45-year-old mother of four and Reacco is a 44-year-old with two children and two grandchildren. Both women are also African American and single mothers.

As older students than their classmates, these women face many challenges. They have had to make the adjustment to college while juggling the responsibilities of jobs and family life. They have faced the financial burden of paying for their nursing education at a time when others are planning for retirement. And they worry about having fewer years in which to move up the career ladder and make their contribution to the nursing profession when they graduate. But both Stewart and Reacco are confident that they have indeed made the right choice.

Marketable Assets

Stewart explains that she actually began her nursing education in the late 1980s—even finishing the majority of her prerequisite classes. But with small children at home she was forced to put her studies on hold and put her family first.

Today, Stewart doesn’t see her age as a hindrance to getting her nursing education. In fact, “I see it as an asset,” she explains. “I am more focused now, because I don’t have the distractions of small children. I have a go-get-it attitude. I am reliable. I am responsible. I see my age as a more marketable aspect than anything else.”

One of the most positive results of her collegiate experience, Stewart adds, is that her two younger sons are now hoping to earn college degrees as well. “They see me up at night studying; they see how driven I am and how I am succeeding. It makes them believe they can do it, too.”


A former medical assistant whose mother and sister are both nurses, Reacco says she has found going to school later in life challenging because it is difficult to juggle the demands of schoolwork, family, work and other commitments. “There is a lot to absorb,” she explains. “I find I have to put a little bit more into it than I did in my 20s. It takes a lot of discipline.”

Reacco says she has also felt the pinch of financing her education while putting her daughter through college. “I had to reduce my working hours to about 23 a week, which meant a cut in pay,” she explains. “Finances are the biggest challenge.”

But that doesn’t stop Reacco, who hopes to work as either a critical care or geriatric nurse, from planning to continue on to get a master’s degree, and perhaps even a PhD. “The nursing profession is trying to bring in more young folks, so I have a lot of competition out there,” she explains.

The Graying of Nursing Students?

According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Division of Nursing, the average age of graduates from basic nursing education programs is on the rise. In the period from 1991 to 1996, the average graduation age of nurses was 31.7 years—up from 23.2 years in the 15-year period prior to the study.

The survey also found that the average age of nursing students graduating from associate degree programs in 1991-1996 was 33.5 years, compared to only 28 years for baccalaureate program graduates. Although the study does not break down these statistics by race or ethnicity, many educators believe that minority students often opt for associate degree programs, because of financial constraints.

Sandra Barnes, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing at Chicago State University, says there are a number of older nursing students at her school, which is a predominantly black university. Their average age, Barnes says, is about 36. “Many older students are going back to school after they have established families. Nursing is something they have always wanted to do and now they have the time and freedom to do it.”

Many of these older students are in the university’s RN-to-BSN and LPN-to-BSN programs. The generic baccalaureate program has more students right out of high school, says Stewart, who adds that she and Reacco are two of only four students over 30 years of age in their senior class.

Older students have a strong investment in program completion, explains Barnes, who is African American. “They are at a point in life where they have made a commitment to undertake a career that they will be able to stay with until retirement. They have goals that they are determined to meet,” she says. Nursing educators also agree that older students are easier to teach than recent high school graduates, because they have more life experience.

Migdalia Rivera Goba, EdD(c), MS, RN, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst School of Nursing, believes older minority students bring a lot to the table. “I think their life experience, both professionally and personally, is a huge asset, including their experience living as an ethnic minority in the United States,” she says, adding that age isn’t really a barrier to getting a position after graduation, because of the nationwide nursing shortage.

Feeling the Squeeze

Ann Joyner, 44, a senior at North Carolina A&T State University School of Nursing, another historically black school, says she began her education to become an RN at a community college but later transferred to her current school’s baccalaureate program. “I had been doing okay at the community college, and I thought, ‘Why am I doing this program when I can go to the university and get a BSN?’'” she says.

According to Joyner, the most challenging part of her nursing education experience is dealing with the diversity of ages within the student population. “The young ones see things so differently, while the older ones are more relaxed, calm, a little more focused and not in a hurry,” she says. Many of her classmates call her “Miss Ann” out of respect, she adds, and her nursing sorority recently elected her as president.

