- The online Master of Public Health (MPH) program from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University ([email protected]) prepares public health professionals to make a difference in communities around the world, helping students succeed in advancing the health of populations locally and globally. The program is delivered through a dynamic blend of online interactions and real-world experience. Click here for admissions information.
Types of Public Health Degrees
When one thinks "public health", they typically think about the end goal: getting a job within the public health sector. It takes a strong educational background to work within public health - the impact of a public health professional is very great and often impacts mass quantities of people. This is outstanding and one of the many reasons nurses, for instance, decide to focus more on a public health career, but it is also the reason for having such strict educational requirements.
As you may or may not know, public health is a massive field. Aside from the typical different degree levels such as bachelor's, master's, and doctorate (all summarized below), there are - by our count - over 550 specific concentrations available across most of the degree levels. This accounts for over 2,000 public health programs in the United States!
That may be intimidating, but that's why we are here - we have summarized the most popular types of public health degrees below (over 25 of them), including degree levels and the most popular concentrations of public health.
Bachelor's in Public Health Degree
At the Bachelor's level, these specializations will be taught at fundamental, introductory levels establishing a base level of knowledge. Curriculum will focus on a broad education, ensuring individuals have knowledge in all of the main public health tracks or specializations. One reason for this is to ensure public health professionals understand the multi-disciplinary nature of public health.
Surprisingly, options for a Bachelor's degree in Public Health are limited. Most people that wish to pursue a public health career actually start out in nursing, and achieve their BSN. Some go the traditional nursing route of getting their RN, then getting their RN to BSN degree, and then deciding to get their Master's Degree in Public Health to further their career in public health. This gives them real-world, hands-on experience with disease and treatment of disease to understand what "behind-the-scenes" decisions can have on the front line. There are some Bachelor's programs in public health, so if you are completely sold on that as your career, you should be able to find one near you or online.
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Master's in Public Health Degree
The Master's level degree (either a Masters of Public Health or Master's of Science) will build upon the bachelor's and will be focused almost entirely on a track. Some additional courses will cover topics not directly related to a chosen track, but will help the individual to further understand public health in its many forms. By far the most common degree level within public health, an MPH degree program is a graduate-level degree that many people are deciding to seek nowadays. With an MPH degree, you can have a very strong career within the public health field, working with many professionals, companies, and government entities. Most companies and government positions - at least those that have a grand impact on mass quantities of people - require at least a Master's in Public Health degree from its employees.
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Doctorate in Public Health Degree
The Doctoral degree (Ph.D. in Public Health or Doctor of Public Health) is a degree that will focus on preparing an individual for academia or research. This is a terminal public health degree. The most elite degree in public health, a Ph.D in Public Health is mostly for research professionals. Because so much data and so many studies go into figuring out public health solutions, it is extremely important to have these positions and more important to have people/public health professionals educated at the doctorate level.
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Public Health Degree
The public health degree is the most common offering among US universities. According to our hand-gathered database of public health degrees, there are 410 public health programs in the United States. Some are on-campus and some are online, but most are at the MPH, or master's level.
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The formal term for public health is epidemiology, or the study of patterns, causes, and effects of health. Epidemiology is based on studying facts and figures combined with case studies to try to find solutions and controls for disease relating to the public. In the US, there are 151 Epidemiology degree programs.
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Biostatistics applies statistics principles to biological experiments and sampling, particularly in medicine and public health. This is a very exciting field with the massive growth of "big data" in the world. Computers can more quickly and accurately process the data that is needed to make informed decisions, and perhaps the biggest benefactor is the Biostatistics industry. The vast majority of Biostatistics programs are Master's-level or above offerings, and overall there are 131 Biostatistics degree programs in the United States.
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Environmental Health Sciences Degree
There are 85 Environmental Health Sciences & Environmental Health Degrees in the United States. Some universities decide to give their program the "Sciences" distinction, although technically the "Environmental Health" and "Environmental Health Sciences" are nearly identical in terms of curriculum and career outcomes.
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Generalist Public Health Degree
The generic term for a public health degree at some universities is the Generalist Public Health Degree. There are currently 40 Generalist - PH programs in the United States. Some of these programs are Bachelor's offerings, but most all consist of standard public health studies.
Health Policy & Management Degree
A Health Policy Degree involves the study of decision-making and actions based on fact, studies, and research to achieve healthcare goals or standards for nations, communities, or towns. The "Management" distinction, as implied, includes classes built around becoming a leader of a team or organization. More often times than not, those with a Health Policy & Management degree are employed in Management positions, and often they are the face of an organization. There are currently 38 Health Policy & Management programs in the United States, nearly all at the graduate level.
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Maternal & Child Health Degree
With the ever-growing population and a more targeted, empathetic approach to women and children especially during pregnancy and infancy, health professionals including pediatricians, obstetricians, qualified nurses and social workers are typical targets to get their MPH in Maternal & Child Health. As the name specifies, the focus is solely on health care of mothers and children. Nearly all Maternal & Child Health Degrees are at the master's-level or above.
