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How Global Health Nursing Supports Population Health

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Apr 12, 2024
A Global Health Nurse Taking a Blood Sample From a Patient.

How Global Health Nursing Supports Population Health

Health care disparities can be described as differences between demographic groups that negatively impact their overall health outcomes. These disparities are far reaching and exist in both high- and low-income nations. Global health nursing aims to improve well-being and achieve health equity on a worldwide scale by addressing the factors that lead to disparities. 

Global health professionals address health challenges, promote cultural competence, and work to overcome resource constraints in ways that lead to better health and wellness on a global scale. An online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can provide the advanced education required to become a health care leader that supports global population health. 

What Is Global Health?

In the modern globalized economy, everything is connected. Phones and the internet allow people to communicate instantaneously, and travel technology makes it possible to get from any place to another. However, these same benefits of the interconnected and often interdependent world allow health issues to rapidly transcend borders. 

Global health can be described as an area of research, study, and practice that understands how this interconnectedness impacts health and health care for all people, from those in remote areas to those in major metropolitan areas. Global health nursing aims to achieve health equity and improve health outcomes for all people, often by working with underserved populations to address common health issues. 

Common Global Health Issues

Global health nurses consider many common issues that can have a detrimental impact on populations worldwide. The most pressing global health issues include the following:

  • Mental Health: The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation notes that mental disorders are one of the world’s leading causes of disability, and since 1990, the burden has only increased. Mental health crises in many nations take a serious political and economic toll.

  • Climate Change: Extreme heat, wildfires, powerful off-season storms, and other effects of climate change will continue to impact global health. Many scientists agree that these climate-related events will worsen with time, and vulnerable populations without the resources to mitigate the impacts are slated to suffer the most.

  • Cardiovascular Disease: Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death not only in the U.S. but also around the world. In 2021, they accounted for 28% of all worldwide deaths according to a study published in Nature Medicine. These diseases can also lead to disabilities and crippling medical debt, but in many cases, they can be prevented with health and nutrition education.

  • Poverty: Poverty is the most concerning factor in terms of health and also one of the most difficult to solve. High-income countries — countries with a gross national income (GNI) per capita of at least $13,845 as of 2022, according to the World Bank — have much higher life expectancies than low- and middle-income countries, and the gap continues to widen.

  • Inefficient or Ineffective Health Systems: In 2022, the U.S. spent $10,921 per capita on health care, and life expectancy was just 77.3 years, according to data published by the World Economic Forum. Compared with other developed countries, the U.S. spends significantly more of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care, but life expectancy is far lower.

    For example, Japan spends $4,360 per capita on health care, and life expectancy is 84.6 years. Singapore spends $2,633 per capita on health care, and life expectancy is 83.7 years. This drastic difference between these countries and the U.S. is due to the inefficient or ineffective health systems in place in the U.S., as well as in other countries, presenting challenges to global health.

  • Violence: Violence comes in many forms, including domestic violence, gun violence incidents, and full-blown conflicts between countries. Violence has always been one of the greatest threats to global health, and addressing it is critical.

  • Pandemics: Emerging and novel viruses and bacteria that cause pandemics exist around the world. As we have recently seen, a pandemic can bring the global economy to its knees. Pandemics are one of the most concerning global health threats, especially among vulnerable and underserved populations who do not have access to preventive health care or timely health information.

  • Addiction and Substance Use: Substance use and addiction are not concentrated in any one part of the world. According to the U.N.’s Online World Drug Report 2023, a total of 291 million people around the world used and/or were addicted to illicit substances. A global effort to prevent and treat addiction could drastically improve global health.

  • Rising Cost of Health Care: The cost of health care is among the most difficult and widespread global health issues. Health care in the U.S. is among the most expensive in the world, making it completely inaccessible for some. Meanwhile, nations such as the U.K. and Canada have universal health care paid for by tax dollars, but the tax burden continues to rise due to increasing demand for care.

Why Is Global Health Important?

The many reasons why global health is important include its ability to improve the health and well-being of worldwide populations. Nurses often choose to dedicate their careers to global health for many reasons, including humanitarianism, health promotion, health equity, and disease prevention and control. 


Many global health strategies focus on vulnerable populations who are often at the epicenter of pandemics and health-related crises. The ability to deliver humanitarian aid in refugee camps, shelters, war zones, and underserved areas changes lives for the better. It also offers valuable insight into health care systems in other parts of the world and gives professionals a pool of knowledge to draw from when influencing and informing policy. 

