Many paths lead to public health nursing, a diverse interdisciplinary field 


Mason public health nurses discuss how their training benefits their work and their different paths into the field. 

Public health nursing is a fast-growing field that helps advance health and well-being for all. Registered Nurses (RN) and Mason Master of Public Health (MPH) alums Stephanie Funkhouser, MPH, BSN, RN, and Shineca Solomon, MPH, BSN, RN, along with PhD in Public Health student Kim McNally, BSN, MSN, RN, came together during National Public Health Week to discuss their nursing experiences and how it led to a degree in public health, as well as the impact of their training on their work. 

Public health nursing is a specialty focused on promoting and protecting the health of populations. Public health nurses play a valuable role instituting policies and strategies for preventative care and to protect the public from infectious diseases. Their work is critical in slowing the spread of disease in long-term care facilities and other congregate community settings, such as schools. They serve as educators, testers, vaccinators, and investigators. 

"This idea that you can merge public health and nursing to help change and make a better health care system gives me hope for public health. The Mason and Partner (MAP) Clinics are a really good example of that,” said Funkhouser. She cites the MAP Clinics as the reason she went into public health nursing, which allowed her to find her niche within nursing. 

Solomon, on the other hand, discovered public health nursing while looking for her next step after working as a outpatient pediatric infectious disease nurse. . Now a school nurse, she says that being an RN helps families trust her more because they are used to trusting nurses to care for them in clinical settings. This translates into non-clinical settings and gives her an advantage when trying to educate people. 

"We already have that respect as a nurse just by having the title. So having that title helps us relay the information to the people who need it. I think that has been a huge help in public health in trying to educate anyone,” said Solomon. 

"Getting an MPH helped me see how important preventative health is and to look at communities," said Solomon. “I felt stuck until I came to GMU. I don't think I would've looked at becoming a public health nurse without the education I received while in the MPH program.” 

McNally is currently working toward her PhD in Public Health and doing research on HPV vaccinations. In her Bachelor of Nursing program, she recalls her internship at the health department with an immunization nurse helping her realize how nursing and public health intersected—and that she loved it.   

"I really fell in love –it's almost like a mystery in disease surveillance – to investigate where a disease came from. To me the whole experience was really rewarding, but it was really that internship that made me realize [public health nursing] was so different and fun.” 

The conversation centered on the importance of equity and accessibility to health care, the impact of social determinants on patients and communities, and the significance of taking a holistic approach to health care. The three nurses use their experiences to underscore the importance of health equity, such as Funkhouser's work with the homeless population, McNally's research on HPV vaccination rates, and the food insecurity Solomon sees in schools. The discussion concluded with the impact of burnout on the public health workforce and the importance of addressing it to ensure the best care for patients and communities.  

The Public Health and Nursing Panel was part of National Public Health Week and moderated by Susan Durham, PhD, MPH, and Kathi Huddleston, MPH, MSN, BSN. Watch the entire conversation below.