- Epidemiologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm
- Dietitians and Nutritionists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
- Health Educators and Community Health Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm#tab-1
- Master of Public Health Degree Program, Indiana University, http://www.publichealth.indiana.edu/degrees/MPH/index.shtml
- Medical and Health Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Medical-and-health-services-managers.htm#tab-1
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-26 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-health-and-safety-specialists-and-technicians.htm
- Online Associate Degree in Public Health, American Public University, http://www.apu.apus.edu/lp2/public-health/associate.htm
- Ph.D. in Public Health, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/doctoral/phd-in-public-health
- Public Health, Bachelor of Science, American Military University, https://www.amu.apus.edu/academic/schools/health-sciences/bachelors/public-health.html
What Does it Mean to Study Public Health?
According to the World Health Organization, the definition of health is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
Public health professionals evaluate and regulate the health needs of the public population, focusing on improving health where they can. Students who pursue a public health major have the opportunity to tackle the complex problems that face health care systems and services, perhaps to improve their quality or broaden their availability. Public health professionals also work to promote healthy behaviors and habits on an individual, family, professional or community level.
Types of Public Health Degrees
Focused on the intersection of science and politics, public health degree programs are meant to address the relationships between culture and health. They can also examine the methods of designing and implementing health policy programs in the public's best interest. Students in these programs may focus on public policies relating to mental health, communicable diseases, nutrition and more.
Some public health degree programs may separate the major into categories such as biostatistics, nutrition, and public health administration. It's also not uncommon for public health degree programs to offer concentrations or specializations for their students. Some of the more common areas of concentration include health education, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, child health, preventing diseases and international health.
Before you decide to pursue a degree in public health, consider the degree levels available:
An associate degree in public health is a solid first step toward earning a bachelor's degree in this field. You may also be able to gain entry-level work in a public health setting with this degree type, although potential positions you'll qualify for may be limited.
This two-year program can teach you about the importance of public health and the health of a community, along with the political and social factors that impact public health policy. Students may also learn why public health is so dynamic, political and controversial -- and how they can shape the health of their own communities and those of others.
While public health curricula vary, students who pursue an associate degree in this field can expect to take the following courses:
- Global health
- Interpersonal communications
- Critical thinking
- American government
- American popular culture
While most colleges and universities only offer programs in public health at the graduate level, some also offer bachelor's degree programs. At this undergraduate level, these programs generally cover basic biology, chemistry and advanced level mathematics in addition to policy studies. It may be particularly beneficial for students to have some education in a second language, especially Spanish.
A bachelor's degree in a related field, such as health care administration or health sciences, may be combined with a master's degree in public health to qualify for many jobs.
Bachelor's degree programs in public health typically include classes in:
- World religions
- Social problems
- History of science
- College algebra
- Moral issues of health care
A master's degree in public health is designed to prepare you to pursue positions within this thriving field, either as a public health professional or as a leader in government, business, industry, higher education, or nonprofit organizations.
While you pursue a public health master's degree, you should find yourself gaining a solid understanding of the core disciplines of public health, including both practice and policy. Depending on the school you choose, you may also be able to choose a specialization within your degree program. Common specializations at this level include biostatistics, environmental health, public health administration, or parks and recreation.
Meanwhile, common courses for a master's in public health degree program include:
- Physical activity
- Behavioral, social, and community health
- Public health policy and politics
- Legal issues in public health
Ph.D. in Public Health
A Ph.D. in public health can help you build on the skills you learned during undergraduate and graduate study. This program is known for focusing heavily on the research side of public health, but it can also help you become more effective as a sole practitioner by expanding your knowledge of the subject.
Coursework in this program can emphasize details of disease and injury prevention, heath informatics, and the public relations side of the field of public health. Earning a Ph.D. in this field can help put you in the best position possible to change the lives and health of people in your community or around the globe.
Courses you might take during this program could include:
- Public health communication
- Marketing of public health
- Community health education
- Research theory, design, and methods
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Public Health?
Public health professionals have a wide range of responsibilities. They might focus on communicable diseases or environmental hazards that affect the workplace or the community as a whole. They might market healthy behaviors to individuals or families. Or they might choose to work in public policy, evaluating the public's health needs and working to design and implement health care programs that can address those needs.
