Public health is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on monitoring the health of communities, promoting healthy behaviors, preventing disease and injury, and responding to outbreaks of disease and illness. The field of public health includes a wide variety of health professionals including physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, environmental scientists, nutritionists, social workers, health educators, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, health service administrators, and many others.
The Work: A variety of healthy organizations including the American Public Health Association and the Association of Schools of Public Health identify the following ten services as being the core of public health:
Monitor health status to identify community health problems
Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community
Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues
Mobilize community partnerships to identify and solve health problems
Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts
Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety
Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable
Assure a competent public health and personal health care workforce
Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services
Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems
The Work Setting: Public health workers may work for a local, regional, or statewide public health department, for branches of the federal government including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or in countries around the world. While some public health workers work in a laboratory, the community is the typical work setting.
Entry Into Field: Public health workers may need a specific credential within their field (e.g., a medical license for physicians), but there is no other specific form of licensure required.
Education: The typical entry point into a public health career is a Masters or Doctorate degree in Public Health. The public health program in the United States is accredited by the Association of Schools of Public Health. The accredited programs in Virginia include: George Mason University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, and a joint venture between Eastern Virginia Medical School and Old Dominion University. All have AHPA/CEPH accredited MPH programs. There are public health programs in North and South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Kentucky, New York, and New Jersey, among other states.
Students working on a graduate degree in public health typically specialize in one of the fields identified in the first paragraph. All accredited schools must provide a degree program in the five core areas (epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, behavioral sciences/health education, and health services administration). Most offer dual degrees such as DVM/MPH, MBA/MPH, and MD/MPH. While Virginia does not have any Doctor of Public Health programs yet, most of the aforementioned schools offer PhD programs in related fields like epidemiology and environmental health science.
The Career: Because there are many different types of health care workers in the public health field, it is impossible to calculate a median annual salary. Public health is considered to be a very high-in-demand field now and for the future.
Job Outlook: Excellent. Employment of public health workers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014.
Helpful Web sites:
District of Columbia:
George Washington University
Johns Hopkins University
Univ. of NC - Chapel Hill