Health Promotion

Global health nursing may also focus on educating communities or entire nations about good health practices. In some cases, simply teaching people good hygiene and nutrition practices can drastically improve their health. Informing people about what to do when someone is sick, when to see a doctor, and when to call for emergency services can save lives. Groups of people who have access to information can make better choices. 

Health Equity

The majority of global health strategies focus on improving health equity by eliminating the disparities that separate good outcomes from poor ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights six social determinants of health that affect outcomes among populations directly or indirectly. They include social and community context, access to health care, physical environment, workplace conditions, education, and income and wealth gaps.

Improving any of these determinants can vastly improve health equity at every level. Better access to health care leads to better preventive care and prompt care when needed. Improved workplace conditions lead to fewer injuries. Closing wealth gaps makes health care more accessible. Each of these saves time, money, and resources, making health care systems more efficient. 

Disease Prevention and Control

Global health nursing is critical to preventing and controlling disease. Some nurses may dedicate their careers to controlling or eliminating malaria in large, underserved populations. Others may work to stop the spread of highly infectious diseases or prevent the next pandemic, which can take a significant toll on vulnerable populations. 

Preventing disease and controlling its spread are some of the most powerful driving forces behind global health. When done effectively, countless lives can be saved, and with fewer sick individuals, communities expend fewer resources. 

Challenges in Population Health Nursing

Global and population health nursing are not without challenges, and professionals who are committed to improving health equity must be flexible enough to navigate them as they arise. These challenges range from cultural competence and health education to ethical and policy-related issues. 

Cultural Competence

Nurses who work in global health treat people from a wide range of backgrounds. Often, one’s cultural beliefs and standards impact the scope and delivery of health care; this means that a lack of cultural competence can impede relevant and appropriate care strategies. Nurses who understand and respect these cultural differences communicate more effectively and build more trust with culturally diverse patients. 

Health Education

In many underserved populations, health education is a common barrier to wellness and health. Improving health literacy among these communities gives individuals a better understanding of their personal health, allowing them to make better decisions about their lifestyle and nutritional choices. Empowering individuals is an important first step in improving health and wellness on a larger scale. 

Ethical Challenges

Global health nursing often involves ethical challenges that can have a significant impact on current or future efforts to promote health equity. For example, ethical dilemmas may arise when interventions that benefit the majority would harm some individuals. Similarly, decisions made for the betterment of a population may go against the wants or needs of individual patients. 

International Policy and Law

International policy and law can be one of the most common and frustrating global health challenges. Without standardized procedures and policies across borders, nurses often find themselves unable to provide consistent care when transitioning between states or countries. Furthermore, geopolitical tensions have a direct impact on policies, and they can cause significant disruptions in cross-border health care collaboration. 

How Nurses Can Use Global Health Strategies to Promote Health Equity

The public sees nurses as health professionals who focus primarily on treating and managing disease. However, the nursing profession is rooted in social justice, and nurses are uniquely positioned to advocate for health equity.

The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity provides four approaches that nurses can take to improve equity across borders. These strategies for global health include addressing social needs in clinical settings, addressing social needs in communities, working across sectors and disciplines to meet those needs, and advocating for policy changes. 

Addressing Social Needs in Clinical Settings      

In clinical settings, such as hospitals or physicians’ offices, it is becoming more common for nurses to screen patients for social needs and provide referrals to social services during visits. This form of holistic care is vital in global health nursing because it helps patients find and use the help that is available. Some of the most common social needs include housing and food instability and transportation or utility needs. 

Addressing Social Needs in Communities

Communities view nurses as trustworthy and knowledgeable, making them the ideal candidates for addressing their communities’ social needs. Global health nurses are uniquely positioned to use data and environmental factors to predict or respond to health crises; assess community health needs; and understand the underlying reasons that health inequity exists in their county, city, state, or region. 

Working Across Disciplines and Sectors to Meet Social Needs 

Global health nursing involves developing complex interventions that meet the needs of individuals, communities, and the world. A single community may face more than one challenge, such as environmental toxins and low availability of nutritious food. Interdisciplinary approaches that include other community pillars, such as faith-based organizations, government agencies, and health care systems,  often work together to meet these dynamic social needs. 

Advocating for Policy Change          

Public policy is one of the most powerful influences on health care systems and the people who depend on them. Global health nurses are charged with the task of informing health-related policy at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Engaging with policy change by reaching out to policymakers and lawmakers is one of the most powerful ways to improve population health. 