Joyner, who has two children, nine and 25 years old, says she and her husband are beginning to feel the squeeze of financing her education. She spends approximately $1,000 per semester on tuition and between $275-$350 on books.

Angela Cisero, RN, says she and her husband saved and budgeted for several years to enable her to go through the UMass RN-to-BSN program. Cisero, who is 34 and African American, is the mother of three children and works 34 hours a week as a nursing supervisor at a long-term care facility. She says she will spend approximately $5,000, which includes books, on the year-long program. “It was a personal achievement goal, something I always wanted to do, she explains. “Overall, it has been challenging but very invigorating. I have to be very organized.”

Nursing Careers for All Ages—and Genders

Although she always excelled in math and science, Cisero says she was not recruited in high school to go into nursing—a trend many nursing educators see as a problem.

“Many minorities who go into nursing enter the field at an older age and attend programs at junior colleges,” says Bette Keltner, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Sciences. “While that’s a positive thing, because the experience of older nurses enriches the profession, it is also a negative thing, because these students end up in positions where they will not advance or have influence in minority health decision-making.”

Keltner, who is American Indian, feels there should be a systematic outreach by nursing schools to high school students, and in particular, minority students. “In the past, nursing schools did not have to do proactive outreach, because the students were coming to us. But today, the dynamics of recruiting have changed,” she explains. “And we continue to perpetuate the idea that nursing is a female profession, instead of making an effort to actively recruit more male students.”

Romanitchiko Samiley, RN, of West Los Angeles, says he never considered nursing as a profession when he was in high school. “Males often don’t think about entering the field,” says Samiley, who is 31. “Even though I had some friends and family members who were nurses, most of them were female. I never considered becoming a nurse.”

Samiley, a Filipino American, went to the University of California at Berkeley and earned a BS degree in integrated biology. He then worked as a health educator and developed an interest in nursing, earning his ADN degree in his mid 20s. Because his ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner, Samiley is currently attending the University of California at Los Angeles in the three-year RN-to-BS-to-MSN program.

At this point, he sees his age as an advantage. “I have had some experience working,” he says. “I have discovered what I like in a career and what I don’t like. When you are doing something you are interested in, you tend to be more focused and you enjoy it more.”

Samiley also works as a staff nurse at Santa Marta Hospital. He says time management is an issue for him. “Being older, I have more responsibilities, unlike the first time around,” he says. “Balancing my education, social life and career is the most challenging part of my current educational experience.”

Keep Moving Up

According to Kay Baker, RN, MSN, associate dean of Student Affairs at the UCLA School of Nursing, the school draws a diverse group of students–both in age and race. Older minority students have much to offer, she says. “They bring nonacademic experience and life experience. And they bring a cultural perspective that we need. Many of them have been working in a community setting or a hospital setting for a number of years, so they know what the needs of the community are.”


Baker believes nursing is a profession where people can continue to progress up the educational ladder, no matter what their age. “Students shouldn’t think of their first nursing degree as their one and only educational experience,” she emphasizes. “Nursing is such a rapidly changing profession in terms of knowledge and technology that you can’t prepare at one level and expect that to carry you through an entire career.

“Some minority students start their nursing education by going to a community college, because it’s more accessible and affordable—but they shouldn’t stop there,” Baker adds. “If I had one message to older students, it would be: Keep moving up to next the level of your professional nursing education. Don’t stop learning.”

Grad School or Bust… Financing Your Future

So you’ve decided to go to graduate school. Great! Now all you have to do is figure out how you are going to pay for it. This can be a daunting task. The cost of graduate education has skyrocketed at universities across the nation and advanced degrees in the allied health disciplines are no exception. But the amount of financial aid available has also increased to a record $74 billion. Your goal is to figure out how to tap into this huge resource. As with most things, there are no easy answers. The cost of graduate education, the types of aid available and the resources available change from discipline to discipline, state-to-state and school-to-school.

However, the task will be far less daunting if you can break it into its parts. Here are a series of questions and answers designed to give you a brief overview and some quick guidelines for seeking financial aid for graduate education. Think of it as a starting point. The rest of the work is up to you. But it’s work well worth the effort.

