The sky is literally not even the limit for those with a degree in public health. NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor leveraged her degree in public health, along with other skills, to get her a ticket into space and aboard the International Space Station.
Public health is a versatile field with initial entry points at the bachelor’s level and extending all the way up through doctoral degrees. Public health professionals play an important role, starting in your local municipality. But with a skill set that faces off against national crises and global pandemics, public health graduates are in demand at the national level in agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as at the global level with the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO).
Today schools offer a range of public health education options from the bachelor’s to doctoral levels. Many also provide the option for online education to accommodate busy work schedules and allow students to complete their degree in a setting that maximizes convenience. You’ll find that even if a program is offered online there are still opportunities to complete local internships and practicums.
What you can do with a Bachelors degree in Public Health
A bachelor’s degree in public health can qualify you for jobs in the local community, such as with a city or county health department. Water contamination, outbreaks of measles, bedbugs, and sexually transmitted infections are all in a day’s work.
Bachelor’s programs cover the fundamental essentials in this field and you’ll regularly refer back to what you learn here throughout your career:
- Biological sciences – biology, organic chemistry, ecology
Epidemiology, genetics, and infectious diseases
- Public health law
- Environmental contamination
- Statistical modeling and risk assessment
- Practicum – learn in a supervised public health setting gaining real-world experience
Some bachelor’s programs also offer an option to specialize in a field of public health, such as pre-med or epidemiology.
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What you can do with a Masters Degree in Public Health (MPH)
While there may be some options to specialize in a particular field of public health at the bachelor’s level, the master’s level is where things really start to get interesting. MPH programs expand on the fundamentals you learned as an undergraduate and typically also give you the option to specialize in areas such as:
- Environmental health – the study of how the environment affects health, including toxicology, environmental epidemiology, and environmental science.
- Health policy and management – the study of how governmental and public health management policies can be most effectively implemented, especially through leadership.
- Biostatistics – the application of statistical methodology to the analysis of biological phenomena such as tracking contamination and infectious diseases.
- Epidemiology – the study of how, and in what patterns, diseases propagate.
- Diversity and health – the study of how social and cultural influences affect population health.
- Nutrition – the study of how diet, cultural factors, and nutrition affects populations.
The area you choose to specialize in as a master’s student can have an important impact on the long-term trajectory of your career. MPH programs typically include an extensive practicum or internship that gives you advanced on-the-ground experience to gain practice in your field of specialization.
A doctoral degree is not the sole path towards advanced leadership and management positions in this field; a master’s degree and experience will also go a long way. The WHO’s International Professional and National Professional Officer job categories offer the highest positions to professionals with years of experience and a master’s degree. The current director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, has an MPH.
What can you do with a Doctoral Degree in Public Health
With degree titles like DPH, Dr.PH, and Ph.D, a doctoral degree in public health is the highest level of education in this field and will maximize your career options. Doctoral programs expand on the areas of emphasis offered at the master’s level to include extensive research. Field residency experiences provide students with an advanced and in-depth opportunity to develop important professional ties while applying didactic education to real-world situations.
Careers that involve leadership in public health are often reserved exclusively for doctoral graduates. This is true for the private sector, national government agencies like the CDC, and international public health organizations like the WHO.
Positions within organizations like president, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Chief Operating Officer (COO) are all within the purview of those with a doctoral degree in public health.
Examples of current leaders who have their doctorate degrees in public health include the current head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, who has a PhD in the specialization of community health. The former head of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), Raynard Kington, has a PhD in the specialization of health policy and economics.
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