How to Break Into Global Health Nursing

Global health professionals include nurses, doctors, surgeons, specialists, and anesthesiologists who are dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to quality health care. Global health nurses may work in clinical settings as registered nurses (RNs), as nurse educators in colleges and universities, or as informatics nurses who monitor trends in data that can help thwart threats to global health. 

Becoming a global health nurse starts with completing an accredited nursing program and obtaining an RN license. Because global nurses work on such a wide range of health issues and have many roles, most RNs who want to go into global health go on to earn an MSN degree. These graduate degrees provide advanced education focused on leadership and innovation, education, informatics and analytics, and public health promotion. 

Careers in Global Health Nursing

Nurses who choose to work in global health can choose from many career paths that best suit their interests, their skills, and the needs of the communities they serve. The most common and popular global health nursing careers include the following:

  • Nurse Informatics Specialist: Nurse informatics specialists use data and advanced technology to aid in the delivery of quality care. They are uniquely positioned to connect technology and direct clinical care in a way that further globalizes health care for all.
  • Nurse Educator: Nurse educators can influence global health through developing and implementing curricula. According to The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, skilled nurse educators will play a critical role in improving the profession’s contribution to better global health care.
  • Infection Control Practitioner: Infection control practitioners are well-educated and highly skilled nurses who prevent, monitor, study, and report infectious diseases in a wide range of environments to keep patients and other health care workers safe. In the case of an outbreak or a pandemic, these individuals work to track the origin, isolate those exposed, and minimize the threat of spread. They may also educate communities about how to keep themselves healthy.
  • Occupational Health Nurse: Occupational health nurses work to prevent and treat workplace-related injuries and illnesses that are common worldwide. According to the U.N., 2.78 million workers die from occupational accidents and work-related diseases every year. Occupational health nurses work worldwide to support and strengthen workplace labor standards.

Global health nurses may also choose to work in a specific discipline. Some of the most in-demand disciplines that can make an impact on global health include midwifery, mental health, oncology, and surgery. 

Work Settings and Environments

Global health nursing is valuable in many environments. Nurses may seek employment with a government agency, such as the CDC; an international health group, such as the World Health Organization (WHO); or even the U.N., influencing and informing world health policies. Some nurse educators travel the world to educate communities, villages, and countries about healthy lifestyles, including nutrition and hygiene. 

Some global health nurses focus on influencing policy within their own communities, while others travel to underserved communities and countries looking for opportunities to promote social justice and health equity. 

Fight Health Inequity and Disparity as a Global Health Nurse

From discrimination and stereotyping to wealth gaps and geographic challenges, health inequity and disparity are among the most pressing issues in global health. Countless people around the world are underrepresented and underserved in health care. Global health nurses promote the idea that health care is a right while working to eliminate health care inequities. 

The University of Tulsa’s online MSN degree can prepare you for a career in global health nursing by helping you develop the skills you need to develop clinical competence and understand pathophysiology, promotion, and pharmacology. TU’s Public Health track focuses on population health and wellness, teaching students how to promote public health and prevent disease on a global scale. Discover how TU can help you change the world for the better, one patient at a time. 

Recommended Readings

International Travel Nursing: How to Work Abroad as a Nurse

How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

What Can You Do With an MSN?


Annals of Global Health, “Gaps, Challenges, and Opportunities for Global Health Leadership Training”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Is Health Equity?

FHE Health, Addiction Rates and Statistics

HIMSS, Global Health Disparities Infographic

Indeed, “How to Become a Clinical Informatics Specialist (With FAQs)” 

Indeed, “Learn About Being a Nurse Educator”

Indeed, “What Is a Nurse Informaticist and What Do They Do?”

Indeed, “What Is an Occupational Health Nurse? (Duties and Salary)”

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, “11 Global Health Issues to Watch in 2023 According to IHME Experts”

Nature Medicine, “Effects of Elevated Systolic Blood Pressure on Ischemic Heart Disease: A Burden of Proof Study”

Public Health Nursing, “Population Health in a Global Society: Preparing Nurses for the Future”

The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity, “The Role of Nurses in Improving Health Equity”

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Global Nursing Education: International Resources Meet the NLN Core Competencies for Nurse Educators”

United Nations Global Compact, A Safe and Healthy Working Environment

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Online World Drug Report 2023 — Latest Data and Trend Analysis

World Economic Forum, “Here’s How Countries Compare on Healthcare Expenditure and Life Expectancy”

World Health Organization, Health Equity

Zippia, What Is an Infection Control Practitioner and How to Become One

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