Generalist Public Health Degrees

Public health is the study of the health and safety of communities at large. While there are a number of specialty areas to explore within the public health field, there’s also the opportunity to stick to a generalist track. In a generalist public health program, you’ll learn about the core disciplines of public health through a combination of foundational courses, general practice courses, electives and a culminating experience. 
Prospective generalist public health students may explore this guide to find out more about public health programs, career options and public health industries.

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What Is a Generalist Public Health Degree?

A generalist public health degree program is designed to provide aspiring public health professionals with the academic knowledge and practical skills needed to safeguard large groups and improve the health of communities. From courses about enacting public health policies to those that focus on disease research and injury prevention, graduates are equipped to pursue a variety of careers in the field.

Bachelor’s in Public Health Generalist Programs

Bachelor’s in public health generalist programs are available in universities across the country. At the bachelor’s level, the generalist concentration tends to touch on the many different aspects of public health rather than just one particular specialty. In terms of length, students can typically complete a bachelor’s program within four years.

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Curriculum

During the first two years of a bachelor’s program, students are typically required to complete prerequisite courses. These courses may include general education requirements such as English, algebra and history. During the last two years of the program, degree-specific courses are merged into the curriculum in an effort to prepare students for work in the field or an advanced degree program. Some examples of core classes are listed below:

Nutrition for Fitness and Wellness

Nutrition and components of exercise may be discussed in this course to help students provide educated insight into the creation and implementation of public health programs. Topic areas covered in this course may include obesity prevention, human food choices, and the physical and psychological effects of exercise. 

Health Policy Research and Development

Students typically take a research-oriented course focused on solving complex public health issues. Health Policy Research and Development or Public Policy are examples of such classes. The methods and processes involved in the development of public health policies are outlined in either course. Lessons may touch on decision-making theory, bureaucratic policy and other avenues through which policy is set. 

Health Analysis and Communication

This course is designed to explore analytical procedures used for public health research. Proper communication methods are also introduced, including public relations and patient-provider communication. The course may help students develop and hone the communication skills necessary for policy advocacy and public health education. 

Master’s in Public Health Generalist Programs

From specialized curricula to distance learning, there is an array of master’s in public health programs to choose from. If you’re working full time or have other personal obligations, enrolling in an online Master of Public Health (MPH) program may be the most convenient way for you to earn an advanced degree in public health.  

MPH generalist programs can provide a more in-depth look into the field of public health, giving students the opportunity to form expert knowledge in the core competency areas. The generalist concentration applies concepts that are relevant to the field of public health as a whole, making this degree a viable choice for students interested in management positions in policy development or in applied research. Acceptance into online MPH generalist programs may require prerequisite coursework and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, depending on the school. Some universities will consider accepting students with a higher GPA in lieu of the GRE requirement. 

Curriculum

MPH generalist degrees typically require over 40 credit hours of study, though specific requirements depend on the university. Master’s programs consist of public health-specific coursework that focuses on the desired specialization. There are some universities that require students to take part in supervised work experience prior to graduation. Some common core courses for the generalist track are listed below:

Biostatistics for the Health Professional 

This course focuses on the need for skills in statistics, mathematical research and testing, graphical mathematics and real data analysis. Students taking this course have the opportunity to review real-world statistics in an effort to develop meaningful policies related to public health.

Analytical Epidemiology 

This course outlines the processes and methods associated with a proper epidemiologic investigation. Students may be introduced to the behavior of illness and infectious disease, statistics, screening and prevention methods.

Economics for Policy Analysis 

Students taking this course will likely study the role economics plays in influencing public health reform. Data regarding the effects of the economy on public health measures and financial tactics may be analyzed and discussed throughout this class.

Doctorate in Public Health Generalist Programs

Doctoral programs (DrPH or Ph.D.) with a public health generalist path are designed to offer an in-depth look into the public health sector without giving undue attention to any particular field or specialty. At this level, students will utilize critical thinking and research skills in developing and implementing public health or disease-prevention programs aimed at changing behavior among individuals and the community at large. 

Curriculum

Credit requirements for generalist doctorate in public health programs vary. In addition to the required coursework, doctoral-level programs may mandate one or two residencies consisting of hands-on training regarding the development and implementation of public health programs. Residency requirements in online education can sometimes require students to set up their experience through school-approved agencies. Some universities may also provide students with a list of approved agencies or institutions where they can serve their residencies. 

The coursework in this degree program typically begins with research-oriented studies and individual assignments allowing students to research relevant topics of choice. The independent learning experience can help to prepare students for the work that they may conduct in the field. While the coursework can differ between universities, some do have core classes that are similar—if not the same. Examples of core courses are listed below:

Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis 

Students may be taught how to properly use data analysis, statistical concepts and other quantitative research methodology in public health. Students may learn how to collect and analyze data and then be required to effectively design and execute independent research projects. 

Public Health Leadership 

This course can provide a greater understanding of the strategies and methods required in managing public health and healthcare sectors. The core concepts of organizational leadership, group dynamics and leadership models may be among the topics discussed.

Economics and Finance in the Public Health System 

In this course, students study the role the economic system plays in public health. Students may also investigate how public health programs are affected by proper and improper financial planning, as well as the methods required for effective financial stability in public health policy and practice. 

Generalist Public Health Careers and Industries

Earning a public health generalist degree may allow you to further your career or help you transition into the broad field of public health. Professionals in this discipline may pursue applied careers in hospitals, medical centers and labs, or they may prefer jobs in policy development and research. As a generalist, there are a variety of career choices that involve investigation, analysis, development and methodology associated with public health policy creation and management. 

Some potential career options along with their median annual wages (in May 2020) are listed below. Pay data was derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Learn more about what you can do with a public health degree.

Information last updated April 2021.

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Master’s of Public Health Programs

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