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Public health programs can lead to a large variety of enjoyable, rewarding careers that confront complex and challenging health issues in the public and private sectors. Even though a public health degree is not the same as the medical degrees doctors and nurses earn, public health workers are still essential figures in improving people’s health and well being.

Public Health Programs

Because the degrees and specialties offered by colleges and universities are almost as varied as the jobs they lead to, choosing the right program is integral to finding the career you desire. You can be a laboratory assistant, nutrition specialist, number cruncher, administrator, or social worker. Areas of specialty include:

  • Biomedical research
  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health
  • Epidemiology
  • Health education and behavioral science
  • Health policy/program management
  • Health services administration
  • International and global health
  • Nutrition
  • Occupational safety and health
  • Public health practice—family health, oral health, etc.

Programs and degrees in public health are available at traditional and online universities across the nation. Information about schools of public health offering accredited programs can be found from the Council on Education for Public Health and the Association of Schools of Public Health, among others.

Earning a Public Health Degree

A public health degree can range from an associate’s degree to a doctoral degree. As in most careers, the higher the level of education you receive, the better-paying job you will be qualified for.

There are two basic types of advanced public health degrees: academic and professional. Academic degrees (commonly the M.S., Ph.D., and Sc.D.) are sought by individuals wanting to perform research or teach in colleges or universities. Professional degrees, most often the M.P.H. degree, the Dr.P.H. degree, and the M.H.A. degree, are more oriented to public health practice in hospitals, state and federal agencies, community-based organizations, international agencies, and traditional health departments.

The following are some public health degree options:

Public Health Certificate: A Certification in Public Health is offered by many traditional and online universities. Certificate programs take approximately 15 credit hours to complete and can lead to very low-level jobs in the public health industry. More often, the Certification in Public Health is used by students as a spring-board to a higher degree, building their credentials to gain acceptance into a higher-level degree program.

Associate’s Degree: A public health degree at the associate’s level requires approximately 60 hours (at least two years) of course work and is available from a variety of colleges and universities. This degree provides a basic introduction to public health and can qualify you for low-level positions in the field. An associate’s degree is often used to strengthen a student’s credentials in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, which is the minimum requirement for most public health careers.

Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree (B.A. or B.S.) in public health is required for most jobs in the sector. These programs provide a comprehensive, basic education in epidemiology, statistics, public health principles, preventive medicine, health policy and regulations, health care services, administration, economics, communications, ethics, public health law enforcement, and more. Bachelor’s programs require four to five years of study.

Advanced Degrees: For a high-level position in the public health sector, you should pursue an advanced degree, such as a master’s or doctorate. An advanced degree in public health expands upon the topics of epidemiology, public health principles, preventative medicine, and health services, as well as planning, policy analysis, and health program administration. One may also specialize the degree by focusing on a specific area of study, such as epidemiology. With an Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) degree, doctorate, or other advanced degree, graduates enjoy careers such as directors of public health, research leaders, senior advisors, and policy directors.

Taking Steps Toward a Career in Public Health

The public health field has grown exponentially over the years, and all signs indicate this growth will continue. With such a wide variety of job options in public health, it is possible for graduates to pursue diverse career paths.

The first step is to review your options. You can start out by exploring the variety of public health jobs that are available and then find public health programs that will help you secure the job you want. Or start by finding out what programs are available to you, and then find out what degree awaits you at the end of the program and what jobs that degree will put within your grasp.