Embarking on a career in public health degree opens doors to diverse opportunities aimed at improving community well-being. With a myriad of public health degrees available, aspiring professionals can find their niche in addressing and preventing health issues on a larger scale.
We all have a role to play. How can we make healthier choices in our daily lives? What policies and interventions make the biggest impact? Join us as we explore the many facets of public health in the 21st century. Through collaboration and innovation, we can build a healthier world for all.
Types of Public Health Degrees
Public health is a broad, multidisciplinary field focused on promoting health and quality of life at the population level. There are several types of degrees available in public health at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Public Health
A Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Public Health provides an introduction to the field. Coursework covers topics like epidemiology, biostatistics, health policy, social and behavioral sciences, environmental health, and more. This paves the way for graduate study or entry-level roles in public health.
Master’s Degree in Public Health (MPH)
The Master of Public Health (MPH) is a professional graduate degree and is considered the main credential for public health careers. MPH programs take 2-3 years and allow students to concentrate in a specialty area like epidemiology, health policy, biostatistics, or environmental health. An MPH prepares graduates for roles like health educators, analysts, coordinators, and administrators.
Doctoral Degrees in Public Health (PhD, DrPH)
Doctoral degrees in public health include the PhD in Public Health and the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). These advanced research degrees take 4-6 years to complete and prepare graduates for leadership roles, university-level teaching, and independent research. Coursework advances specialized expertise in epidemiology, biostatistics, health services, or other concentrations.
Core Competencies and Curriculum
While specific coursework varies, all public health degree programs aim to develop core competencies established by the Council on Education for Public Health. These include:
- Epidemiology – Study of disease patterns in populations
- Biostatistics – Quantitative analysis methods for public health data
- Health Policy – Analysis of policies impacting community health
- Social and Behavioral Sciences – Factors influencing health behaviors and promotion
- Environmental Health – Impacts of physical/social environments on health
- Quantitative Sciences – Research methods and evaluation
Public Health Roles and Responsibilities
Public health professionals work to protect and improve the health of communities through diverse efforts, including:
- Disease prevention and control – Immunization programs, screening, contact tracing
- Health education and health promotion – Behavior change campaigns, community workshops
- Policymaking – Developing programs and policies to address public health issues
- Disaster preparedness and response – Coordinating agencies and mobilizing resources
- Community health improvement planning – Assessing needs and implementing strategic plans
Public Health Degree Focus Areas
Public health degrees allow students to concentrate and build expertise in specific disciplines within the broad field. Some key focus areas include:
Global health focuses on health issues affecting populations around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Coursework covers topics like health equity, social determinants of health, infectious diseases, maternal and child health, and health systems strengthening.
Health Policy and Management
The health policy and management concentration develops skills in administering healthcare organizations and shaping policies that impact public health. Courses teach leadership, health economics, strategic planning, and policy analysis.
Biostatistics focuses on applying statistical methods to analyze public health data. This concentration builds quantitative analysis skills to inform public health research and evaluation.
Epidemiology deals with determining the causes and distribution of disease and health outcomes in populations. Students learn how to investigate disease outbreaks, identify risk factors, and conduct public health surveillance and research.
Environmental health examines how environmental factors affect human health outcomes. The curriculum covers topics like toxicology, food safety, waste management, and occupational health.
Community Health Education
This concentration prepares students to design, implement, and evaluate health promotion and health education programs for communities. Coursework focuses on behavior change theories, educational strategies, needs assessment, and communicating health messages.
Hands-On Experience in Public Health Programs
Public health degree programs emphasize practical, hands-on learning along with classroom-based instruction. Students complete one or more internships placed at health departments, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, or other field sites.
These experiential learning opportunities allow students to apply their developing knowledge and skills in real-world public health practice. Field experience courses and community-based projects also enable students to tackle current public health challenges and work directly with community partners.
Capstone research projects, papers, and presentations are a common requirement nearing the end of the study, allowing students to demonstrate their mastery of public health competencies. Through diverse hands-on learning opportunities within their program, public health students gain invaluable experience and connections to prepare them for careers improving population health and wellbeing.
Career Paths with a Public Health Degree
Public health graduates have a wealth of career opportunities across diverse settings.
Government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels employ public health professionals to protect and promote community health. Graduates may work in health promotion, disease prevention, disaster preparedness, or informing public health programs and policies. Common government employers include health departments, the CDC, FDA, HHS, and more.
Nonprofit organizations focused on health advocacy, health equity, and health education also offer meaningful careers for public health graduates. Professionals design and lead initiatives to improve community health access and outcomes. They implement health education and health equity campaigns, write grants to fund public health programs and serve as advocates.
Hospitals and healthcare organizations
Hospitals and broader healthcare organizations employ public health experts to evaluate community needs, coordinate preventive care services and immunization drives, and improve access and quality of care.
Universities and research centers
Universities and research centers provide careers in public health academia and research. Graduates may teach in public health degree programs, supervise student research, or pursue their own research agenda.
Common public health roles include health educator, epidemiologist, biostatistician, and public health manager. Graduates can serve communities and advance public health in diverse professional settings.
