What Are Public Health Professionals?
When people think about healthcare, they generally think about how it relates to treating the sicknesses individuals already suffer from. But, another important aspect of the healthcare industry is concerned with preventative care on a macro level. Public health professionals are charged with tasks such as creating programs to educate a community about dangerous illnesses; tracking and controlling infectious diseases; and studying environmental factors that can have an impact on health. They can be found in a number of settings, including nonprofit organizations; insurance companies; local, state and federal government health agencies; university research departments; and pharmaceutical companies.
Public Health Program Information
Students interested in studying public health in college have a multitude of options. Programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels are offered by both public and private institutions, and students can choose to enroll in traditional programs, online programs, or hybrid programs that combine both brick-and-mortar and online class options.
Public health degree programs are designed to prepare students for the challenging job of improving the quality of health in a community. Students study topics such as disease prevention and management, environmental health, health education and biostatistics. Those pursuing advanced degrees also learn about how to conduct and apply public health research.
Public Health Program Types
Public health programs are available at the following levels:
- Undergraduate Certificate: Undergrad certificate programs introduce students to the strategies and challenges of promoting health and wellness on a large scale, from rural communities to entire cities and countries. Students majoring in subjects such as nursing, biology or sociology may want earn a certificate in public health as a supplement to their degree program.
- Bachelor's Degree: Students enrolled in bachelor's degree programs in public health get an overview of how the public health field is designed to improve the health of individuals and communities. The curriculum aims to provide a foundation of public health knowledge, and includes subjects such as disease prevention, environmental health, health law and ethics, and health informatics.
- Master's Degree: There are a number of options for those who want to pursue master's degrees in public health. For example, students can earn a Master of Public Health, a Master of Health Administration or a Master of Science in public health. Students in these programs build on the foundation of knowledge they received from bachelor's programs and learn about more advanced aspects of the public health field, including healthcare leadership, healthcare policy, financing options for healthcare institutions, and global factors that influence public health.
- Graduate Certificate: These programs aim to provide similar course content as master's programs but require fewer credits. Some public health schools allow certificate courses to transfer to their master's degree public health programs, so they might be a good choice for those interested in the field, but aren't ready to commit to a degree program.
- Doctoral Degree: Doctoral degrees in public health are designed for students who want to become leaders in the field by conducting research, crafting policy, and teaching. Students in these programs -- which include Doctor of Public Health and Ph.D. programs -- learn about advanced research methods, strategies for addressing health problems, and techniques for furthering public health scholarship.
Public Health Course Descriptions
Every public health program is different, but they tend to have similar core classes. At the undergraduate level, the following public health courses are fairly commonplace:
- Introduction to Biostatistics: Gives an overview of the methods used in biostatistics. Course topics include probability, descriptive statistics, data analysis needed in the public health field, and statistical software used by public health professionals.
- Health Informatics: Explores how technology is used in a public health setting to improve patient care outcomes, educate the community about public safety, and share information among professionals in the field.
- Introduction to Epidemiology Principles: Teaches students how epidemiology is used to prevent and cure diseases, as well as educate the public about these conditions. Course topics include epidemiological research methods, how at-risk populations are identified and the limitations of epidemiology techniques.
Curriculum at the graduate level builds on the foundations made in undergraduate programs and includes courses such as:
- Public Health Management: Teaches the different aspects of running a healthcare facility, including employee management, financial management and understanding the laws that govern the field.
- Health Policy: Takes an in-depth look at the impact that state, local, and federal laws have on public health organizations.
Public Health Program Specialties
Public health schools often let students tailor their education to a specific area within the field through specialty tracks such as:
- Public Health Nutrition
- Global Health
- Law and Public Health
- Health and Social Behavior
- Women's Health
- Health Policy
Related Career Options
Those interested in earning a public health degree or certificate may also be interested in training for similar career options, including:
- Health Educator: Teaches individuals and groups how to lead healthy lives by setting up programs for hospitals, government agencies, doctor's offices and nonprofit organizations.
- Healthcare Administrator: Provides managerial oversight at healthcare facilities. Responsible for tasks such as employee scheduling, managing finances and ensuring compliance with laws.
- Social and Community Service Manager: Organizes and directs community programs, supervises staff, participates in fundraising campaigns, gathers data to analyze a program's effectiveness and performs similar administrative functions.
These and other careers may be require individuals to obtain additional education and training, as well as earn a license or certification.
Links to Sources and Associations
For more information about the public health programs and careers, visit the following websites:
American Public Health Association, http://www.apha.org/
Association of Public Health Laboratories, http://www.aphl.org/
Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, http://www.aspph.org/
Epidemiologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm
Medical and Health Services Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
Partners in Information Access for the Public Health Workforce, http://phpartners.org/
"Pathways to a Public Health Career," Minnesota Department of Public Health, http://www.health.state.mn.us/pathways/index.html
Social and Community Service Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm
What is Public Health?, Association of Schools of Public Health, http://www.whatispublichealth.org/