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Haverford College

Pre-Health Advising

Links: Preparing for Public Health

Preparing for Public Health

The field of Public Health addresses, through organized multi-disciplinary approaches, the physical, mental and environmental health of communities. Unlike doctors, who focus on improving the health of individuals, public health professionals focus primarily upon ameliorating the physical and/or mental health problems of populations. The discipline emphasizes disease prevention and health promotion, employing a spectrum of interventions aimed at the environment, human behavior and lifestyle and medical care. Assessment is an essential component of public health research: tools of analysis are both qualitative and quantitative. Public health methodologies are multi-disciplinary, derived primarily from the social and biological sciences. Public health has several core areas, including:

  • Health services administration: Persons seeking careers in administration or resource management in the public or private sectors of health service delivery can specialize in health planning, organization, policy formulation and analysis, finance, economics or marketing.
  • Biostatistics: Work in this area involve the application of statistical procedures, technologies and assessment methodologies to characterize or investigate health problems and programs.
  • Epidemiology: This field uses systematic analysis of the distribution and determinants of health and disease in population groups.
  • Behavioral sciences/health education: These specialists use specific methods and program strategies to help people adapt healthier lifestyles, make more efficient use of health services, adopt self-care prevention techniques, and to participate actively in the design and implementation of health-related programs.
  • Environmental Health Sciences: This field includes such diverse disciplines as chemistry, toxicology, environmental engineering, and is concerned with the identification and control of factors in nature and the man-made environment (air, water, land, housing) which affect the health of populations.

Other fields of study include: Occupational Safety & Health, Maternal and child health, Nutrition, Public health practice & program management, Biomedical & laboratory practice, Public health dentistry, and International/ global health.

Types of Degrees

Professionals working in public health obtain a range of degrees. The Masters of Public Health (MPH) is a two-year program. Not all MPH programs are the same; some allow concentrations in one of the five core areas mentioned above, or in a subfield (e.g. global health); while other programs offer a general degree. There are also a number of related Masters’ degrees that may suit someone’s interests more specifically than an MPH, yet enable that person to work in subareas of public health. A few examples are: a Master of Social Work (MSW); a Master of Science (MS) in International Health Policy Programs; a Master of Biostatistics; a Master of Health Administration (MHA); or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a focus on health policy e.g. Wharton’s MBA in Healthcare Management.

Individuals who plan to serve in the Peace Corps, or who have recently served, may apply for linkage MPH programs with certain Public Health Schools. More information >

The Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health (Ph.D.) or Doctorate of Public Health (D.Ph.) are the terminal degrees in the field. The Ph.D. is geared primarily towards careers in teaching and research, and the D.Ph. towards leadership positions in practice settings, such as health departments. Both of these degrees require three years of course work, a series of qualifying examinations, and a capstone dissertation project under the guidance of a dissertation advisor. Finally, individuals may also obtain joint degrees, such as an MD/MPH, a JD/MPH, an MSW/MPH or MBA/MPH, or MD/PHD etc. It is essential to have specific goals for such courses of study.

Undergraduate Academic Preparation for Public Health Related Carees

People come to the field of public health from a range of backgrounds: e.g. mathematics, sociology, anthropology, Spanish, biology, psychology, chemistry, religion, biology, etc. Some coursework prepares you for certain fields of public health, however. Coursework in biology and mathematics is highly recommended for students who plan to concentrate in epidemiology or biostatistics. Sociology, psychology, education and anthropology are good foundations for health education or global health, for instance. Biology and chemistry prepare students well for the study of environmental health. Students interested in Health Services Administration find courses in economics and other social sciences to be helpful.

At Haverford, several courses are offered that develop skills useful to further study in public health or subject matter that is related to the field.

Courses With No or General Pre-Requisites


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 254 Diseased Bodies: AIDS, Culture and the Anthropology of the Body


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 124 Perspectives in Biology: Tropical Infectious Disease
  • 129 Perspectives in Biology: The Vexations of Vaccines


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 285 Disabilities: Autobiography, Education, and Theory


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 118 Introduction to the History of Science
  • 257 The Scientific Revolution


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 221 Epidemiology and Global Health
  • 281 Violence and Public Health


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 203 Statistical Methods and Their Applications


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 201 Ethics and Justice: Applied Ethics of Peace, Justice and Human Rights


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 108 Physics in Modern Medicine. Applications in Imaging, Surgery and Therapy


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 215 Quantitative Methods
  • 216 Creativity and Methods in Qualitative Inquiry



View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 360 Bacterial Pathogenesis


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 302 Bodies of Injustice. Health, Illness and Healing in Contexts of Inequality


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 286 Applied Multivariate Statistical Analysis


View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • 320 Advanced Quantitative Methods for Sociologists

Courses Limited to First-Year Writing Program

View course descriptions in the Course Catalog

  • WRPR 122 Writing in Public Health
  • WRPR 110 Medical Narratives

In addition to courses at Haverford, you may also want to check out course offerings in the Tri-Co and at Penn, (e.g. their Health and Societies major).

First and Second-year students may be interested in taking the student-led Social Medicine Seminar, which exposes them to some foundational readings in public health, and to potential service opportunities. This class is run through the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC).

Opportunities for Clinical and Field Experience

Individuals who apply to public health programs typically have a couple of years of work experience in clinics, health education or research, or public health research. (There are a few programs that will take students directly from college if they have demonstrated a commitment to the public health field and are adequately prepared for what they may want to do, e.g. biostatistics. Most programs prefer that you have experience and demonstrated commitment to the field, however.)

As undergraduates, if you are interested in public health, consider applying for summer internship funding through the CPGC for service projects in the U.S. or abroad. For a list of the activities of the most recent interns, see: CPGC: Internships.

Locally, there are opportunities for volunteer work in public health and related settings:

Other Useful websites:

Internships and Summer Programs

In searching for internships for summer and opportunities post-graduation, you should also contact the Career Development Office and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. They have many Haverford alumni contacts and numerous listings.

Post-graduation opportunities:

Application Requirements for MPH Programs

It is important to note that a public health degree is NOT an effective stepping stone to medical school for someone with a weak transcript in the pre-med requirements because it does not provide medical school applicants with enough coursework in the hard sciences to remedy a low science GPA. As mentioned above, most but not all accredited MPH programs require a couple of years of field experience before admissions. Check with the individual programs for specifics.

The application requirements for most (but not all) public health programs are as follows:

  • Bachelor of Arts, with a year of coursework in college-level mathematics (statistics or calculus) and biology. Chemistry or physics, while not usually required, are useful. Students can come from any major, although individuals in the social and hard sciences predominate.
  • GRE scores (some schools accept MCAT, GMAT, or LSAT in lieu of the GRE).
  • Three letters of recommendation (from faculty or individuals supervising one's work.) Personal statement
  • Resume or Curriculum vitae
  • Transcripts of all courses
  • Proven dedication to the field evident from substantive experience (articulated in the personal statement, resume and letters of recommendation.) Typically, public health schools want their students to be committed to the field, rather than to use their degree as a stepping-stone into medical school (-which won't work anyway if the student's undergraduate science G.P.A. is weak.)

Deadlines vary from fall to spring, depending upon when matriculation can take place, but most schools have fall deadlines.

Useful Links: