Public Health vs. Human Services

Compare Public Health to Human Services

This article will explore the similarities and differences between the fields of Public Health and Human Services. While there is a lot of overlap between the two, there are also very stark differences especially in terms of potential career tracks and educational paths one will take to get there.

What is Public Health?

Public Health is a field which is dedicated to large scale efforts to positively impact a community’s overall health and well-being. Public Health deals with a wide variety of issues from reducing smoking and obesity, to helping ensure there are a wide variety of nutritious foods available in a community by preventing so-called “Food Deserts”. Public Health initiatives also take the form of tackling things like the Opioid Epidemic and combating infectious disease outbreaks such as we see with the current Corona Virus pandemic. Another area of interest for Public Health is the mental well-being of local populations which can be impacted by socioeconomic realities such as factories being shut down, as well as understanding ways to increase mental health with education initiatives or pushing the local government to create more public green spaces. There are many ways in which Public Health is measured and all of them can be researched and changed for the better with the help of Public Health professionals.

What are some of the potential career paths in the Public Health field?

There are a number of different areas of study that one can choose if you’re interested in Public Health as a field. They include but are not limited to:

  • Those working in the Public Health field often study large scale issues relating to public health. This could include a focus on anything from sanitation, to addiction, nutrition and mental health issues.
  • For those who want to work in a more hands on manner with patients to generate positive health outcomes you can become a Registered Nurse and work directly with clients in a clinical setting.
  • Another path relating to large scale health decisions at the organization level is to focus your career track to become a Healthcare Administrator who works at the policy level in a number of health organizations including clinics, hospitals and even HMO’s.
  • One area of focus that is especially appealing to communities impacted by the Opioid epidemic is specialization in addiction and substance abuse treatment working in a recovery clinic.
  • As we navigate the currently unfolding Pandemic, many are being drawn towards a career focus in Epidemiology so we can study how to mitigate or even prevent future epidemics and pandemics.
  • In order to work in Public Health, one needs a broad base of knowledge around how communities are impacted by a variety of issues including: trauma & violence, addiction, socioeconomic factors that can lead to disparities in healthcare outcomes & access, barriers to access to healthy food such as food deserts, and the impacts on the community caused by social isolation.
  • There are many ways to help your community with a focus on Social and Community health this can include policy creation, or administration of community outreach programs for a wide variety of public health areas including: mental health, substance abuse and homelessness.
  • Some people are called to work with clients directly on healthier food choices. A great path for those who have an interest in nutrition and diet is to become a dietician or nutritionist helping ensure your community makes good choices around nutritious food or even recommending policy to the local government to prevent food deserts.

What is the best degree track to work in Public Health?

While there is a great amount of flexibility in what undergraduate degree to pursue, the most flexible and powerful degree for work in Public Health is a Master’s of Public Health. You will first need to get your Bachelor’s degree in Public Health or a closely related field such as Sociology, Nutrition, Biology or Social Work. It’s recommended that you get a Bachelor’s in Public Health to help make your application to a Master’s program more likely to be accepted. You can also bolster your chances by doing volunteer or paid work in the field of Public Health such as working at a local health clinic, or addiction recovery center.

So what has a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree holder learned during their Master’s program? Someone with their MPH completed their non-thesis graduate degree program and gained a knowledge base that focuses on public health at the community level or at the individual level if your degree concentration is on nursing or nutrition. The Master’s of Public Health is a very skills oriented degree that has a very broad application with access to a number of professional disciplines. While the focus of the degree is always helping people, depending on your degree concentration this can focus more on either the individual or community levels. The MPH degree will give you the foundation to help others, to lower risk taking behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse and to make informed healthy choices that improve health outcomes and lead to a greater well-being on both the individual and community levels.

Earning your Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree will help you to concentrate on informed decision making to change your community to increase positive health outcomes. This comes from both a broad knowledge base, as well as an understanding that helping individual community members in great enough numbers, will lead to community and even societal changes. The focus of the MPH degree isn’t only on physical health but also applies an awareness of the importance to community health for issues such as: addiction, socioeconomic status, environmental health considerations and overall mental health. Most people who hold a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) degree concentrate their studies to become specialists in a specific field. However, having an MPH will always mean that you have a broad base of knowledge to draw upon in regards to all considerations of public health. The Master’s of Public (MPH) degree gives one a baseline understanding of a great number of community and individual health topics, along with the required skill set and knowledge to overcome those challenges. The MPH degree holder assists their community in a variety of ways from implementing public health, policies, to advancing research in the field, to forging new community partnerships and outreach to educate and improve the health of their communities.

What is the Human Services field?

Human Services is a very broad field of study that encompasses everything from community health initiatives, to counseling, assisting families in social work settings, to research and even assisting domestic violence survivors. Human services covers such a broad territory by being an interdisciplinary practice dedicated to direct service contacts with individuals, families and communities. Human services helps communities by providing resources and education that can help alleviate economic stress and give individuals and families the resources and skills to become more successful. This in turn strengthens and enriches their communities. Human Services is a great field for those who wish to focus their efforts on individuals and families via direct client contact. The umbrella term Human Services describes those careers that focus on helping individuals and families overcome adversity through equity and inclusion, culturally competent services, and trauma informed care that uses a strength based approach to empower individuals and families to be able to stabilize and make positive life choices helping them realize their innate potentials. There are a great number of potential career paths within the field of human services which will be outlined below.

