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What Does it Mean to Study Public Health Major?

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."

The broad job description of public health professionals is to 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 often-times complex problems that face health care systems and services, perhaps to improve quality or broaden availability. Public health professionals also work to promote healthy behaviors and habits on an individual, family, professional or community level and even to have an impact on chronic disease.

Types of Public Health Degrees

Public health degree programs focus on both the science and politics of health and are designed to address their interconnections. Degrees are available from the associate to PhD level, varying in intensity and scope.

Some public health degree programs may separate the major into categories such as biostatistics, global health, nutrition, and public health administration. Public health degree programs also could be offered with concentrations or specializations, such as biostatistics, child health, epidemiology, health education, environmental health or international health. Whichever degree you choose, you are sure to be impressed by the range of issues that public health addresses.

Before you decide to pursue a degree in public health, consider the degree levels available:

Associate Degree in Public Health

An associate degree in public health is a solid first step toward building knowledge about the field and eventually working toward 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.

Factors prospective students should consider

Typically, students need to have a high school diploma or GED to be admitted into an associate degree program in public health. At the associate degree level, programs can be found online or campus-based and may be called 'public health' or a similar name. Programs in health administration could provide a similar stepping stone toward advancement to a public health bachelor's degree.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Students complete both general education requirements in the arts and humanities, math, history and more as well as requirements in their major. Classes in the major could include moral issues in healthcare, public health in America, and foundations in nutrition. A course in science, like chemistry with a lab, could also be required.

Skills students can learn

Is public health a good major? Students in an associate level program can build foundational knowledge, including the importance of public health and the health of a community, along with an understanding of 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. They can also improve their skills in critical thinking and interpersonal communication.

Jobs related to this degree

With entry-level skills in public health, you might qualify for jobs such as analytics associate for a hospital or health care organization, public health associate for the centers for disease control or even a public health technician.

Bachelor's Degree in Public Health

Students with an associate degree may be able to enroll in a public health bachelor's degree. As a high school graduate or student with a diploma, you also could seek admissions directly into a bachelor's program. From the start, you might be able to choose an area of focus, such as epidemiology, health promotion, health science or school education.

Factors prospective students should consider

Students could be able to transfer associate degree credit into a bachelor's program or enroll directly for public health bachelor's degree. This program will be lengthier than an associate degree, often four years unless you are a transfer student, and require more rigor than an associate level program. Completion of science courses or even an internship could also be part of your public health major requirements.

Types of courses and clinical experiences required

Bachelor's degree programs in public health typically include classes in environmental health, medical geography, and occupational health and safety. Science courses, in biology and chemistry, or biochemistry, could be required. You may be able to choose a concentration, such as health science, health promotion, or school health education.

Skills students can learn

Applying technology and research to problem-solving, scientific-based understanding or issues, and effective communication practices could be learned in a bachelor's level program.

Jobs related to this degree

You might look for a job as an entry-level data scientist, research assistant, or even junior communication public relations specialist.

Master's Degree in Public Health

Also known as an MPH, a master's degree in public health is designed to help you build a full understanding of public health through coursework offered at the graduate level. 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.

Factors prospective students should consider

MPH programs are typically 60 credits, although some are available at an accelerated pace. They also could provide the option for a specialization, such as biostatistics, environmental health, public health administration, or parks and recreation. At some schools, a MPH can be combined with another degree program, such as a Juris Doctorate, Masters of Science in Social Work or Masters of Science in Nursing, allowing to truly develop nuanced skills.

Types of courses and clinical experiences required

Common courses for An MPH include biostatistics, epidemiology, health services administration, environmental health sciences and more. You may need to complete research or develop and understanding into research methods.

Skills students can learn

In an MPH program, you typically learn about analytical and qualitative methods in research, communicating with peers and leaders and applying knowledge to real-world public health situations.

Jobs related to this degree

You may be able to seek employment as a public health professional or as a leader in government, business, industry, higher education, or nonprofit organizations. Learn more about master’s degree programs in public health.

