It’s an unfortunate fact of life: diseases, health crises and epidemics exist. To stem the tide requires having advocates-i.e., public health officials-push for open communication, education and access to both funding and care. If you want to be on the front lines of prevention and health promotion, this could be the major for you!
Though public health programs are usually the provenance of graduate schools, there are a handful of colleges and universities that offer the major to undergraduates. As a student of public health, you’ll be at the cross-section of science, economics and politics. Your coursework will introduce you to how health issues affect varying populations. Moreover, you’ll learn how policies and programs aimed at addressing these different issues (for example mental health, communicable diseases or food safety) are developed, implemented and evaluated. Some programs will also ask you to select a specific concentration or track. Possible options might include biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, and health policy and management. Finally, it’s also likely you will have to complete an internship.
Public health will require you to be an academic renaissance man/woman of sorts. Indeed, since the discipline taps into many fields you’ll need strong quantitative and analytical skills along with an aptitude for writing and communication. You will likely also find it useful to be up on current events and globally aware. And you should be a proponent of covering your mouth when you sneeze.
Nuts and Bolts
As a public health major, you’ll be privy to such fascinating classes as: The Aging Human Brain, Introduction to Risk and Demographic Statistics, Public Health Microbiology, Poverty and Population, Human Development and Genetics, Biomedical Ethics, Regression Models, International Nutrition Issues, Epidemiology and Infectious Disease, Health Economics and Public Policy, and Environmental Health and Development.
Public health marries the hard sciences and the social sciences. Therefore, undergrads studying public health are also likely to be interested in biology, biostatistics, chemistry, psychology, social work, nutrition, public administration, sociology, economics, statistics, pre-med, political science, nursing, biochemistry, health administration, physical therapy and occupational therapy.
To the delight of many a major, public health is a burgeoning field and you’ll find that opportunities for graduates abound. Generally, grads might choose one of several tracks – biostatistics, health services administration, epidemiology or health education. Within these divisions, jobs might involve data management, program evaluation or implementation, research, managing clinical trials or policy analysis. Positions are available in both the public and private sectors and grads can work anywhere from consulting firms and universities to government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of course, ultimately, a number of majors make their way to graduate programs in public health or apply to medical or law school.