If you want to translate your passion for people’s health into a career, then public health is the way to go! As a public health major, you will learn all about the many possibilities you can explore in public health. You’re in for a career that has the potential to positively and profoundly impact many people’s health and lives. 

The American Public Health Association (APHA) states that public health promotes and protects the health of all people and their communities. 

Public health is a field in healthcare. Public health professionals focus on preventing diseases, taking precautions, and promoting healthier lifestyles. Public health workers usually work with a group of people and not individuals. The aim is to consider aspects like location, resources, society, and economic conditions and how they affect that particular group’s health. Public health seeks to discover the root cause of disease and mortality and its prevention. This is done by studying the problem and presenting solutions, like healthy habits that could be incorporated to mitigate impending risks.

A public health major is an academic program focused on the principles and practices of public health. Students pursuing a major in public health typically study a wide range of topics related to promoting and protecting the health of populations. The curriculum may include courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health policy, social and behavioral sciences, and global health. This coursework prepares students for entry-level jobs in many public health-related organizations. 

The key areas within public health include biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, and health policy and administration. Public health workers can find employment as community health workers, epidemiologists, health educators, or environmental health specialists. They commonly find work in government agencies, healthcare organizations, or non-profit organizations.

Related: What Should I Major In? In-Demand Majors For 2024.

While the exact curriculum may differ among different universities, here is a general idea of what your curriculum will look like. The subjects you will study will give you a solid understanding of the different areas within the field of public health and equip you with the knowledge you need to excel in this field.

Here’s a glimpse:

1. Introduction to Public Health

This foundational course provides an overview of the field of public health, its history, core concepts, and the role of public health in society.

2. Epidemiology

Epidemiology is the study of patterns and causes of disease, such as how often diseases occur in a specific demographic and why they occur. This course covers the principles of epidemiological research, study design, data analysis, and interpretation.

3. Biostatistics 

Biostatistics focuses on applying statistical methods to public health research and practice. Students learn about probability, sampling, hypothesis testing, regression analysis, and other statistical techniques commonly used in public health research.

4. Environmental Health

This course examines the impact of environmental factors on human health, including air and water quality, food safety, occupational health hazards, and environmental justice issues.

5. Health Policy and Management

The focus here is on the development, implementation, and evaluation of health policies and programs at local, national, and global levels. The topics you will learn about may include healthcare systems, health financing, healthcare quality, and health disparities.

6. Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health

This course explores the social, behavioral, and cultural determinants of health, and how these factors influence health behaviors, health outcomes, and health disparities.

7. Global Health

Students examine health issues and challenges from a global perspective, including infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, health disparities, and health systems strengthening in low- and middle-income countries.

8. Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

This course focuses on strategies for promoting health and preventing disease at the individual, community, and population levels. Topics may include health education, behavioral interventions, community-based initiatives, and policy advocacy.

9. Public Health Research Methods

Dive into research design, data collection methods, data analysis techniques, and ethical considerations in public health research. Students may also gain hands-on experience conducting research projects.

10. Public Health Capstone or Internship

Many public health programs require students to complete a capstone project or internship experience, where they apply their knowledge and skills in a real-world public health setting under the supervision of faculty or professionals.

These are just a few examples of the diverse range of courses offered in a public health major. Depending on the program and the student’s interests, there may be additional elective courses available in specialized areas such as maternal and child health, epidemiologic surveillance, disaster preparedness, or health informatics.

1. Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) in Public Health:

An Associate Degree in Public Health, earned as either an AA or AS, will give you a solid foundational understanding of public health principles and practices. This degree typically spans two years and is offered by community colleges. You will learn introductory courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, healthcare systems, and health promotion. This curriculum will prepare you for entry-level roles in public health administration or community health outreach. You can also see this degree as a stepping stone towards your bachelor’s. 

2. Bachelor’s of Arts (BA) or Bachelor’s of Science (BS) in Public Health:

A Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health, available as either a BA or BS, is comprehensive. You will typically complete your bachelor’s in four years at a college or university. This degree covers topics such as epidemiology, health policy, environmental health, global health disparities, and health behavior. The main difference between BA and BS programs lies in coursework emphasis, with BA programs focusing more on social sciences and humanities and BS programs on natural sciences and quantitative methods. This degree will prepare you for various entry-level positions in public health practice. Many graduates decide to go on and study at a master’s level.

3. Master’s Degree in Public Health (MPH) or Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH):

A Master’s Degree in Public Health, or a Master of Science in Public Health, offers advanced training in public health research, policy analysis, and program management. Typically completed in two years at accredited universities, these programs provide specialized knowledge in areas such as epidemiology, biostatistics, health policy, and community health promotion. Graduates are prepared for leadership roles in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, healthcare institutions, and academia.

4. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Public Health (DrPH):

A doctoral degree in public health, offered as a PhD or DrPH, represents the highest level of academic achievement in the field. These programs focus on producing independent researchers, scholars, and leaders capable of advancing public health knowledge and practice. PhD programs emphasize rigorous research training, while DrPH programs prioritize applied practice and leadership skills. Doctoral students delve deeply into specialized areas of public health and are prepared for careers in academia, research institutions, government agencies, and international organizations.

