MSN Nursing vs Public Health MPH Degree + Salary Differences

Professionals who desire a career in healthcare and related fields frequently consider a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Master of Public Health (MPH). Both degrees provide you with many rewarding opportunities to make a difference in the health and lives of others.

The focus of each degree differs somewhat, however. The best choice for your career depends upon what you want the focus of your healthcare career to be. The short answer is that the MSN degree provides you with the healthcare skills needed to serve individual patients and their families in high level nursing roles. The MPH on the other hand provides you with the skills to work in public health positions such as epidemiologist and biostatistician, with the major goal to prevent illness and disease in entire communities.

Let’s examine each graduate degree more closely so that you can decide the best option for your healthcare career.

MSN Degree Overview

For a nurse or a professional who aspires to be one, earning your MSN degree is the entry into a very rewarding and high paying healthcare career. Committing to an MSN program is a two or three year obligation, but earning this degree will have a positive impact on your career. This advanced degree is designed for nursing professionals who want to enhance their nursing skills and knowledge to provide a higher level of care to patients and families. Jump to 30+ Masters in Nursing Degrees.

A MSN degree will provide you with the skills and knowledge required to work in what are known as advanced nursing practice positions. These are the most in-demand, highest paying nursing occupations today. These roles include:

  • Nurse practitioner (NP): Serve as a primary and specialty healthcare provider who offers many of the same services as a physician. They deliver advanced nursing services to all ages and types of patients and families. They may order and interpret diagnostics tests, and prescribe most medications. Job demand for NPs is soaring, with 35% increase in demand expected by 2024. The median salary is $100,900 per year. Jump to 30+ Online Nurse Practitioner Programs with No GRE!.
  • Nurse midwife (CNM): Provide specialized care to women and their babies. Most often, they provide gynecological exams, family planning and baby delivery. They also serve as primary care providers for women and their newborns. Provide education regarding health and wellness, nutrition and preventing disease. Job demand for nurse midwives also is robust – 25% increase in demand is expected by 2024. The median salary is $99,700.
  • Nurse anesthetist (CRNA): Offer anesthesia services to people before, during and after a variety of surgeries and procedures. A CRNA may perform most of the same duties as an anesthesiologist, who supervises him or her in the carrying out of anesthesia services.The demand in the field will increase by 19% by 2024, and the median salary is $160,200. Jump to List of Top CRNA Programs Online + No GRE Options!

There also are other less common tracks you can choose in some MSN programs, such as Nurse Educator and Nurse Executive.

One of the interesting and beneficial aspects of a nursing career is that one may take several educational paths as your career advances. Many nurses earn either their associate’s or bachelor’s in nursing. Then they work in the field as a bedside RN for a few years to gain vital experience. At that point, they may then earn their MSN degree so that they can work at some of the highest paying, most in demand nursing occupations.

An MSN degree can be obtained after you earn your associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. Or, if you have no nursing experience and possess a bachelor’s in another field, you can get your BSN and MSN simultaneously in a ‘direct entry’ MSN program.

There are many excellent, online MSN programs today for the experienced or aspiring nursing professional. A typical curriculum for an MSN program depends upon the specialty you select – NP, CRNA, CNM, etc – but the core courses that you take will be the same regardless. Some of the required courses may include ones such as these at Chamberlain University:

  • Foundational Concepts and Applications
  • Theoretical Basis for Advanced Nursing Practice
  • Fundamentals of Nursing Informatics
  • Healthcare Policy
  • Advanced Research Methods – Evidence-Based Practice
  • Leadership and role Development in the Advanced Practice Nurse
  • Population Health
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Advanced Physical Assessment
  • Primary Care of the Childbearing Family Practice

An MSN degree will take two or three years to complete. During the last year of the program, you will be required to complete several hundred supervised clinical hours, followed by passing your national certification exam for your nursing specialty.

MPH Degree Overview

Professionals who primarily are interested in the broader field of public health than healthcare may want to explore an MPH degree. The focus of the MPH is on the science and efforts behind improving and protecting communities through promoting healthy living, and better education about illness and disease.

An MPH is a graduate level public health degree that stresses the practical parts of public health, the practice of which can lead to the prevention and/or the eradication of various illnesses and diseases in communities. Higher level positions in public health generally require an MPH, and some may eventually require a doctorate in public health.

Professionals with an MPH are able to provide care and improvement in health for at-risk communities. An MPH gives you the chance to make a major impact on many communities around the country and world by working to reduce or eliminate the spread of many illnesses and diseases.

The major occupations of public health where you may work with your MPH are as follows:

  • Epidemiologist: This is often known as the basic public health science. It brings together biostatistics and community health. Monitor the spread of illness and disease, and try to understand the causes and offer solutions. Must have a strong foundation in statistics and mathematics in this profession. Median salary is $70,800.  Jump to How to Get a Masters in Epidemiology.
  • Biostatistician: Analyze data and how it applies to public health and healthcare. You may, for example, track the health of a population with statistics and identify emerging health trends. Can be involved in clinical trials, spatial studies and genome projects that seek to learn how geography may affect health. Median salary is $80,500. Jump to Masters in Biostatistics + No GRE Online Degree!
  • Environmental health scientist: Study how external environmental factors can affect the health and wellness of a population. For example, you may study how water quality has an effect on the long term health of a rural community. Median salary is $68,900. Jump to Masters in Environmental Science & Policy + No GRE Options!.
  • Global health worker: Researching and educating better ways to serve international communities to reduce health disparities and public health problems. Also improve care access and promote public health policies that lead to better health habits. Average salary for a program manager of global public health is $78,900.
  • Community health worker: Rather than focusing on hard data, these workers look at the many dynamics that can affect the health of a needy community. Community health professionals need to apply public health principles, but also sociology and even political science to the field. The median salary is $44,300 per year.

Some of the courses that you may take in your MPH program include:

  • Behavioral Epidemiology
  • Bioinformatics
  • Biological Threats & Terrorism
  • Chronic Disease Epidemiology
  • Data Analysis (SAS & STATA)
  • Design of Clinical Studies
  • Detection and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • Genetics in Public Health & Preventive Medicine
  • Infectious Disease Epidemiology
  • Program Evaluation and Research
  • Research Methods in Cancer Epidemiology
  • Social Network Analysis


Both of these degrees are good career options. Which is best hinges upon your passions and career goals. The MPH is the standard professional credential for professionals who work in public health. If you decide to earn your MSN, you will work in public health in a way, but it differs from an MPH in focus. You will be trained to become a leader/manager of a nursing practice.

Both are worthy career goals; it comes down largely to helping the broader community improve health, or helping individuals and families improve their health?

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