Public Health Degree Pathways

Female epidemiologist researching various new strains of influenza.

Public health is a far-reaching, diverse sector of healthcare pertaining to the overall health of people on the individual and global levels. Public health focuses on health care accessibility, disease prevention, and betterment of the health conditions of people and communities.

The foundation of public health is based on the following:

  • Analysis and surveillance of communities and societies of all sizes/populations with health risks to pinpoint health issues and concerns
  • Developing public policy by working together with local and state and federal government leaders to address defined community and nationwide health concerns
  • Seeing to it that people have available proper and affordable care, including wellness education and disease prevention programs
  • Close assessment of the results of various health promotion and care initiatives

Levels of Public Health Education

Degrees in Public Health are typically offered on 1 undergraduate level (Bachelor’s) and 2 levels of graduate education in (Master’s and Doctorate).

A Bachelor’s degree usually qualifies the graduate for entry-level positions usually involving a multitasking assistant role.

Holding a Master’s degree in Public Health or Health Administration usually qualifies you for work as a health professional with mid-level duties in a particular area. This often involves a role in decision or policy-making, in addition to more managerial positions.

Doctorate level degrees in this field tend to be required for roles in academia and senior-level positions in healthcare facilities.

Undergraduate Level

Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BS)

Teaches students how to employ public health skill-sets throughout a variety of entry-level jobs in areas involving public health.

Bachelor of Science in Health Administration (BS)

Prepares students for entry-level positions in healthcare management.

Graduate Level

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Prepares students for more advanced and distinguished roles in the practice of public health.

Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH)

Similar to the MPH degree though with more stress placed on theory and research than actual practice.

Master of Health Administration (MHA)

Gets students ready for managerial roles in medical centers and health care facilities and organizations. A number of Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree programs also have available specializations in healthcare management or administration, along with the core fundamental business core curriculum. Certain Master’s in Public Health degree programs also have an administrative or management emphasis, as well as the core public health coursework.

Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Prepares public health professionals for educating students in public health in academic institutions and for the most “high up” research and administrative roles.

Online Degrees in Public Health and Health Administration

Some universities now offer Public Health bachelor’s, master’s and even doctorate degrees that can be earned 100% online via a distance learning curriculum. These programs were primarily development to meet the needs of working professionals who want to advance their education and subsequent career opportunities.


Prospective Students

Future public health graduate students must be aware that a number of degree concentrations are available mainly to deliver education and training for already established health professionals, including nurses, dietitians and physicians. Those exploring academic and occupational options in this field should thoroughly look into how each program is designed to position you after graduation and whether it aligns with your goals.

While some graduate PH and HA degree programs admit students with a bachelor’s degree in a wide range of majors and no experience, some programs have more stringent requirements than others. For example, whereas concentrations in nutrition science, biostatistics, and epidemiology may necessitate a Bachelor of Science, in addition to a considerable amount of science coursework requirements or professional work experience, a science foundation is typically not required for acceptance into programs related to health administration or health promotion.


No matter what area of specialization, a large number of grad programs in public health feature introductory coursework in epidemiology and biostatistics as part of the core curriculum since they are disciplines integral to the research and practice of the entire field. Many schools also include one or several classes in environmental health, health education, public policy and health administration.

Applying to Public Health Grad Schools

The dedicated application program employed by numerous public health schools is the Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS). With criteria for admittance and degree specializations varying from program to program, it is crucial to extensively explore all the choices out there.

Although every school establishes its own admissions requirements, most Public Health grad programs require official undergraduate transcripts, reference letters, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score (General Test), and a personal statement detailing why you are pursuing a graduate education in this field.

Since even many of the top PH grad schools do not conduct in-person interviews as a component of the admissions procedure, a great deal of emphasis should be placed on crafting your personal statement, obtaining solid recommendation letters, and documentation of notable experiences demonstrating your genuine interest and qualification for an advanced degree program.

Occupational Sectors of Public Health

The following fields are recognized as the 4 core components that form the foundation of public health. They also constitute the main job sectors under the umbrella of public health. Even before you start your grad studies, you should know or at least have a good idea of which of these four broad fields you’d like to work in.

Environmental Health

Environmental health encompasses the facets of human health, including quality of life, that are influenced by synergies between environmental variables, such as biology and community. It also entails the philosophy and practice of determining, improving, regulating, and protecting against those variables in the environment that may be detrimental to the current and long-term health of society.

Considered the most extensive element of public health, environmental health makes up almost half of the workforce and costs associated with the public health sector. Environmental health entails a wide spectrum of areas, including food hygiene, air and water pollution, toxic waste regulation, and close monitoring of radioactive materials/sources.

Environmental health specialists usually are or work closely with research scientists, including biochemists, toxicologists, and biostatisticians.

Health Services Administration

Health administration is a diverse subject that delves into the application, expenses, quality, availability, distribution, arrangement, funding, and end results of health care services to broaden awareness and comprehension of the framework, procedures, and outcomes of these health services on the individual, community, national and global levels.

Given the continued demand and growth of health care delivery, people with degrees health administration are in great need. Managed care systems call for qualified professionals to specialize in the close examination of various areas pertaining to health, including treatment, reform, policy, law, finance and management.

Those taking on the role of health service administrator fulfill a vital function in the logistics and budgeting of medical care, dissection of treatment trends, patient and medical provider relationships, health informatics programming, and tracking shifts in the need, availability and delivery of health care.

Biostatistics

Biostatistics is the formation and practical use of quantitative and qualitative analytical research for the modeling and investigation of various areas and issues affecting public health.

Professionals in this field use statistical data, in combination with their other public health education, to study the efficacy of medications, examine health risk factors, propose interventions, and expound on trends affecting health.

Students pursuing a PH program with a biostatistics emphasis should already have an extended understanding of the biological sciences and a strong comprehension of math, statistics, and other numerical methods. Job roles available to graduates in this field include trial research (i.e. clinical and pharmaceutical), data analysis and management, and academic teaching positions.

Behavioral Sciences/Health Education

Integrating behavior and social science principles and strategies pertinent to the recognition and resolution of public health issues and concerns. Those who decide to specialize in this area explore the aspects that determine or influence health-related behavior and conditions, and create and assess approaches for the purpose of increasing the public’s health.

The behavioral health education field centers on the many social patterns that influence public health, including disease incidence rates and health risks associated with environment, lifestyle, and socio-economic level. This area of study involves applied study of psychology, political science, anthropology, sociology from a public health perspective. These subjects are also acknowledged as specializations within this sector.

Those specializing in health behavior and education typically take on job roles that focus on public health organization and policy, and health advocacy or promotion of preventing disease.

Epidemiology

Epidemiology involves the analysis of injury and disease trends in various communities and the utilization of this research to better manage and regulate health issues. Research in this field concentrates on pinpointing the circulation, sources, and rate of disease within groups or societies by applying statistical examination.

Epidemiologists form and test theories regarding outcomes on health factors, including genetics, behavior, environment in an effort to build upon the base of knowledge used by disease prevention and control initiatives.

Similar to environmental health, the field of epidemiology is also closely linked to clinical research, such as research and methodology based in molecular biology and biochemistry.

Related Educational Resources

The following organizations are considered to be the most representative authorities in the fields of public health and healthcare administration.