Working Together to Draw More Nurses to Public Health

Oct 24, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Patricia Drehobl

Patricia Drehobl, MPH, RN, is associate director for program development at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program (2007-2010).

Human Capital Blog: CDC is engaging in new partnerships with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) to promote public health nursing. How did the new collaboration come about?

Pat Drehobl: CDC has funded some national academic associations for many years, including the Association of Schools of Public Health, the Association of Prevention Teaching and Research, and the Association of American Medical Colleges. We recognized the need to include nursing representation because nursing is the largest discipline in the public health workforce. We added AACN as a partner in 2012 when we developed our funding opportunity announcement to work with academic partners.

HCB: Why did CDC decide to reach out to the nursing community in 2012?

Drehobl: With such a strong emphasis on public health and health care collaboration in our country as well as emphasis on interprofessional practice, we thought the time was right to strengthen our relationship with the nursing community. Although some CDC programs have worked with various nursing organizations over the years, this collaboration with AACN is the first formal collaboration to serve the entire agency. This means that all of CDC’s centers and programs have the opportunity to engage with AACN and its 750 member schools through the mechanism we have established. 

HCB: What are some of the projects the CDC is working on with AACN?

Drehobl: CDC has provided funding to AACN so that it can enhance the teaching of population health concepts at all levels of nursing education. It has also focused on faculty development to enhance faculty understanding of how to integrate population health concepts into professional nursing education.

Last year, AACN created a population health supplement to “The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice.” This year, it is working on a toolkit to accompany the supplement. We have also worked with AACN to establish a new service-learning fellowship program for nurse fellows to spend a year or two working in a CDC program; currently, two nurse fellows are at CDC. These activities exemplify the four aims of the AACN project: to support faculty, help students, evaluate impacts, and engage with other health professions to support population health.

HCB: One of your goals is to build the capacity of the public health nursing workforce. Why is that important?

Drehobl: CDC and AACN believe it is important for all nurses (and other health professionals) to get a good grounding in concepts of public health and population health during their academic preparation. Then, regardless of the practice setting, they can carry forward and apply concepts, such as prevention, to improve the health of individuals, families and communities.

Due to budget cuts, local health departments across the country have had to significantly cut staff, and public health nurse positions have been a big part of those cuts. This sometimes makes it difficult for schools of nursing to find enough opportunities for all students to have a public health nursing experience as a part of their educational program.  That is another reason why AACN’s work to make sure population health concepts are incorporated throughout the curriculum is so important to the future of public health nursing.

HCB: Why don’t more nurses choose to go into public health? 

Drehobl: Public health careers are not as well-known as clinical careers. Also, there is typically higher compensation in clinical settings than in public health settings. We hope the collaboration between CDC and AACN will make more nurses aware that public health is an exciting career choice. Additionally, as the collaboration between public health and primary care increases, all nurses are using the principles of public health practice regardless of where they work. You might say public health is choosing them!

HCB: Can you also describe the Academic/Public Health Partnership Impact Evaluation Projects Pilot Grants? What are these, who is eligible to apply, and what do you hope they will accomplish? 

Drehobl: These are small grants available to AACN member schools that have established academic-practice partnerships with communities or public health agencies. The grants support small impact evaluation projects that will provide evidence of what is working or what can be improved in these partnerships. The modest funding available allows recipients to develop evaluation methods, tools and impact analysis projects. The goal is to support a culture of evidence-based practice in these partnerships and add to the available evidence of what works for community and education partners.   

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.