I allready applied for financial aid as an undergraduate. Will it be any different applying for aid in Graduate School?

The application process really isn’t any different, but there are differences in what’s available. Pell Grants (the largest federal grant program) and other federal grant programs are not available to graduate students. Though it varies from state-to-state, graduate students are usually ineligible for grants from the state as well. However, as a graduate student you may be eligible to a source of funding not available to your less learned associates: graduate assistantships. These often come with a tuition waiver and a small stipend (usually around $2,500 per semester).

One more thing to keep in mind: parent information will not be taken into consideration when applying for financial aid. By virtue of a bachelor’s degree, you are considered independent, even if you still live at home.

What will my graduate degree cost?

As you might expect, the cost of a graduate education varies greatly depending on the degree you are seeking, the institution you are attending and the state were it resides. And remember, you need to think about more than tuition and fees when calculating education cost. There are the books and lab supplies that you must buy in addition to expenses for food, shelter and transportation—all of which you must pay for without the benefit of a full-time job. The financial aid or admissions office at the school you plan on attending can tell you what the cost of tuition and books will be. Cost of living information can be gathered from such Web sites as and, but the best sources for this information are friends or family who already live in the area. Graduate education does not come cheap. Experts contacted for this article gave figures ranging between $30,000 and $60,000 for the total cost of a graduate education in an allied health field; perhaps significantly higher at very prestigious private institutions.

What types of financial aid are available?

There are dozens of potential ways to fund your graduate education ranging from scholarships and fellowships to employer assistance. Below are the highlights of a few of the more prominent methods to help you get started in your search.

Scholarships and Fellowships

Both scholarships and fellowships do not have to be repaid. Scholarships typically cover all or part of tuition and fees. Fellowships cover tuition and fees and include a stipend to cover a good portion of your living expenses as well. Institutional scholarships and fellowships are offered through most graduate schools. These are usually based on financial need and/or academic performance. At some institutions, scholarships and fellowships will last for your entire stay in graduate school; at others, you must reapply each year. Since this is free money, the competition is often fierce, but it never hurts to try.

And don’t stop your search at the college or program you plan on attending. A major source of both scholarships and fellowships often overlooked by students is third-party aid. Each year, graduate students receive millions of dollars in aid from religious organizations, foundations, labor unions, businesses and local groups. Students and professional organizations connected with your field of study are another good source.

These scholarships and fellowships may be given based on ethnicity, academic achievement, hobbies, talents or a combination thereof. In addition, national fellowships are available, such as the Fulbright, National Research Foundation and National Science Foundation. Information for each can be found on their respective Web sites. (See Sidebar).


Like fellowships and scholarships, grants are a form of financial aid that does not have to be repaid. But unlike scholarships and fellowships, they are only need-based, and they are given out by the federal or state government. Of specific concern to you, graduate students are ineligible for federal grants as well as virtually all state grant programs. Check with the financial aid officer at the school you plan on attending to be sure.



Many graduate students become teaching or research assistants. Teaching assistants help professors by teaching labs, grading papers and meeting with undergraduates. Research assistants oversee labs and assist professors on projects. In exchange, assistantships provide stipends and/or tuition reimbursement. In some programs assistantships are awarded to every student, in others they are awarded according to academic performance. Not all graduate programs offer assistantships, especially in programs were the terminal degree (the minimum degree needed to work as a professional) is a master’s or above.

Employer Assistance

Occasionally, your current employer will pay for all or part of your graduate education, as long you can show that your coursework will contribute to the goals of the company. Within some high-demand fields, even if you’re not currently employed, you might be able to find an employer who will agree to pay for all or part of your post-graduate education if you sign an agreement to work for them for a specified amount of time upon graduation. Check with your supervisor or the human resources department at your current place of employment. It never hurts to ask.

Student Loans

Most graduate students must take out student loans to pay for at least part of their education. Loans fall into two categories: subsidized (loans awarded on the basis of need, which do not accumulate interest before you begin repayment) and unsubsidized (loans that accumulate interest from the time you receive them until they’re paid in full). There are a variety of loans available to graduate students including Stafford, Perkins and Federal Family Education loans, among others. To find out which ones you qualify for and which ones best serve your needs and purposes, see your local financial aid administrator.

