Public health officials have a mission to create conditions in which people can be healthy. Their primary focus is on prevention of disease and injury rather than treatment. They work to make our communities healthier. Public health officials assess the health requirements of communities, prioritize needs and create public policy.
There is no one particular major required for entrance into a public health program. Pre-Public Health is a career goal that includes a set of course requirements that prepare you to succeed as a public health official. You should choose a major you enjoy, and one in which you will excel.
Possibilities abound within the field of public health. Jobs are available both domestically and internationally, ranging from local health departments and industry to government laboratories, including the Centers for Disease Control. Some jobs require extensive fieldwork and some are primarily in an office setting.
Undergraduate coursework is largely dependent on the areas of interest in public health. Generally a broad background is useful, including basic sciences (especially courses on international settings and on diversity), education and communications classes, political science and public policy, statistics and psychology.
Most people in public health have at least a master’s degree. However, some positions are available with a bachelor's degree in public health. Students would then pursue a master’s to specialize in a particular area and a PhD to teach or do research. There are five core areas of concentration within public health.
- Biostatistics — This area applies statistical and mathematical methods to the design and analysis of public health problems
- Environmental Health — This area focuses on the safety of the food supply, water and air pollution and disease prevention
- Epidemiology — These specialists learn to track the distribution of diseases, determining how debilitating the diseases are and how to prevent their occurrence
- Social and Behavioral Sciences — These specialists address the behavioral, social and cultural factors related to individual and population health and health disparities over the life course
- Health Policy and Management — These experts specialize in health planning, organization, policy formation and analysis, finance, economics, or marketing
Aptitude Test and Application
Future public health students must take the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE, if you are pursuing a master’s or PhD. Application is made through a centralized service called SOPHAS (Schools of Public Health Application Service). There are 60 Schools or Programs of Public Health that participate in SOPHAS. For schools not participating in SOPHAS, you will need to apply to them directly.
Links and additional Public Health Information
- Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health
- American Public Health Association
- What is Public Health?