Public health is a dynamic field that works to improve the health of entire communities. When you think of public health, you may think of your local public health department providing immunizations to prevent infectious diseases, or you may think of international organizations that provide safe drinking water to people in developing countries. Both of these images are correct, since public health is concerned with all kinds of communities throughout the world. Public health often focuses on the prevention and tracking of disease as well as the prevention of disasters, all in an effort to improve living conditions, and provide basic health care and health education.
Public health professionals work toward improving the health of groups of people. There are many different professions within the field. All of them work toward improving the health of groups of people. Some public health professionals are involved with creating and running public health programs. Program managers, health educators and health services administrators are among this group. Other public health professionals, such as epidemiologists and biostatisticians, conduct research. Other professionals provide basic health services to communities, such as public health nurses and social workers. Then there are those who work in law and policy to affect public health at a broad scale.
Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.
Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health
A bachelor’s degree will prepare you for entry-level jobs in public health or for an advanced degree in public health. Majoring in public health will provide you with a broad introduction to the field of public health. However, public health professionals hold bachelors degrees in many other subjects as well, including mathematics, sociology, business, biology and chemistry.
A Bachelor of Arts (BA) is oriented toward social services and public policy. This option is a good choice for students interested in public health policy, health services administration and behavioral science in public health. It is similar to the BS.
A Bachelor of Science (BS) is oriented toward the scientific basis of public health. This option is a good choice for students interested in research, statistical analysis, environmental health and infectious disease control. It is similar to the BA and identical to the BPH.
A Bachelor of Public Health (BPH) is the same as a BS in public health and focuses on the science used in public health.
- Credit hours/length of study: 4 years (120 credits)
- Coursework: bachelors degree program in public health will require core courses in the fundamentals of public health, public health, statistics and biology. Additional course requirements depend on the focus of your degree program. In a degree program concentrated in health science, you will be required to take additional courses in subjects such as chemistry, environmental health, epidemiology and global health. In a program focusing on social science and public policy, you will take courses in health policy, behavioral science, anthropology and economics. Many degree programs in public health also require a practicum or an internship working with a community health organization, public health agency or public healthcare provider.
- Employment prospects: You are qualified for entry-level positions such as community outreach coordinator, research assistant, public health educator or environmental health scientist. If your bachelors degree focuses on nutrition or dietetics, you can work as a public health nutritionist. Working as a public health educator may require a degree program specifically focused on public health education.
Master’s Degree in Public Health
A Master of Science (MS) is research oriented. Coursework focuses on research methods and analysis of health data. This degree is a good choice for students seeking careers in research.
A Master of Public Health (MPH) focuses on the factors that affect population health. This option is a good choice for students who want to manage public health programs and services.
A Master of Health Services Administration (MHSA) is a business degree oriented toward the management, organization and financing of healthcare services. This option is a good choice for students who want to work in areas such as emergency services management, planning, policy analysis or consulting.
- Credit hours/length of study: 2-3 years (45-60 hours, MPH may require 80 hours)
- Coursework: You will be required to pick a concentration when you enter a masters program. Traditionally,the five core disciplines are health policy and administration, social and behavioral sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology and environmental health.An MHSA program will include many of the same courses as an MPH program, but will also include subjects such as accounting, finance and organizational theory. Both MPH and MHSA programs will include a practicum or internship, during which the student works full time or part time in a public health or healthcare organization. At the end of the internship or practicum the student may be required to present to their college and compose a report based on their work.An MS program will focus more on research methods and statistics. It will also include a thesis based on independent research. A thesis is not typically required for an MPH or an MHSA.
- Employment prospects: New masters degree graduates without much professional experience can obtain entry-level jobs in health departments and nonprofit organizations. Graduates interested in research can work as research study coordinators.With more work experience or specialization, you can work as an epidemiologist or a health educator. Public health graduates also work in consulting firms, injury prevention or industrial hygiene. Public health professionals with expertise in epidemiology or infectious disease control work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as public health advisors.
Doctoral Degree in Public Health
A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a research degree oriented toward conducting research and analysis in a narrow area of specialization. If you are interested in becoming a researcher or professor of public health, the PhD would be an advisable route.
A Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) is a professional degree focused on training public health professionals in creating, implementing and assessing public health programs and policy. This degree is advisable for experienced public health professionals seeking high-level positions in policy and administration.
A Doctor of Science (ScD) is a research degree that is equivalent to a PhD in the United States. It is offered by only a few schools of public health in the U.S.
- Credit hours/length of study: 4-7 years (30-90 credit hours depending on prior degree work)
- Coursework: The courses you take will depend on the type of degree and your area of specialization. In a DrPH program, you can expect to take courses in public health law and ethics, financial management, leadership, research and development of public health programs. In addition to coursework, you will be required to complete a practicum and a dissertation. Depending on the requirements of your DrPH program, your dissertation may be based on independent research or on program evaluation or design.In a PhD or ScD program, you will be required to take courses in research methodology and statistical analysis. Most of your course requirements will be customized to your research interests. For example, a doctoral program in biostatistics will require mathematics courses while a program in environmental health will focus more on chemistry.
- Employment prospects: A doctoral degree in public health qualifies you for jobs at the highest level in public health. You can become a professor, high-level policy analyst, consultant or director of a public health organization.
- Public Health Program Manager
- Public Health Educator
- Public Health Nutritionist
- Environmental Health Scientist
- Public Health Nurse
- Public Health Social Worker
- Health Policy Analyst