How much can (and should) I borrow?

Graduate students are eligible to borrow $8,500 of subsidized or unsubsidized Stafford Loans and up to an additional $10,000 of unsubsidized Stafford loans per academic year. For their entire graduate education, graduate students may borrow up to $138,500. If you qualify for Federal Perkins Loans, you can borrow up to $5,000 each year and $30,000 total. The answer to how much you should borrow is easy: As little as possible. Even at reduced interest rates, student loans can be a huge burden after you graduate. With that in mind, only borrow when you need to and then borrow only what is necessary. Don’t fall into the trap of borrowing extra money to pay for the car or vacation you always wanted. There will be plenty of time to buy those things after you get out of school and land your first job. Most financial aid offices have online student loan calculators that will take into account such factors as amount borrowed, interest rate, and the estimated salary for your profession and tell you what your payments will be, the cost of your total payments and what you can afford. (See, for an example of these calculators.)

Where do I get started?

Simply make an appointment with the financial aid office of the school you plan on attending. Applying for financial aid can be an intimidating and confusing task, and it’s nice to have an expert help guide you through the process. But you should also do a little research on your own. All of the information available to your financial aid officer is available to you on the Web. Or visit the financial aid Web site of the school you plan on attending for information or financial aid options specific to your program and state. One way or another, the money is out there to pay for your graduate education. Ultimately, it’s up to you to go out and find it.

Considering a Master’s in Public Health?

“If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” This is not just an old saying; it’s a truism. Nothing is more valuable than an individual’s health. If you are not healthy, it’s almost impossible to be happy, no matter how rich or fulfilling the rest of your life may be. And if this is true for an individual, it’s also true for a society.

But maintaining public health is no easy task. Clean air, clean water, provision for adequate food and shelter, access to medical care, health education, disease prevention, and a safe working environment are just a few of the factors necessary for the good health of an entire society. In short, ensuring public health is a complex problem without easy solutions.


That’s where the master’s degree in public health (MPH) comes in. The MPH degree is the most widely recognized professional credential for leadership positions in public health. Public health professionals draw on knowledge and skills from a variety of disciplines to define, assess and ultimately resolve public health problems.

To provide you with a better idea of what kinds of jobs MPH holders go into and the challenges they face, Diversity: Allied Health Careers sat down with Michael Reece, Ph.D., the MPH director of Public Health Programs at the Department of Applied Health Science, Indiana University (IU), Bloomington.

What type of qualities/abilities do successful MPH candidates have?

“Important qualities for successful MPH candidates include passion, a commitment to diversity, motivation, creativity and a genuine willingness to keep working until the problem is resolved.

“Individuals entering public health should want to improve the health of communities around the world; it is important that they have a passion for working on particular issues. Public health is hard work, and the nature of our contemporary challenges require people to be committed to finding solutions that are successful.”

How important are internships for students pursuing their MPH?

“The internship experience is critical; IU requires an extensive internship for all MPH students. This provides them with a chance to apply the knowledge and skills they’ve gained from their academic experiences. For many, an internship helps validate what they’ve learned in the classroom. It is sometimes difficult for students to understand exactly how much they’ve learned during their MPH program, but once they get into the field and begin to apply that information, students often can’t believe how well prepared they are to enter the public health workforce.”

Should students take a year or two off after college to gain some experience before pursuing an MPH?

“It really depends on the student. We have some students who come into our program directly from their undergraduate program, but they have been active in public health initiatives while they were completing their undergraduate degree either through work or volunteer experiences. As a result, these students often come into the program with a clear direction in mind. We find that students tend to be better prepared if they have been involved in some public health activities prior to entering the program.

“We also get students that come directly into the MPH program with no solid public health experience, but we like for these students to have an academic background in a health-related field. We place them in field-based activities so that they can gain public health experience. Of course, many students come into the program after working for several years, and these students tend to have a solid idea of where they want to take the public health skills they will gain through the MPH program.”