Ph.D. in Public Health

A Ph.D. in public health can help you to enhance the professional skills 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. Fellowships and research assistantships could be available to Ph.D. students.

Factors prospective students should consider

You may need to submit scores from your graduate record examination to be enrolled. Frequently, you may use the same form to apply for a Ph.D. program as you do for a master's program. You also may be expected to complete research or become involved in instruction of undergraduate classes.

Types of courses and clinical experiences required

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. Courses that you might take include community health education, public health communication and research theory, design and methods.

Skills students can learn

In a Ph.D. in public health program, you could learn how to present research to colleagues, conduct research and publish results and teach a course in the field. Becoming a high-level thinker, much like a CEO, could also be a learning outcome

Jobs related to this degree

You might be able to become a researcher, research coordinator, assistant professor, clinical manager, faculty members, public health biostatistician, health studies scientist or similar.

Online or Campus-Based Public Health Programs

Students may complete their MPH program fully online, on-campus or via a combination of online and on-campus programs, also known as hybrid programs. Both types of online programs with pre-recorded lectures, discussion boards, and live chats allow part-time students to arrange their study around their personal schedules. On the other hand, campus-based programs provide opportunities for on-site networking and interactions.

Financial Aid for Public Health Students

You may obtain a federal loan to help pay for some or all of your public health degree by completing the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA). . Another option to help cover a portion of your tuition costs is to apply for scholarships. Although these are generally awarded in small amounts, scholarships can help to offset costs, do not need to be repaid, and are often offered through an educational institution or other organization. Scholarships in public health are available through the groups listed below, but are offered through other organizations, too:

The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health also provides a list of strategies for financing a public health degree.

More details and helpful tips on paying for your undergraduate, master's or Ph.D. in public health program can be found at our financial aid page.

What Can You Do with a Degree in Public Health?

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.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in public health, take a look at the table below for details on total employment, annual mean wages and projected growth rate for a few of the public health occupations.

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
Dietitians and Nutritionists67,670$62,330
Epidemiologists7,410$78,290
Health Education Specialists58,590$60,500
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists92,780$76,290
Occupational Health and Safety Technicians20,580$56,470
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Public Health Educators

Graduates of public health degree program can choose to pursue a career in education. Public health educators typically work within 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 can vary depending on the type of community they are assigned, the overarching goal for these professionals 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. Public health administrators are required to acquire interpersonal skills to help them in gaining trust of and advising community members effectively. Government-employed health specialists also are required to 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.

Nutritionists

Public health students who want to pursue the research of disease prevention and quality of life should consider focusing their undergraduate studies in the areas of dietetics, food services management, and nutrition or food science. Nutrition coursework can include biology, mathematics, psychology, sociology and statistics.

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 micro level, from person to person, as well as 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..

Epidemiologists

While these professionals 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 typically required for these positions.

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. The National Board of Public Health Examiners also offers 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. It also awards 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. The commission also hosts 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. Additionally, the council offers 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. WHO works with governments and various agencies to promote good health and to help solve problems.
Article Sources
Article Sources

Sources:

  1. Career Outcomes, Doctor of Public Health, Yale University, Accessed Dec. 23, 2019, https://publichealth.yale.edu/admissions/programs/phd/career/s
  2. Healthcare occupations, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed Dec. 24, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm
  3. Health Educators and Community Health Workers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed Dec. 24, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm
  4. Master of Public Health, University of Maryland, Accessed Dec. 23, 2019, https://www.medschool.umaryland.edu/Epidemiology/mph/
  5. Public Health, Associate of Science Degree, American Military University, Accessed Dec. 22, 2019, Public health degree programs focus on the intersection of both science and politics and are designed to address the relationships between culture and health.
  6. Public Health, Brigham Young University, Accessed December 22, 2019, https://catalog.byu.edu/life-sciences/public-health
  7. Public Health Professionals Program, Centers for Disease and Control, Accessed Dec. 22, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/phap/index.html
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