Public Health

Public health care professionals work to protect and improve the health of whole groups of people – the health of populations and communities versus focusing on the health of the individual. There are three core public health functions:

  • Assessment and monitoring community health
  • Formulating public policies in communities and populations
  • Assuring that all populations have access to appropriate and cost effective care including health promotion and disease prevention.  

Some public health issues:

  • The emergence of new diseases and potential pandemics of influenza, SARS, swine flu, HIV-AIDS, virulent tuberculosis and other diseases
  • The threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria
  • Environmental health issues regarding our water, food, air and industrial health
  • Nutrition, obesity
  • Alcohol, drug and tobacco addiction and abuse
  • Bio-terrorism
  • Health issues associated with poverty
  • Women’s health, health of neonates, infants, and seniors
  • Issues associated with immunizations
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Health care disparities, both in the U.S. and abroad  

Public Health is a multi-disciplinary field involving many different kinds of professionals, including some physicians and nurses, as well as graduates of formal public health programs.  The focus can be domestic or international. There are a variety of specialty areas within the field:

  • Biostatistics - use of statistical methodology for analyzing health related data
  • Epidemiology - study of the distribution and determinants of disease and disability in populations
  • Health Policy and Management - study of health care systems, health care reform, health law, financial management, clinic management, and policy analysis
  • Health Education/Behavioral Science - practice of selecting, applying and monitoring appropriate behavioral, social and political change strategies to enhance the health of populations
  • Environmental Health - study of issues associated with the adverse chemical, physical and biologic agents in the environment on human health    

Depending on their specialty, public health professionals may be employed by government agencies and health departments, insurance companies, community wellness centers, public school systems, colleges and universities, hospitals, private businesses or other facilities.  

Public health degrees generally fall into two categories: professional or academic.  The master’s degree in public health (MPH), DrPH, and MHA are examples of degrees for people who want careers as practitioners in health departments, managed care organizations, community-based organizations, hospitals, consulting firms, international agencies, state and federal agencies.  Students who may want to teach at a university or conduct research may want to pursue an academic public health degree such as a MS, PhD, and ScD.  

There are currently 41 accredited schools of public health and a larger number of credited programs that exist in schools such as medical or education schools. All schools of public health have curricula built around the 6 core courses of biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, health management and policy, public health practice and social and behavior sciences.  However, they may be quite different from each other due to varying program emphases and specialties. There are also a number of degree options outside of the MPH with varying requirements and entry points for each program. In addition, there are many combined degree programs such as the MPH/MD, MPH/MSN, MPH/JD, MPH/MBA, MPH/MSW, MPH/DVM, MPH/DDS, MPH/MPP (master’s of public policy). 

For students interested in international public health, the Peace Corps offers a Master’s International program in partnership with various universities such at University of Pittsburgh.    

Association of Schools of Public Health

  • list of schools
  • view web resources on careers in public health request free print brochures on graduate education and career information  

American Public Health Association