Who are the major employers of public health professionals?

“Individuals pursuing a MPH degree often find that they are qualified for jobs in diverse environments.
Of course, many students pursue more traditional public health settings, such as local health departments, state health departments and local community-based organizations.

“Those with an MPH also find the federal government to be a rich resource for jobs. At IU, we find that many of our graduates are able to find employment with some of the nation’s most prominent federal agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute and other agencies within the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, we have many graduates who pursue jobs with national and international non-governmental organizations, such as the American


Red Cross, the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization.”

What specific jobs do public health professionals have?

“Professionals with an MPH degree find that they are well qualified for a wide variety of jobs. For example, our program at Indiana University focuses on community health, and we prepare individuals to be community health promotion leaders. As a result, they assume positions such as community health educators for organizations and health departments, program managers for state health departments, health information specialists for the federal government, research associates for pharmaceutical companies, health promotion specialists for corporations, and other mid-level management positions across a diverse range of institutions.

“An MPH prepares individuals to tailor their skills in a wide variety of areas. When students come into our program, one of the initial activities they complete with the faculty is an assessment of where they want to work after completing their degree. We try to help students choose courses and become involved in activities that will provide them with the background necessary to secure the position they want.”

What is the current job market like for people with an MPH degree? Do you expect the demand for public health professionals to grow in the future?

“I think this is an ideal time to pursue the MPH degree. The public health job market has never been better both domestically and internationally. Unfortunately, much of this renewed focus is a result of the public health implications of terrorism. Public health professionals have had to assume an incredibly diverse range of responsibilities given the world’s attention to issues of terrorism. In addition, public health professionals are facing some of the most challenging epidemics of our time; HIV and AIDS is literally devastating communities around the globe. Public health is only able to address these issues, however, if it has a solid, well-trained infrastructure. While there is a strong job market, it is really a market for individuals with substantial training in public health.”

What factors will contribute to the growth of the public health field?

“The job market will probably continue to grow at a rapid rate over the next few years, for a few reasons. One is the impact of increased attention on public health’s role in terrorism. Additionally, given the poor economic status of our country, corporations are looking for ways to reduce expenses. One way that corporations have dealt with budget challenges is to reduce their expenditures in areas like insurance. Many companies have realized the benefits of bringing health professionals onto their staff and engaging employees in wellness and health promotion programs as a way to increase the health status of their workforce, reduce work-related injuries, and ultimately reduce insurance costs and lost work time.

“Additionally, some of the industries in our country that have never paid much attention to health, such as the fast-food industry, are realizing the importance of being more responsible in this area. As more companies see the need to play a role in promoting a healthy nation, I expect the public health job market to grow.”

Are there international employment opportunities for MPH degree holders?

“Public health is a field that has no geographic boundaries; opportunities exist in virtually every corner of the globe for individuals with public health training. At Indiana University, we attract many students from other countries. This term I believe we have at least five new students who are physicians in their home countries that have come to IU to pursue their MPH degree. There are multiple opportunities for public health professionals internationally, and we often find our students to be highly sought for positions in developing countries.”

What are the most pressing public health concerns today?

“There are many. HIV and AIDS continue to be among our most serious problems. We have not really scratched the surface of the impact of this disease, and it will continue to influence all facets of U.S. society and societies around the world. Obesity in this country is also out of control.

“I think there is a need for public health to begin focusing on some of our nation’s social problems as a way to deal with public health challenges. For example, if public health professionals were to focus on eradicating poverty with the intensity that we try to increase physical activity, we might see more benefits. I think that a healthy society will improve individual and community health, so we cannot ignore our role in influencing policy and social issues that correlate with health issues.”

Over the past few years, several infectious diseases have been making headlines (e.g., SARS and the West Nile Virus). How will public health professionals play a role in combating these and other unknown diseases?

“We are facing the emergence of new diseases around the globe, and public health professionals, as they always have, will have to play a major role in society’s response to these illnesses.

“Academic institutions will need to continue updating their curricula to prepare students to respond to these new issues. As a faculty at IU, we are always discussing what changes we need to make to our academic program in order to ensure that our students have skills to combat these emerging public health challenges.”