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What is Public Health?
Public health is the study of healthcare as it relates to populations, particularly how a given factor may affect overall public health, such as environmental concerns or disease. A degree in public health prepares students for a career in the various aspects of public health, including research, policy, education and management. Individuals will seek employment at agencies or businesses that deal with public policy regarding health.
Top Public Health Degrees
Students considering a degree in public health will have numerous options to consider. From undergraduate certificates to graduate degrees in the field, there are several programs to consider. In addition, online learning opportunities effectively double the options for students. Online learning has become the quickest growing segment in higher education given its inherent benefits. Degrees can be earned online for a variety of reasons including cost savings, convenience, flexibility, independence, and quality curriculum at accredited schools. To learn more about online degrees or online learning, visit our proprietary online search portal and online resource guide on our blog. A summary of degrees and certificate programs in public health include:
Certificate Programs Public Health
Online certificate programs in public health are typically graduate certificates. Graduate certificates online or on-site are designed to help add specific skills or knowledge to a working professional’s toolbox. Certificate programs are a series of classes packed into a short-term plan to upskill and expand knowledge for qualifying students and working professionals. A graduate certificate in public health can be as short as a few weeks to a year long program depending on the school’s curricular design and program emphasis.
Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health
An online bachelor’s degree in public health is a 4-year program for full-time students while part-time students will take longer to complete the degree. A bachelor’s degree equips students with the skills and knowledge to help establish healthy, safe, and productive policies from child wellness programs to events like disaster relief. Bachelor degrees blend liberal arts education with core classes to help provide a well-rounded education to students. General education classes will include courses such as communications, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and creative writing.
Core classes in public health will vary from school to school as a function of the school’s programs and curricular emphasis. Many college programs offer specializations within public health. Tracks of emphasis may include: child development, health communications, health and wellness programs, disaster and emergency management, health psychology, health informatics, health and cultural diversity, and health management. Courses in the general public health track will generally provide access to classes such as healthcare delivery methods, cultural healthcare issues, environmental health, health informatics, human disease and prevention, ethics and legal issues in healthcare, epidemiology, global health, research methods, public communication, healthcare finances, planning public health programs, and social change.
Master’s Degree in Public Health
Online master’s degrees in public health can be conferred as a Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), or Master of Public Health (MPH) depending on the program design. Core classes in a master’s degree will vary by school and location but will generally cover similar topics. Courses in the master’s program typically include socio-ecological health perspectives, public health policy, politics and progress, biological health foundation, administration & leadership, understanding public data, program planning & implementation, and public health research methodologies.
Master degrees will take 2-3 years to complete for most students with part-time matriculation extending the program as a function of course load and pace. Graduates from a MS, MA, or MPH program will be equipped to step into a variety of careers such as: community health professional, epidemiologist, health officer, occupational health specialist, health policy advisor, environmental health specialist, research analyst, emergency response coordinator, public health analyst, public health educator, and disease investigator.
Doctorate Degree in Public Health
Doctoral degrees in public health are known as terminal degrees with no additional degrees beyond it within the field of public health. Doctorate degrees can be conferred as a PhD in Public Health, PhD in Health Education, Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), or Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA). The degree type will be determined by the college or university’s curricular design and accreditation parameters. In virtually every case, students will establish their course design given the school’s resources coupled with areas of interest for each student. Doctorate students will spend a substantive amount of time working on an advisor-approved dissertation project. The planning, creation, drafting, writing, and defending of a dissertation can be a significant percentage of the overall program. A dissertation is intended to provide deep insight into public health and extend the knowledge-base for all association with the learning domain.
Educational Requirements for Health Managers
An education in public health will revolve around the policies implemented to curb risks, the methods and techniques used to implement research that may be used to form such policies, the various outlets and resources that may be utilized to educate the public to such risks, and the oversight of these applications from a managerial perspective. Due to the nature of public health, students will exposed to a cross section of medical education, sociology, and law, as well as other disciplines that fall under its broad umbrella. Degrees in public health are available at the bachelor degree level; though a minimum of a master degree is typically needed for entry into the field for any meaningful employment.
A curriculum in public health may include:
- Environmental Health
- Biomedical Science
- Global Health
- Health Informatics
- Communicable Diseases
- Environmental Science
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Employment Opportunities for Health Managers
Individuals pursuing a career in public health will typically find work through hospitals, non-governmental associations, or through local, state or federal agencies. Based on one's education or focus, he or she will work in research, implementation, management or public relations. Individuals will have a variety of opportunities open to them, as the need for qualified professionals operating in the various aspects of public health increases due to the various health risks inherent to large populations and the need for the proper research and dissemination of information in order to assist and educate the populace. Individuals in managerial and advisory positions will more likely affect policies affecting public health, identifying dangers and offering methods and techniques to reduce risks to public health, for example the laws surrounding smoking are a result of the health risks created by second hand smoke and the campaigns that affected those laws are a result of a public health policy and research.
Job Growth & Career Outlook in Public Health
Job growth is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade as social, environmental, and other concerns build up, risking the health of an ageing population and requiring the need for professionals to work to provide solutions to the increasing health risks. Salaries for public health professionals may vary wildly, though those in administrative positions, epidemiology, or environmental health may exceed $120,000 per year. Research and statistical positions typically earn less at an average of $55,000 per year, with other professions occupying the middle of the spectrum. Education and experience are the primary factors in career advancement and increased pay.
Individuals interested in public health may also be interested in health care administration, environmental health, or international public health. The APHA and WHO are the best known associations in the field. Students serious about their career may find benefit in becoming members of such associations to broaden knowledge while expanding their network.