What is a Masters in Public Health?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A masters in public health is a master’s degree that may focus on one of several public health fields. People can also do doctorate level studies in public health, which may be preferred in some professions, but there are numbers schools that allow people to study for this graduate degree, which usually takes far less time to complete. Most of the schools that offer a masters in public health either have a Public Health teaching department or school, or they are medical schools. Alternate graduate work is available by taking a Masters of Science in Public health, which is more directed toward research.

People who seek a masters in public health will first need to get a bachelor's degree.
People who seek a masters in public health will first need to get a bachelor's degree.

People who seek a masters in public health will first need to get a bachelor’s degree. This is the minimum requirement for most schools. They should then look at the different disciplines offered by the schools that interest them. Two core areas that people can expect to study are biostatistics and epidemiology. Biostatistics looks at the life sciences from a statistical viewpoint, and epidemiology evaluates health by population and behaviors of population. Other areas that people can expect to study include how public health is administered and managed, the relationship between related organism from a health point of view (behavioral sciences), and the impact of environment on health.

Some schools more specialize in one of these fields than another, and students may be able to choose which field they’d like to most study. A biostatistician really wants a degree in biostatistics and not so much a degree in public health, for instance. Schools may have different methods for awarding this degree so that the masters becomes one in biostatistics instead of one in simply public health.

The masters in public health usually prepares the student to work in one or more of the aforementioned areas. There are many potential careers for someone with this degree, which include managing or overseeing state or federal public health agencies, or working in them. Others might work in the private sector, perhaps for a business or multiples ones, on health promotion policies. Some in these fields are part of research teams that help shape public policies, or they might work as inspectors, evaluating quality control of health delivery systems. Some people take work with pharmaceutical companies and participate in research, and others work for health insurance companies to determine policies of most benefit to the company and to its clients.

There are some jobs in public health that are directed at potential disasters a country might encounter. For instance, policies need to be made to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack, an environmental disaster like the leak of nuclear plant, or the emergence of a new pandemic. Those with a masters in public health or doctorate may be part of the team that creates plans to protect people if these things were to occur.

Most people will want to consider what type of bachelor’s degree to get if they’re interested in pursuing a masters in public health. While it makes sense to check with schools offering this degree, some degrees may be preferable. These could include degrees in the life sciences, bachelor’s degrees in nursing, and pre-med degrees. It doesn’t hurt to have some experience too working somewhere in the public health field. Some students will take a few years off in between degrees to get more experience before they purse a masters degree.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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There are many ways to get a qualification in Public Health Practice. For a Masters in Public Health, you would need to have either received a second class bachelor degree or higher in a related discipline or be a registered nurse or midwife.

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