Personal health is driven by genes, diet and lifestyle choices, but also by the way communities prevent, identify, track and respond to health threats. This is where public health majors come in. Protecting health across an entire community truly takes a village, however, so public health majors and careers are appropriately varied. Read on to learn more about public health degrees -- and the professionals who earn them.
Public Health Degrees at a Glance
Public health focuses on preventing disease and promoting good health on a community or global level. Scientists, medical professionals, social workers and policymakers can all benefit from some type of public health training, but degree programs tend to vary by specialization. Some of the different majors available to students include:
- Public health - The College Board reports that public health majors typically learn how to evaluate and manage programs that combat widespread health threats. Courses may include biostatistics, ecology, environmental health, health policy and more.
- Public health education - Public health education majors study how to best communicate with and educate the public on matters concerning health -- the type of work health teachers and some social workers do.
- International health - International health majors specialize in public health issues affecting people around the globe, but especially in underdeveloped countries. According to The College Board, courses often cover infectious diseases, public policy, health education and nutrition.
- Behavioral health - Behavioral health majors study how biology, behavior and culture influence overall health. The College Board reports that these students examine policies and programs that organizations and governments use to try to improve public health. Coursework may explore behavioral sciences, public health policy and human services.
These public health programs are just a sampling of the many available to those who want to work in this vital field. And the types of professionals who earn degrees in public health are just as diverse.
Potential Careers for Public Health Majors
Public health encompasses a number of careers, including many medical, science and social service professions. Here are a few of them, along with key career and education trends as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Health educators and community health workers - Health educators and community health specialists teach people how to protect and improve their health. They may also collect, report and interpret health data for specific populations and communities. According to the BLS, most health educators hold bachelor's degrees in public heath or a related field, though some employers require additional certification, like the Certified Health Education Specialist designation. The BLS projects demand for these professionals to grow 21 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022. Prospects should be best for those who have completed formal public health degree programs. Speaking a foreign language is also a plus.
- Medical and health services managers - Medical and health services managers -- often called health care executives or administrators -- plan, coordinate and direct medical services for health care facilities or physicians groups. The BLS reports that most medical and health services managers possess at least a bachelor's degree, however master's degrees in fields such as public health, health services or public administration are also common among these professionals. According to the BLS, demand for health administrators is expected to grow 23 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.
- Epidemiologists - Epidemiologists investigate the patterns and causes of the diseases and injuries that impact public health. Their goal: To reduce negative health outcomes through research, health policy and community education. Epidemiologists must earn at least a master's degree in epidemiology or a related public health field, though some hold Ph.D.s. The BLS projects that employment of epidemiologists should rise about 10 percent nationwide between 2012 and 2022.
The BLS and The College Board each note several additional careers that benefit from public health training, including public health nurses, physicians, medical scientists and even political scientists. Interested students can learn more specific programs and careers by visiting the BLS online or contacting schools that offer public health degree programs.
"Epidemiologists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm
"Health Educators and Community Health Workers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm
"Major: Public Health," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-public-health-public-health
"Major: Public Health Education," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-public-health-public-health-education
"Major: International Health," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-public-health-international-health
"Major: Behavioral Aspects of Health," The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-public-health-behavioral-aspectsof-health
"Medical and Health Services Managers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm