Public health has a variety of careers to choose from. From technicians to environmental officers and health inspectors, each career is important to the health and safety of the public. Public health isn’t just the responsibility of those working in the field; everyone is responsible to make sure our environments (homes, beaches, roads, workplaces, etc.) are safe and healthy for all. Let’s get into how to study public health!
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Jump to:2-Year Degree 4-Year Degree Beyond a 4-Year Degree
Because of how vast the public health field is, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to get started! As was mentioned before, public health is all around us, so you can get started in very basic ways to begin a career in public health. Beach and roadside cleanups are great examples of ways to get started early on in public health.
Although you can begin working in public health with less than a 2-year degree (see Technical Routes), a 2-year degree can lead you to progress in the public health field. Careers in public health that typically only require a 2-year degree or less include community health worker, health educator, home health aide, physical therapist assistant, respiratory therapist, occupational therapy aide, hospital orderly, phlebotomist, and an assortment of technologists and technicians. Technologists and technicians may need further education to specialize in areas such as radiology. Courses you’ll study in a 2-year program will differ depending on what career you’re interested in. ‘Anatomy & Physiology’ is a very common course among all these programs as you need to have knowledge of the structure of the human body and its internal workings. If you’re studying radiography, you will take many courses around imaging technologies and procedures.
With a bachelor’s degree, you can explore more specializations and select which avenue you’d like to pursue further if you intend to go on to graduate school. Careers requiring bachelor’s degrees include dietitians, nutritionists, athletic trainers, and biomedical engineers. Courses will be different depending on the school you go to, but common courses in a public health program will introduce you to different types of health (environmental, occupational, and maternal & child health); educate you on the basics of these types of health and their settings; provide an overview of specializations (including maternal & child health, infectious diseases, occupational safety & health, nutrition, global health, biostatistics, epidemiology, and environmental health); and educate you on policies and procedures (ethics, professional writing, medical terminology, food safety, and program planning & management).
Beyond a 4-Year Degree
Master’s degrees in public health can take one to three years to complete depending on the area of specialization (and your schedule of time you can dedicate to the program). Specializations (or areas of concentration) in a public health graduate program include biostatistics, epidemiology, maternal & child health, infection control, global communicable diseases, nutrition & dietetics, behavioral health, environmental & occupational health, genetic counseling, public health education.
Want to go even further? Let’s talk doctoral degrees! You can hone in on your specialized field with a doctoral degree. The length of a doctoral degree will vary depending on your program. Courses in a doctoral program usually include practicing applications for different areas of specialization such as policy, community programming, social marketing, hands-on training, and writing for scholarly journals. Areas of specialization in a doctoral program can include maternal & child health, biostatistics, epidemiology, community & family health, global communicable diseases, environmental & occupational health, and research.
Jump to:Apprenticeships & Internships Vocational Training
Apprenticeships & Internships
Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training and education while you work. This can look like working or volunteering with little experience but being trained to improve your skills. Not only are you learning the necessary job skills, but also the demands, hours, ways to interact with the public, procedures, and problems that usually arise on the job. This is an all-encompassing experience. Apprenticeship and internship opportunities in public health can be found through internet searches or networking. These may exist at hospitals, clinics, research labs, private care physicians, and local or national organizations. If there is a business or person whose work interests you, ask them for the opportunity to intern or shadow them to learn more about the field and career. This is a great way to show your interest in the field and secure future opportunities to gain experience.
Similar to apprenticeships, vocational training provides hands-on learning experiences, but mostly through coursework. This is primarily schooling with an aspect of hands-on learning to teach the necessary skills and later put them into action in a classroom setting. You can find vocational programs at technical colleges. Common public health programs offered at technical colleges include licensed practical nurses (LPNs), medical records & health information technicians, nursing assistants, and medical transcriptionists.
You can review the Minnesota State CAREERwise website to explore careers similar to public health in the Health Sciences career cluster. Here are more resources to learn more about careers in public health:
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Healthcare Occupations | Medical & Health Services Managers | Health Educators & Community Health Workers
- Public Health Online: A Guide to Public Health Careers
- American Public Health Association (APHA): Internships & Fellowships
- Free Coursera courses: Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Systems Thinking in Public Health (Johns Hopkins University), Stanford Introduction to Food and Health (Stanford University), Introduction to Statistics (Stanford University), An Introduction to Global Health (University of Copenhagen), Global Health: An Interdisciplinary Overview (University of Geneva), The Challenges of Global Health (Duke University)
Check with your institution of interest to find out more about their admissions application, program requirements, and the best way to map out your future for studying public health.