What are some of the potential career paths or areas of study for people interested in working in the Human Services field?

Human Services degree concentrations can vary tremendously. While some areas may be focused on triage care and administering social safety nets, others will focus their studies on direct client care through mental health or behavioral counseling. Other career paths in Human Services will look at large scale macro impacts of policy or research that impacts the community as a whole which can include the creation of surveys for public policies and educational outreach.

  • Human services is an umbrella term that includes a variety of degrees, but one of the more flexible degrees is that of the Master’s of Social Work (MSW) which can include degree concentration that focuses on individual counseling and therapy. This can take many forms, and some may specialize in working with clients who have experienced trauma or isolation which will have a focus on trauma informed care and often cultural competency to ensure the ability to interact in a culturally sensitive way with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.
  • Some people will choose to become an Emergency Management Specialist and earn a degree learning how to mitigate large scale disasters and emergencies. This is a field that is very much still being explored and expanded. It also is one of the more financially rewarding fields due to its relative newness and high degree of responsibility and impact.
  • Some people are drawn to work with those who are nearing their end of life and for these individuals a career as a Palliative Care or Hospice Social Worker can be very rewarding. Helping families and individuals come to grips with death, loss and grief is very challenging, but incredibly impactful for those in need.
  • Perhaps you’re interested in helping form public policies, work on political campaigns, or community educational outreach. If you’re good at math and understand the power of language, becoming a Sociological Survey Researcher is a highly lucrative and sought after profession.
  • If you’re interested in working with people who have suffered life changing injuries or disabilities and helping them to discover career paths that give reasonable accommodations, being a Vocational Rehabilitation case Worker might be the field for you.
  • If you have your Master’s of Social Work, and feel called to work with developmentally disabled communities, you will want to ensure that your education includes a focus on understanding the implications and skill sets required to assist dual-diagnosis individuals in order to address both cognitive impairment paired with mental health or even drug addiction. This field is incredibly challenging, but is also very rewarding when you help your client succeed and have a happy and healthy home environment.

What is the best degree track to work in Human Services?

Unlike the Public Health field there is no singular degree path that is optimal if you wish to work in Human Services. What follows is a non-exhaustive look into three major paths one can take in Human Services.

There are many degrees one can pursue in Human Services and include but are not limited to: a PhD in Psychology, a Master’s of Social Work (MSW), and a degree in Nursing all of which can open up a host of potential career tracks. Probably the most open ended degree is to earn your Master’s of Social Work (MSW) as this allows a great latitude in how you work within the field. However, if you want to help individuals with the latest psychological techniques, a PhD in Psychology will allow you to earn a very large salary within an organization or even to open your own private practice. Nursing is also a highly sought after profession and we have all seen how highly society values Nurses, as well as the high regard the profession is held in during the currently unfolding Pandemic.

A Master’s of Social Work (MSW) will allow you to work within social work organizations directly administering benefits as a Case Managers for clients with Developmental Disabilities, Domestic Abuse survivors or assisting families with Federal programs such as TANF and SNAP benefits. An MSW also gives you the ability to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) providing counseling directly to individuals, families and even small groups once you have obtained licensure. An MSW might also focus on clinical research or developing surveys for large organizations. An MSW is a fantastic mix of potential career paths that vary widely and you get to choose what your degree concentration is in. To become an MSW you will first need to earn your Bachelor’s of Social Work from an Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program or in a highly related field such as Psychology, Sociology or Human Services.

A PhD in Psychology is the pre-eminent degree for those who wish to become a Psychologist and provide direct therapy to clients. Having your PhD in Psychology will give you a broad knowledge base about a great number of psychological impairments, mental health issues, behaviors and a variety of techniques to help your client overcome these challenges. In order to get your PhD in Psychology it is highly recommended you get your Bachelor’s in Psychology, although some master’s programs will consider a highly related field such as Social Work, Sociology or Human Services. You will then need to complete a Master’s of Psychology program and get accepted into a PhD Psychology program.

Getting your Master’s in Nursing can ensure that you can become an RN in your hospital and is required at many hospitals. It’s recommended you get a Bachelor’s of nursing or a highly related field such as Biology. Nursing is still one of the most sought after professions and also earns a robust salary in most states that can overshadow other Human Services professions. If you enjoy working in fast paced environments that demand excellence under pressure and are nothing short of life altering for those you serve, Nursing is an excellent career track to consider.

Human Services is such a broad field that there are so many paths one can take it really comes down to what the individual wants to do. From working to create policies and educate the public for large scale change, to life altering interventions and therapies for individuals, Human Services is a great field for those who want to give back to their communities and help make our society a better place to live.