History of the Specialty

In 2022, the Health Policy Specialty combined with the Advanced Public Health Nursing specialty to form the new Health Policy & Public Health specialty. A paper that highlights this merge was published in 2022 in the American Journal of Public Health and can be read in full, here.

History of the Health Policy Specialty

The Nursing Health Policy Program was designed and implemented by Drs. Charlene Harrington, Ruth Malone, and Patricia Benner, and coordinated by Mark Crider, who received his doctorate from the program.  The Health Policy MS and PhD programs were first offered in the Fall of 2002.  Outcomes of the process were published in the May 2005 issue of Policy, Politics, and Nursing in their article, “Advanced Nursing Training in Health Policy: Designing and Implementing a New Program”. The following information is taken from this article and can be accessed in full by visiting the Sage Publications website, here.


In l999, the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Nursing faculty at UCSF developed a health policy minor option for nursing master’s degree students. The minor requires three additional health policy courses beyond the required single core health economics and policy course in the master’s program. Because of the strong interest of nursing students in the minor, the faculty considered that a new specialty program would develop nurses with an expertise in health policy. The program was expected to attract students who might have been reluctant to return to school for advanced clinical nursing programs or who, lacking a policy option, might otherwise select public health or public policy programs. Because of lack of available health policy and nursing programs, these individuals may miss the opportunity to gain advanced education in nursing.

After the faculty developed a plan for the curriculum and program courses in 2001, the School of Nursing approved a new specialty in health policy at the master’s and doctoral levels.  The new policy program was established by several core nursing faculty members with a major focus and interest in health policy and health services research, and also included a large number of adjunct and in-residence research faculty in health policy (non-tenure-track and non- state-funded positions) from many disciplines, who had not previously been utilized to teach in the nursing program. In addition, the new dean of the School of Nursing and the faculty identified health policy as a priority area for a new tenure- track faculty position that became available in 2001, allowing the recruitment and hiring of a new faculty member in health policy in 2002. At the same time, the program was able to secure an advanced nursing training grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to help develop the program as a means of addressing the shortage of nurses with specialty training in health policy.


The UCSF multidisciplinary program in nursing health policy was designed to prepare students to assess the policy dimensions of issues in the clinical practice, teaching, and research environments and to translate nursing practice issues into policy issues. The focus is on preparing students to identify new relevant health policy issues, critically analyze and evaluate laws, regulations, and policies at the institutional, local, state, and national levels impacting individuals, families, and communities. The program examines the history, structure, and process of health policy making in the United States and includes practicing specific skills that will help program graduates in roles in policy-related research and in the various aspects of the policy-making process.

The policy program focuses broadly on areas that are national goals identified in Healthy People 2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000) and the national goals of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (2000). The specific objectives for students in the policy program were defined by faculty and are shown below.

The program focuses on key national policy issues and the skills with which to address them. It is designed to provide the tools to understand, analyze, communicate/ advocate, and research policy issues relevant to health and health services, focusing on key substantive areas that have major impact on health and health care delivery.

History of the Advanced Public Health Nursing Specialty

(excerpted from Harris OO, Bialous SA, Muench U, Chapman S, Dawson-Rose C. Climate change, public health, health policy, and nurses training. Am J Public Health. 2022;112(S3): S321–S327.)

The focus of the APHN specialty is to learn macrolevel skills in managing aggregates of clients, communities, environments, and health systems in a clinical nursing context. The course-work and practice-based learning provide a foundation for planning and evaluating community and public health programs; learning about community and public health concepts, health promotion, population-level interventions, grant writing, health care systems, leadership, and health policy; addressing health disparities of vulnerable and diverse populations; and practicing and consulting in diverse and multicultural settings and partnering with communities. Nurses who graduate from the APHN specialty understand the complex interactions between health and the social determinants of health and are able to identify systems-level solutions that can maintain or improve the health of diverse, vulnerable, and underserved populations and communities. Some master of science graduates whose specialty is APHN have taken positions implementing programs in public health departments and in other settings, including director of a statewide initiative to increase flu vaccination rates for elementary school students, state-level public health department coordinator of COVID-19 response, senior country-level technical nursing adviser for maternal child health in a global setting, and director of public health respite and sobering center for a department of public health.

Historically, the APHN specialty has adapted to the changes in competency expectations and revisions for community and public health nurses.Coursework for the APHN specialty is focused on the role of an advanced public health nurse, public health practice and APHN competencies, developing theoretical understanding of structural and social determinants of community and public health, and skills that demonstrate an ability to collaborate with community members to create partnership in planning, implementing, and evaluating programs with a focus on prevention and well-being. More recently, we have included topics on social and environmental justice, structural determinants of health, police violence and its effects on mental health in communities of color, and climate change and global health impacts.

Students engage in a community-based public health residency practicum in which they are evaluated on their skills and attainment of community and public health competencies. Residencies are a minimum of 240 hours and must include APHN competencies. Some examples of residency settings are public health departments, schools and universities, parishes and faith-based programs, home care, rural health, refugee and immigrant clinics, primary care clinics, jails and prisons, ambulatory outpatient facilities, voluntary organizations, and a variety of community, public, and private agencies and organizations.