Some public health specialists choose to pursue a career at the administrative or management level. These professionals may work in hospital supply organizations, HMO offices, health care-related agencies of the government, or pharmaceutical companies. Some may work at the community level as an infection control practitioner at a community medical center, as a director of public nursing, as a city health planner, or as an epidemiologist serving the community or county.
Here are some details about just a few of the many careers available in the field of public health.
Public Health Educators
Some graduates of public health degree programs choose to pursue careers as educators. Public health educators work within many different health-related organizations, such as state legislative committees, consumer advocacy organizations, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations working with underserved populations. The job of a public health educator is to design and implement effective health education programs and strategies in particular populations of the community.
While the job duties of these workers can vary depending on the type of community they are assigned, their overarching goal is assessing local health needs and planning ways to make improvements.
- A bachelor's degree is typically required for this career.
- Some employers prefer to hire professionals with the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential.
Public Health Administrators
Public health administrators may choose to work in a public office or in the private sector, helping individuals with their health issues. Public health administrators benefit from strong skills related to monitoring an office environment, and the ability to advise and educate their constituency about preventative health care techniques.
Community members must be able to trust a public health administrator, so that they decide to come to him or her for effective advice about individual, family or community health. Government-employed health specialists should also be comfortable with the possibility of political changes between different administrations.
- Most public health administrators have a bachelor's degree. However, master's degrees are also common.
- Certification is not typically required for this career.
Public health students who want to help their community with nutrition should consider focusing their undergraduate studies in the areas of dietetics, food services management, nutrition or food science. Nutrition coursework can include biology, mathematics, psychology, sociology and statistics.
Rather than focusing on policies and laws, nutritionists generally work to improve the world's health by spreading information about healthy eating and living. Their understanding of healthy foods and diets can help to maintain health on both a micro level, from person to person, and a macro level, informing communities worldwide. Their work can be a critical part of fighting disease and enforcing healthy habits for future generations.
- Nutritionists typically need a bachelor's degree.
- Many dietitians choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential, although it is not always required for employment.
While these workers can perform a wide range of job duties in just about any public health setting, their main responsibility is studying patterns of disease and injury in humans. By analyzing these patterns, they may be able to diagnose public health issues that need to be addressed to stop these diseases or injuries from occurring in the future.
Epidemiologists often brainstorm, create and manage public health programs that can be beneficial to local communities. They can then use the data collected during these programs to study public health and propose further improvements, building upon their own knowledge and success as well as those of others in their field.
- Many epidemiologists have a master's degree, although doctoral degrees are also common.
- Certification is not typically required for this career.
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians
These professionals collect data for the purpose of promoting safe environments. Specialists work as inspectors and detectives, inspecting workplaces for safety issues and checking that employers are adhering to state and federal safety regulations. Technicians lean more towards the scientific side of the issue, conducting tests and measuring hazards to ensure employed individuals are not exposed to unnecessary environmental issues. There is some overlap between both careers, and it's not uncommon for the two to work together to analyze a particular issue or location, either.
- Occupational health and safety specialists typically need a bachelor's degree, while technicians usually need on-the-job training or an associate degree.
- Certification is not required for these positions.
Public Health Salaries and Career Outlook
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Dietitians and Nutritionists||62,980||$60,150||14.1%|
|Occupational Health and Safety Specialists||81,330||$73,600||7.6%|
|Occupational Health and Safety Technicians||17,490||$53,930||9.5%|
Public Health Associations and Organizations
To learn more about various certifications within the field of public health, consider exploring the following organizations:
- National Board of Public Health Examiners -- This organization offers resources and networking opportunities for public health examiners and other public health professionals. Through them, interested applicants can earn the Certified in Public Health credential.
- National Commission for Health Education Credentialing -- This organization offers continuing education and resources applicable to all public health educators. They also award a Certified Health Education Specialist credential to interested health educators who demonstrate excellence in their field.
- Commission on Dietetic Registration -- The Commission on Dietetic Registration offers resources and ongoing education opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists. They also host several credentials that nutrition-focused workers can earn, including the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.
- The National Health Council -- This organization works with other organizations to maintain high standards for public health on the local, state, and federal level. They offer resources for public health professionals as well as new and relevant information on public policy.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) -- The World Health Organization offers research, data, and information on various public health issues around the world. They work with governments and various agencies to promote good health and solve problems that arise.