Community Health and Health Promotion Degrees in Public Health

Community health and health promotion are similar fields within public health that focus on the awareness, education and research of different health problems in various groups and communities—whether they be mental or physical. Professionals in these two fields develop, implement and evaluate health programs and educate the public and raise awareness about health problems.

Professionals in both fields have different educations and backgrounds but can easily take on the responsibilities of the other, as most skills and health education techniques work with a majority of populations. Let’s take a closer look at these fields, why they’re so important, and how they differ. 

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What is Community Health?

Community health focuses on how individuals play a role in their own health and the health of those around them, while also considering how other environmental factors affect the overall outlook of a community’s population. This focus allows community health workers to obtain a multifaceted perspective of why certain health issues arise, and how to improve outcomes.

Public health vs. community health

Community health can be looked at as a branch or subset of public health. Public health focuses on prolonging and improving the quality of life for the population as a whole. Community health tends to focus more on smaller groups of citizens that either share a close geographic location or live in geographic locations with similar characteristics or health circumstances like a town, city or state. 

Population health vs. community health

While community health looks at all people within a certain type of area, population health focuses on health issues for groups of people, or populations, that share certain characteristics such as age, socioeconomic status or diagnosed illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, population health allows health departments to connect practice to policy for change to happen locally. Community health looks at citizens within an area and population health specializes in a certain type of population.

What is Health Promotion?

The World Health Organization defines health promotion as “the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health.” The goal of health promotion is to make improved quality and length of life accessible to all members of society. The four main focuses of health promotion are:

  • Governance: The idea that environmental factors, such as living conditions, education or income, outside the health sector have a direct effect on health. Therefore, health initiatives must be considered at the governmental/policy level.
  • Health literacy: Raising awareness and equipping individuals with the knowledge to play an active role in improving their own health.
  • Healthy settings: Encouraging community participation in local health initiatives and empowering all individuals to affect healthy change in their environment.

Social mobilization: Raising social awareness pertaining to public health by bringing together personal and societal influences to assist in delivering messages and ideas.

Health promotion vs. community health

Even though these fields are extremely alike, and often grouped together, there are differences between the two. Community health tends to focus on the needs of all citizens within a designated area, while health promotion focuses more on teaching specialized groups and individuals how to take better care of themselves and their families—similarly to population health—regardless of where they are in relation to one another.

Why is health promotion important?

Health promotion is important because those in the field seek to improve the quality of life for all people—from the individual to entire communities to all members of society. According to published works, health promotion focuses on issues that can be addressed through a holistic approach. This includes empowering individuals and communities to take action for their health, fostering leadership for public health, promoting intersectoral action to build healthy public policies in all sectors, and creating sustainable health systems. Often combined with other health care specializations such as nursing, professionals in the field of health promotion are dedicated to the improvement of public health.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Community Health and Health Promotion

Because community health and health promotion are such an integral part of the public health field, bachelor’s degree programs in community health and health promotion are a great opportunity to develop fundamental skills that will carry you throughout your career in public health.

These four-year programs introduce students to the development, planning, implementation and evaluation of health education programs and provide them with the knowledge to address health concerns in groups and individuals. The educational component of these programs adds the communication aspect of public health that helps create understanding among professionals and individuals in communities, which is crucial in the development of successful health education programs. Like most bachelor’s-level education, community health and health promotion programs require students to take courses that contribute to their overall knowledge of general education as well as core program courses. Students may build their experience through research, internships and classroom activities.

Curriculum for a Bachelor’s Degree in Community Health and Health Promotion

During an undergraduate community health and health promotion degree program, students may be expected to take courses that are fundamental to their understanding of community health education and health promotion practices and policies. This can include classes that focus on disease prevention, communication methods and techniques, worksite health promotion, and family health and wellness. Additionally, there will be courses that teach the proper methods for educating people from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, along with classes dedicated to the health and wellness of women and children. 

As with most bachelor’s programs, these degrees typically require 120 credit hours for completion and often some form of an internship or capstone project. This may vary depending on where students attend college and the inclusion of any previously completed coursework. A few sample courses have been added below:

Nutrition Across the Lifespan

This course examines the importance of proper nutrition from birth through old age. The different stages of life may be outlined in detail, providing students with a better understanding of promotional tactics that encourage better living for individuals.

Intro to Health Behavior

This course seeks to help students understand the relationship between health and psychology. Students may gain a more powerful insight into how people react to sickness and illnesses as well as practices that can increase health and wellness from a biopsychosocial perspective.

Anatomy and Physiology

Students taking this course have the opportunity to learn about the structure and function of the human body. Bodily systems are discussed in detail as well as how disease and illness affect the body.

Master’s Degree Programs in Community Health and Health Promotion 

As the public learns more about the different hazards and illnesses in the environment and how living a healthy lifestyle can benefit moods, sleep and overall well-being, fields such as community health and health promotion can grow even more. At the master’s level, such as Master of Public Health (MPH), or Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH), students in community health and health promotion degree programs may have the option of gaining relevant skills in these two disciplines as well as management techniques needed to lead a team of employees on their path to better health for all.