Related: All You Need to Know About a Health Science Degree.

With a degree in public health, individuals can pursue various career paths, each with unique responsibilities and educational requirements:

1. Biostatistician: 

A biostatistician analyzes health data using mathematics and statistics. This is to facilitate data-driven decision-making. The key tasks that biostatisticians perform are designing studies, collecting and interpreting data, and collaborating with researchers and policymakers. To enter this field, you would typically require a master’s degree. The median annual salary for biostatisticians is $98,920.

2. Epidemiologist: 

Epidemiologists investigate the causes and spread of diseases within populations, seeking ways to curb or prevent the disease. This is done through research, community education, and health policy. The key tasks that epidemiologists perform are designing and conducting studies, collecting and analyzing data, collaborating with other health practitioners and policymakers, and developing strategies for disease prevention and control. A master’s degree in epidemiology or public health is commonly required to enter this field. Epidemiologists earn a median annual salary of $78,520.

3. Community Health Worker: 

Community health workers educate individuals and communities on healthy behaviors and help them get access to healthcare services. Some of their typical tasks include conducting outreach, providing health education, and advocating for community needs. To secure a job in this field, would require at least a high school diploma, although an associate’s or bachelor’s degree might be more desirable. The median salary that a community health worker earns is $46,190.

4. Environmental Health Scientist: 

Environmental health scientists are concerned with the environment and how it impacts human health. This includes studying the quality of air, water, soil, food safety, and the impact of hazardous waste. Environmental health scientists conduct research, evaluate risks, and develop policies to mitigate environmental health threats. A bachelor’s degree in environmental health or a related field is typically required to enter this field. An environmental scientist makes a median annual income of $76,480.

5. Public Health Professor: 

Public health professors teach courses on public health in undergraduate or graduate programs. This includes instructing students in class, grading assignments, and other typical teacher duties. They may also write scholarly articles and conduct research for academic purposes. To become a professor, you will generally need a doctoral degree in public health. The median annual salary that professors make in this role is $100,300.

6. Medical and health service managers:

Medical and health service managers look after the business side of healthcare. Some tasks that medical and health service managers perform include developing goals and objectives related to the efficiency and quality of healthcare services, ensuring that the organization complies with laws and regulations, preparing and monitoring budgets, and managing finances, including patient fees and billing. To enter this field, you need to hold a bachelor’s degree in healthcare-related fields. The median annual salary for this role is $104,830 per year.

7. Policy Analyst: 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that policy analysts research, evaluate, and shape public policy. Their duties include assessing the impact of policies, evaluating alternatives, and making recommendations to government agencies, advocacy groups, or private organizations. To land a job in this field, you’d need a bachelor’s or master’s degree in public health, public policy, or a related field. The average annual salary for this role is $95,730.

8. Public Health Nurse:

Public health nurses work with groups and communities to promote and protect community health. They provide nursing care, awareness and education, preventive care, and disease management. To become a public health nurse, you will first need to get your nursing degree and then apply for entry-level public health nursing roles to gain experience. Public health nurses, on average, make $102,042 per year.

Overall, public health offers diverse career opportunities with the chance to make a meaningful impact on community health outcomes, with salaries varying based on factors such as education, experience, and geographic location.

Your undergraduate degree in public health will give you an excellent foundation to work with. You’ll learn about many exciting and relevant subjects and gain knowledge that you can use directly in the field. If you want to advance past entry-level roles into leadership roles and you desire to learn more deeply about public health, then it is time to get your master’s. Your master’s will help you put your best foot forward in the job market and make you a solid candidate in the eyes of employers. 

But which master’s should you go for? There’s an MPH and an MSPH. Now, what’s the difference between these? 

MPH is a professional degree with a comprehensive approach to the study of public health. You can also go ahead and specialize in an area of your choice; some popular areas are epidemiology, biostatistics, and environmental health. 

MSPH is more of an academic degree and has a more research-focused curriculum with a focus on data and analysis. You can also choose to specialize in one of the areas within public health. Many graduates go on to get a doctoral degree after their MSPH. 

Depending on your career goals and academic interests, pick whatever suits you best. Both degrees offer a lot of opportunities and are very valuable. 

As a public health major, you have a number of possibilities ahead of you because of how diverse the field is. You’ll be exposed to a lot of health issues that people face and you’ll be the one reaching out and helping them. Knowing that your work is making such a profound impact can be very rewarding and fulfilling. If you’re inclined towards this field, then get yourself involved by interning and researching to find out where your interest truly lies. 

Is public health a good major?

Yes, public health is an excellent major for individuals passionate about improving community health outcomes and addressing global health challenges. It offers a wide range of career opportunities and provides essential skills to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

What are some high-paying jobs in the field of public health?

Some high-paying fields in public health include epidemiology, health administration, health informatics, and biostatistics. These fields offer lucrative career opportunities for individuals interested in making a meaningful impact on public health outcomes while also enjoying financial stability.