The mission of public health workers is to promote physical and mental health and to prevent disease, injury and disability among communities and populations. Public health professionals focus on communities rather than individuals. Public health is an interdisciplinary field that emphasizes a proactive, preventative approach to sustaining healthy communities.
Because the public health field encompasses such a range of services and responsibilities, graduate schools of public health are interested in applicants with a variety of undergraduate majors. Almost any undergraduate course of study will prepare you to enter at least one of the public health specialties. Though not a prerequisite, it is useful to take a course in statistics prior to starting a graduate program in public health because you will be required to take graduate level statistics courses as part of a public health degree program.
The core areas in public health study are:
- Behavioral Science/Health Education: the development of methods, skills and program strategies to help people maintain healthier lifestyles; the design and implementation of programs that affect health.
- Biostatistics: the application of statistical procedures, techniques, and methodology to characterize or investigate health problems.
- Emergency Medical Services: the administration of emergency response procedures including training, licensing, quality control, access, research, or disaster preparedness.
- Environmental Health: the assessment of the impact of environmental factors on community health.
- Epidemiology: the systematic study of the distribution and determination of disease or disability in population groups.
- Health Services Administration/Management: the application of business, policy, and science to manage resources and the delivery of public health services.
- International/Global Health: the effort to improve health standards in developing countries using the skills and techniques of all public health specialties.
- Maternal and Child Health: the integration of many fields in public health to focus on the needs of women and children.
- Nutrition: the study of the interaction between nutrients, nutrition and health and the application of sound nutritional principles to maintain good health.
- Public Health Laboratory Practice: the application of basic science and laboratory research to help with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases in communities.
- Public Health Policy: the effort to effect legislation about public health issues from local governments to international policy making organizations.
Application requirements for most Master of Public Health programs:
- 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 of Curriculum vitae
- 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.