At the master’s level, students may get a more in-depth look into community health education and health promotion, which can provide more expertise. Master’s-level education may also lead to more prominent jobs, which is helpful especially for professionals working in positions concerned with public health.

For students considering a master’s in public health online program, there are over 60 online MPH programs accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)

Curriculum for an MPH Degree in Community Health and Health Promotion

Master’s programs in community health education and health promotion provide a more thorough study of the concepts and ideas surrounding the implementation of health programs. Students who choose these concentrations for their degree can take courses specific to their area of interest and closely examine real-life scenarios.

Different perspectives of community health are touched on throughout this type of program, including widespread prevention, education and implementation of lawful public health policies. Nutrition, exercise, education and research are some of the main components of the health promotion degree program, which encourages students to have well-rounded mindfulness of how each of these can potentially affect public health.

These programs take one to three years to complete, depending whether students attend full time or part time. Most universities require 45 to 60 credit hours and a capstone project or thesis. However, these components vary depending on where students attend college and the inclusion of any previously completed coursework. Online programs are more prominent than ever, making this a great opportunity for interested students. 

Coursework can include these aspects:

Health Education Program Planning

This course outlines the methods and preparations for effective health education program planning. Assessing individual needs, evaluating current programs and implementing helpful and strategic programs are some of the main topics taught. Students in this course may touch on the importance of effective research methods, biostatistics and program management.

Communication Strategies

Students taking this course may be encouraged to focus on the effectiveness of communication. Different communication methods such as word of mouth, written instruction and media communication may be discussed. Through course activities and case studies, students can learn how to effectively reach the public with active communication.

Program Planning and Research

This course outlines the methods and preparations for effective health education and introduces students to research methods applicable to community health. Finding applicable research subjects, designing a research plan and analyzing results are all included in this process.

Health Policy and Management

Proper management techniques and policy analysis may be taught in this class, along with ethics, diversity and personnel management. Students are taught how to manage a public health team in terms of proper business practices and organizational concerns.

Doctorate Programs in Community Health and Health Promotion

Doctorate programs focusing on community health and health promotion are designed for motivated students who wish to see an improvement in health and health awareness in communities, states and across the world. These programs provide students with the tools to research and evaluate programs to create accurate, helpful and efficient public health professionals. 

The doctorate program can take two to four years, depending on whether students have bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Most universities require that students have some experience working in community health or health promotion, while others require the completion of degree programs in these areas. There are online degree programs throughout the country providing quality education to students through innovative learning environments.

Curriculum for Doctoral Degrees in Community Health and Health Promotion

Doctorate programs focus on the research and application of various promotional policies. Students may also be able to choose a concentration for their degree program. Specialties for this degree program can include behavioral health, research, management, population health and global health. Students who choose a concentration for their degree program may gain more specialized knowledge in their chosen discipline and will have focus courses in addition to some of the core courses listed below.

Some PhD programs require around 60 credit hours. Depending on the university and the concentration, the classes students take in this degree program may be different than others in similar degree programs. Doctoral degree programs usually require a lot of independent class and fieldwork, mostly in a real-life setting.

Some of the more popular courses for this degree program are listed below.

Foundations of Epidemiology

This course seeks to provide definitions, examples and explanations of the reasoning and biology behind various illnesses and diseases. Students will investigate case studies and draw conclusions about how illness and disease are maintained and spread throughout communities.

Economics of Public Health Systems

This course teaches the economic, financial and ethical concerns associated with the public health system. Students may learn how funding and budgeting are an important part of developing effective public health programs, as well as how these topics can promote challenges. The economic state of different areas and its effect on public health may also be discussed, which can provide students with more insight into the overall wellness of different groups.

Social Psychology

Social Psychology is a course about how people feel, act and think during social interactions. It is important that public health students understand how human interaction plays a role in the development of health-related ideas and habits. Health promotion relies on the acceptance of health education as a primary means of change, so social psychology at its core can help students understand how this information is used and transmitted throughout society.

Environmental Health

Environmental health can provide students with the knowledge to investigate the effects of pollution, biology and other environmental triggers on human health. This course examines how the environment plays a role in the development of helpful community health policies.

Career Options and Industries Outlook 

Professionals in community health and health promotion have a wide range of options when it comes to their careers. Their knowledge of health is applicable in multiple work environments, and there are many different ways for people in these fields to make a positive difference in a way that suits their preferences. The job outlook of community health professionals in the coming years looks bright. As you can see below, community health roles are projected to grow faster than average. 

What can you do with a community health or health promotion degree?

Community health and health promotion are important parts of society. Specialists can help provide health-conscious programs and discover evidence and information about the causes of the spread of disease or illness. There are numerous potential fields where these practitioners can find employment. 

Find examples of some of the careers and salaries listed below:

Is a Community Health or Health Promotion Degree Worth It? 

If you’re passionate about public health and helping people on micro and macro levels, you may find a very fulfilling career following your education—especially considering the numerous career paths in this field. Whether or not the degree is worth it depends on your goals and how you see yourself applying your skills and passion for public health in the future. If the roles and importance of these professions mentioned in this article align with your career goals, a degree in community health or health promotion may be right for you. 

Information last updated June 2020

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