Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through the promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention, as well as detection and control of infectious diseases [CDC Foundation, 2016]. This interdisciplinary field can also work to address social economic and educational inequities to improve individual and population health, locally and globally. With the ability to work in both public and private sectors, Public Health professionals focus on entire populations, rather than individual patients and work to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.
Public Health professionals improve human health and quality of life through the prevention and treatment of disease and other physical and mental health conditions, through the promotion of healthy behaviors and the analysis of global research and data. As such, Public Health is a large area of study with several distinct specialties. The interdisciplinary and intersecting fields range from epidemiology, biostatistics and health services to environmental health, community health, behavioral health, health economics, public policy, insurance medicine and occupational health.
Below are a few of the most common public health specialties.
- Biostatistics and Information: The scientific community needs specialists to interpret data. Professionals in biostatistics and information convert raw data into useful information for public health and medical professionals.
- Communications: These professionals act as liaisons between the public and health professionals. Communications specialists must effectively convey information from the health community to laypeople.
- Community Health: Community health workers design programs that improve the health of disadvantaged communities such as those who are elderly, homeless, very young, or impoverished.
- Environmental Health: These public health workers study the effects of the environment on human health.
- Global Health: This concentration allows public health professionals to tackle global health crises such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, starvation, and new epidemics. They may also provide vaccines and health information to impoverished or undereducated communities.
- Public Health Education: These workers develop campaigns that inform the public about health topics, such as anti-smoking or healthy eating projects.
Public Health practitioners typically do the following:
- Develop, implement, and evaluate effective public health initiatives/policies.
- Create and analyze programs in the context of the communities they serve.
- Improve the health delivery system specifically for women, children, and families through advocacy, education, and research.
- Discover and test solutions through applied research.
- Address the health of people living in low- and middle-income countries (sometimes known as developing countries).
- Help people make better use of health services, adopt self-care practices, and become more active participants in their health system.
At the professional level, the public health field can be entered at any point. Many people enter the public health field after completing a graduate degree at a School of Public Health. The most common graduate degree for public health professionals is the Master of Public Health (MPH). Other degrees are Master of Science (MS), Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Health.
Learn more about Public Health:
- ExploreHealthCareers: Public Health
- Occupational Outlook Handbook: Health Educators
- Occupational Outlook Handbook: Epidemiologists
- Occupational Outlook Handbook: Occupational Health and Safety Specialists
- Accredited Schools of Public Health (Directory)
- This Is Public Health
- Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health
- What is Public Health?
Within a School of Public Health, there are generally six core disciplines of public health: biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health behavior and education, health management and policy and nutritional sciences. Other areas of concentration may include maternal and child health, genetics and public health, biomedical and laboratory practice, international or global health, health information technology, etc. Many graduate schools of public health have joint programs with schools of medicine, physical therapy, veterinary medicine or law.
All graduate public health programs require competence in verbal and written communication. Beyond these competencie prerequisites vary widely depending on the school, specialization, and degree type you pursue. While many programs do not have listed prerequisites, there are many undergraduate courses that can help to provide a solid foundation for advanced public health coursework. Depending on the area of study you are interested in, recommendations include coursework in:
- Biostatistics: Biology, chemistry, and math (especially including upper-level statistics).
- Epidemiology: Biology (including upper level), chemistry (including organic), and math (including upper-level statistics).
- Environmental health: Biology (including upper level), chemistry (through Biochemistry I), environmental science and math.
- Health behavior and education: Biology, math (any statistics), psychology and sociology.
- Health management and policy: Business and economics, pre-calculus, statistics, psychology, political science and sociology.
- Nutritional Sciences: Biology (Human Physiology or Anatomy & Physiology I), Chemistry (up through Biochemistry), Calculus I, Microbiology, English, Psychology or Sociology
The Health Professions Advisor and ASPPH Academic Program Finder can provide more information and also check with individual schools and programs of study to be sure you have met their unique prerequisites..
GPA and Extracurricular Experience
All graduate public health programs look for applicants who have a high level of academic competency, demonstrated motivation to service, cultural competency, teamwork and exposure to public health work. If considering Public Health, you may want to look into the Community and Global Health concentration offered at K.
Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
Each school of public health has different admissions requirements, and most require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
Admissions Exam: Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
Length: 3 hours and 45 minutes
Sections: There are six sections – Analytical Writing (one section with two separately timed tasks), Verbal Reasoning (2 sections), Quantitative Reasoning (2 sections), Unscored, and/or Research
Scores: Scores range from 260+0 to -340+6.
Rules and Regulations:
- You can take the test once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days).
Cost: The test administration fee is $205, which entitles you to request that scores be sent to up to four graduate institutions or fellowship sponsors. If you wish to send scores to additional institutions or decide to send scores after test day, you may do so by ordering Additional Score Reports for a fee of US$27 per recipient.
Factors to consider:
- Career Goals: Accredited public health programs have variations in curricula and requirements. Students should consider their career goals when choosing the right public health program for them. Learners should ensure the program provides experiences that prepare them for their future occupation. Graduate students almost always select a concentration and you should ensure that your intended program offers your desired specialization.
- Programmatic Accreditation: Accreditation demonstrates a school or program has the academic rigor necessary to train future professionals. Accreditation organizations set specific standards, and unaccredited schools may have serious problems in their curricula.
- Program Delivery: Applicants should decide whether online, on-campus, or blended learning is best for them. Online programs allow students to attend the world’s best universities without relocating.
- Cost: Consider tuition and type of financial aid available
Additional resources for school selection:
- Review the Study section of the ASPPH website.
Application Service: Some institutions utilize the Schools and Programs of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS) common online application system while other schools have their own application.
Application timeline/deadline: Each institution has unique deadlines. For SOPHAS programs, the deadline is the date by which you should submit your application and all required documents should be received. See SOPHAS FAQs for more information about timelines and deadlines.
Letters of Recommendation: The SOPHAS application requires letters of recommendation. Depending on the option you select, this will generate the print or e-recommender form.
- To avoid SPAM filters, please notify your recommenders that they will receive an email from email@example.com.
- You should verify the specific recommendation requirements with each school.
Personal Statement: This is your chance to make the case that you fit with your intended program. Making this case clearly and effectively can be as important as your academic and professional qualifications.