Community Health Education Degree
There are 27 Community Health Education Degree programs in the US, but community health educators are a growing occupation that is truly needed in American communities. A Community Health Education Degree involves studying factors and facts to identify health problems within communities, work with regulators to ensure law and regulations are built around and for the better of the community, and to inform and educate the community to help solve health issues. Most that graduate with a Community Health Education degree work with community health education, health promotion, and prevention programs.
Environmental & Occupational Health Degree
Studying Environmental & Occupational Health involves using research, service, and knowledge or education to decrease and ultimately prevent specific hazards in the environment or workplace. There are 26 Environmental & Occupational Health Degrees in the US, and many of the are MPH level. Many graduates end up working with companies determined to decrease pollution and waste hazards. More Information on Environmental Health Degrees >
A MPH degree in Nutrition involves first and foremost understanding what is needed for proper nutrition in individuals, and then understanding how to improve the overall health of individuals and communities. This is done by attacking social or environmental causes as a preventable measure. There are 21 programs in the US that specifically cover Nutrition for Public Health (obviously there are many more dietetics and nutrition programs out there, but we are only focusing on Public Health). More Information on Nutrition Degrees >
Global Health Degree
Coming up with solutions to improve the health of individuals, or even communities, is a much different tasks than improving the health of the entire world. This is why the Global Health Degree is extremely important in the society of the world. Oftentimes, those with a Global Health Degree end up working to address and improve health of people in third world, or developing countries. Many work with infectious disease, but some also work with mental health in developing countries. There are 20 Global Health Degrees in the US, with nearly every one being a Master's level program.
Health Administration Degree
Health administrators typically work in a hospital or other healthcare organization setting, and run teams, departments, or the entire organization. This includes running different healthcare or hospital networks. Many nurses decide to continue their education with a health administration degree.
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Health Promotion Degree
All of the research in the world and solutions to problems can not fix health problems themselves, which is why health promotion is very important to improving the health of people around the world. A Health Promotion Degree involves studying behavioral and social factors to help people feel empowered to improve their health. This can include world organizations or even a school in your community.
Health & Human Services Research Degree
Studying how people access healthcare services, how they pay for healthcare, and what their experiences were with specific healthcare systems or organizations is what a professional with a Health Services Research Degree does. They also figure out societal or social factors, and processes or technology within an organization to better streamline and improve health care.
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Social & Behavioral Sciences Degree
Understanding the behavior of the human race in different societies as well as the impact of social factors on the health of communities is extremely important to improving public health. There are many times indicators that can predict health concerns or disease. Obtaining a Social & Behavioral Sciences Degree helps you study the psychology of human behavior and how people interact with each other to help do your part in improving public health.
Industrial Hygiene Degree
The need for evaluating environmental and occupational factors in the workplace is growing. With complex systems, technology, and mass-producing factory environments, there are also more chances to get sick or impaired. Industrial Hygiene Degree seekers study how to recognize and evaluate hazardous factors in workplace settings.
Infectious Disease Epidemiology Degree
Infectious disease is a complex area of study, as there are thousands of infectious diseases that can impact a community. This designation focuses on how to identify and measure disease and come up with solutions, including prevention and treatment of infectious disease.
Public Health Administration Degree
Public Health Administrators typically work in organizational settings to control public health factors. While Health Administration Degree graduates focus more on hospitals, hospital or health care networks, and the like, Public Health Administrators focus on organizations that affect the public. There are not a lot of options for this degree.
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Overview of Public Health in the United States
Public health is a growing industry in the United States, and for good reason. With many public health programs having a major impact on the lives of so many Americans, the government and private companies alike are putting a greater emphasis on growing the industry.
The United States desperately needs more public health professionals
Public health is a booming field particularly in the United States, and for good reason. The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health cites multiple facts about the public health field that should get you excited about the future of the industry and your career:
- More than half of all states in the US cite the lack of trained public health personnel as a major barrier to our nation's preparedness - source
- The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report states that there is currently a shortage of 10,000 public health physicians - source
- A large number of public health officials have retired and will keep retiring, resulting in a public health workforce shortage of 250,000 estimated for 2020 - source
- The IOM report titled The Future of the Public's Health in the 21st Century summarized that, "The public health workforce must have appropriate education and training to perform its role" - source
- To reach the goal of having more than 250,000 additional trained public health workers by 2020, schools of public health will have to graduate THREE TIMES AS MANY STUDENTS - source
The healthcare shortage also applies to public health
When people and the media discuss the healthcare shortage, typically uneducated people immediately think the shortage is for nursing. This is true - nursing jobs are absolutely necessary to fill over the next decade. However, public health is an understated yet highly impactful area that also has a shortage. Nurses are typically more focused on one-on-one communication and impact, whereas public health professionals focus on mass impact to cities, counties, states, nations, and even the world.