Applying to a Public Health Degree Program
The application process for public health degrees typically involves the following:
Step 1 – Fulfill Prerequisites
- Complete any prerequisite courses required by the program in math, natural sciences, social sciences, etc. These prep students have a solid base of knowledge.
Step 2 – Take Standardized Tests
- Take graduate admissions exams like the GRE, MCAT, or GMAT. Some programs may waive test requirements.
Step 3 – Obtain Recommendations
- Ask 2-3 professors or public health professionals for recommendation letters speaking to your skills, abilities, and passion for public health.
Step 4 – Write a Personal Statement
- Draft a personal statement describing your interests in public health, relevant experiences, future goals, strengths, and qualities you’ll bring to the program.
Step 5 – Highlight Relevant Experiences
- Include details on your resume about volunteer work, internships, research, jobs, or other relevant experiences in public health or healthcare.
Step 6 – Submit Complete Applications
- Submit all required elements, including test scores, transcripts, letters, personal statement, resume, and supplemental essays if required.
Step 7 – Prepare for Interviews
- If invited for an admissions interview, practice articulating your interests, knowledge, and goals in public health.
Finding the Best Public Health Program for You
When researching public health degree programs, school and program rankings can provide a helpful starting point to identify well-regarded options, but they shouldn’t be the only factor. Accredited programs from reputable schools will equip you with quality education and strong career preparation.
Also, consider location and access to community resources and internships. Weighing factors like concentration areas, cost, and program culture will help you find the best-personalized fit.
Another key decision is whether to enroll in an online or in-person public health program. Online programs allow for scheduling flexibility but may need more hands-on learning and networking opportunities.
In-person programs enable more immersion and direct experience but require attending classes on campus. Review the curriculum and learning formats closely when deciding between online and in-person programs.
Cost and Financial Aid for Public Health Degrees
Cost and financing are key considerations when pursuing a public health degree. Tuition costs vary widely based on factors like public vs. private schools, degree level, and in-state vs. out-of-state tuition. Public schools tend to have lower tuition, especially for state residents.
All accredited programs will qualify students for federal financial aid through loans, grants, and scholarships. Many schools also offer institution-based scholarships and grant opportunities. Additional financing options include private student loans, graduate assistantships, military programs, and employer tuition benefits.
Thoroughly researching options and applying for all possible scholarships, grants, and aid can help reduce the costs of a public health degree. State schools offer substantial tuition savings for residents.
While you’re here, it might be best if you can also check this video I made for the worst health degrees:
Preparing for a Career in Public Health
A public health degree equips graduates with knowledge and competencies, but students can further prepare for post-graduation careers through hands-on skills development.
Completing relevant coursework and multiple internships builds specialized expertise and practical abilities. Joining student organizations, attending public health conferences, and actively networking builds valuable connections. Informational interviews and developing mentor relationships with faculty and guest speakers expand professional networks.
By fully utilizing academic and professional development resources, students can build the skills, experience, and relationships that lead to rewarding public health careers and improving population health.
Ready to Serve the Public and Improve Overall Health?
Pursuing a public health degree opens diverse career paths united by the common goal of improving lives and communities. Public health professionals work in government, nonprofits, healthcare, and academia to prevent disease, promote health, inform effective policies, strengthen systems, and reduce disparities.
They apply expertise ranging from data analysis to education to shape a healthier future. With passion and skills in areas from epidemiology to environmental health, public health graduates can serve the public good through data-driven, community-focused careers.
By choosing an accredited program that is a good fit for their interests and goals, students gain knowledge and hands-on experience to translate their dedication into impact. Through strategic education, preparation, and professional development, those with a heart for helping others and a mind for science and problem-solving can prepare for careers where they can apply their talents to build a healthier world.
Frequently Asked Questions About a Public Health Degree
What are the 3 P’s of public health?
The 3 P’s of public health are easy to remember – they stand for Protection, Prevention, and Promotion. Basically, public health aims to protect entire communities from health threats, prevent disease and injury before they occur, and promote healthy lifestyles.
What does health mean to the public?
Good question! Health means a lot of different things to different people in the public. But overall, most folks want access to quality, affordable healthcare and education so they can live long, healthy lives. They also want clean air, water, food, safe neighborhoods, and a sense of community. So, public health has a big role to play in making that happen!
What are the 5 A’s of public health care?
The 5 A’s of public healthcare are Availability, Accessibility, Accommodation, Affordability, and Acceptability. In other words, quality healthcare should be there when needed, easy to access, able to serve diverse needs, affordable for all, and respectful of personal preferences. That’s a tall order, but it’s what we should strive for!
What are the three 3 objectives of public health?
The 3 main objectives of public health are: 1) Prevent disease and injury, 2) Prolong life, and 3) Promote well-being. Through education, policy, research, and community collaboration, public health professionals work to meet these goals daily. It’s not glamorous work all the time, but it’s so vital for creating healthier communities.
Which specialization is best in public health?
Tough question! Many public health specializations are impactful and rewarding. Some top choices are epidemiology (study of disease patterns), health education (teach healthy living), environmental health (protect people from hazards), and healthcare administration (manage facilities). But you can make a difference in any public health role that matches your skills and passions. The field is so broad; there’s something for everyone!