A highly educated public health workforce - it is imperative to keeping our nation and world healthy and thriving, and on a mass scale. At PublicHealthDegrees.org, we are constantly in the process of researching anything that pertains to the public health area, including certifications and concentrations, as well as schools that offer accredited bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees to help you continue your path to making a difference in the world with a public health degree.
What is Public Health, and Why is it Necessary?
Professionals working in public health work for the greater good of a single person, a community, a nation, or even the population of the entire world. Public health officials primarily work to prevent, mostly by promoting healthy living decisions, educating the masses regarding their health, implementing programs and policies to improve healthy living activity, or researching and regulating public health activity.
According to the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health, over the past 100 years, public health professionals have helped improve life expectancy by 30 years! Now that is working for the greater good! Without public health education, we may never have been able to make that progress over the last century.
The below video does an excellent job of quickly, in three minutes, explaining the need for public health in the world.
Public health, while not something many people know much about, it is something everyone benefits from. Most simply put, it is the health of a population as a whole, but this definition is not extensive enough to have a good understanding of what public health is and does. Other definitions shed more light:
- "Public health promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play."
- "Public health protects and improves the health of individuals, families, communities, and populations locally and globally"
- "Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases"
Each of these definitions adds more understanding to public health and how it affects individuals, communities and populations. Public health is there to promote and protect health and can be found in everyday life. Some examples of how public health is found in everyday life are:
- Seat belt laws
- Water treatment plants and safe drinking water
- Maternal leave regulations
- Municipal waste removal
- Commercials promoting being active 30 minutes per day
What is a Public Health Degree?
A degree in public health will prepare the individual for a wide variety of fields and careers. The main skills learned in every degree of public health are general public health (basic theories, concepts and history), both oral and written communication, research, and how to educate and influence groups of people ethically. Beyond these basic skill sets, each degree will develop skills that build upon the former learned skills and knowledge. Additionally, within each degree individuals choose to specialize in certain tracks that will cultivate different skill sets.
These specialization options are (but not limited to):
- Public Health Policy
- Behavioral and Social Sciences
- Environmental Health
- Global Health
- Health Services
Where Can You Get a Public Health Degree?
Public health degrees are available across the United States, as well as online. In many cases, online degrees are offered through traditional educational institutions either in their entirety or partially online. Many schools that offer a Doctor of Medicine degree will also offer a MPH or MS in public health to encourage students to become dual degree students.
What Can You Do with a Public Health Degree?
The career options available to an individual will depend on the degree received and track chosen. Individuals with bachelor's degrees will be best equipped for careers in health education, health and community services management, health and safety, and microbiology to name a few. These careers tend to focus on education and collection of data and are entry level positions.
Master's level degrees will serve individuals who wish to work in middle-management, statistics, epidemiology, health policy and research. Individuals with master's degrees will be responsible for setting up the collection of data and analyzing it. They will also organize groups of people to educate the public or initiate health policies in communities. These individuals may also work as consultants to governments, not-for-profits and large corporations.
Individuals with Doctorate degrees will work in research, consulting, or academia. Because this is a terminal degree, those with it are seen as experts and are often called upon to solve complex problems on local, national and international scales by a wide variety of public health organizations.
Why Work in Public Health?
Those who work in public health have a desire to keep populations healthy and as free of disease and injury as possible. The work done through public health is highly rewarding, but can also be highly challenging as it works to improve individuals lives through community effort, not one-on-one. Working with communities to improve health can greatly impact an individuals life as they learn how to develop partnerships and trust with communities.
Who Should Work in Public Health?
To work in public health an individual must be patient, health-focused, optimistic, an educator, a scientist and driven by community. Critical thinking is a key skill of anyone interested in public health as public health practitioners will work to solve potentially complex health issues. In addition to critical thinking, an individual must be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and orally. At their root, public health practitioners are educators and communication is a must.
What Does the Future Hold for Public Health?
The opportunities are ample in public health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in public health are expected to grow 10 percent between 2012-2022. Most areas of employment will require a master's degree in public health, due to the complex nature of the area. Some areas of employment that look to be hiring masters-level graduates with an MPH degree are colleges and universities, state, local and federal government agencies, hospitals, public policy, nonprofit, private and international organizations, research and development firms, and much more.
Next Steps for a Career in Public Health
It is an excellent time for a career in public health. With technology advancing and more funds being put into scientific research, combined with the emmergence of data analytics and analsys with "Big Data", we are able to make better and quicker decisions for the betterment of the world. Go here to view our comprehensive summary on public health careers and what a career in public health could mean to your future.
Find the Program that is Best Suited for You
Feel free to explore our encompassing directory of schools at each degree level and area of study/concentration level. We make it as easy as possible for you to get in touch with a school to learn more about their program. Good luck!
Are We Missing a Program or School?
Let us know! We are a growing website solely focused on public health education. If you are a school and could not find your listing, please contact us at matt (at) publichealthdegrees.org.