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What is Public Health?

As the name implies, it addresses the overall health of communities. People working in this field educate and promote a healthy lifestyle to prevent the spread of disease. Nutrition, alcohol abuse, tobacco use, and vaccinations are all under the purview of public health officials.

These professionals examine trends such as drug and tobacco use, monitor risk behaviors, and encourage physical activity. They also work with state and local legislators to share data and review bills that will benefit the health of the community.

A source of information for students contemplating this major is the American Public Health Association website. This article provides coursework from randomly selected schools in the United States.

Bachelor of Science

This degree has many objectives. The objectives of a typical program summarize what you glean from the completion of your four years studying public health and related topics.

Graduates will have the skills to:

  • Recognize how public health influences policies and health programs.
  • Act as an advocate and spokesperson for the improvement of sanitary conditions for the community.
  • Understand the importance of epidemiology in the role of healthcare.
  • Illustrate the cause and effect of harmful social activities and individuals’ health
  • Understand the role of genetics and physiology in public health issues.

A bachelor’s program begins with the standard General Education Requirements. This initial phase usually includes mathematics, in the form of calculus or algebra. Drexel University, for example, has courses in English Composition and Rhetoric, plus communication classes to improve your speaking and writing skills. The science portion of the curriculum follows. You can expect classes in chemistry and biology. The former may involve the study of molecules, compounds, elements, and chemical equations. Biology might explore cell characteristics, physiology, and genetics. A laboratory class may also be part of the sciences.

There are programs with less emphasis on the sciences. One example is East Tennessee State University (ETSU) that offers a B.S. with a Community Health Concentration. Their core courses have three credits of epidemiology, which is the study of what causes diseases. A basic understanding of the cause of infectious ailments helps public health personnel investigate and control the spread of illnesses.

The ETSU study plan focuses on public health education, health systems, administration, training strategies, and the principles of finance and budgeting. Instead of educating students on the scientific aspects of public health, this school looks more at managing and evaluating health behavior.

The undergraduate level provides areas of specialization. Some of these programs, similar to ETSU, have fewer classes in the sciences and more in administrative functions and healthcare management. Oregon State University (OSU) falls into this type of curriculum that includes healthcare law, liability insurance, torts, leadership, and human resources.  Their Bachelor of Science in Public Health has a choice of Health Management and Policy or Health Promotion and Health Behavior.

However, even the OSU programs are not devoid of science. The core includes three credit hours of epidemiology. The other courses that skirt the sciences are Environmental Health and Human Disease. The former is an examination of toxic substances, pesticides, harmful food products, and hazardous waste. Human Disease covers the cause and prevention of infectious diseases.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, public health entails educating the public about a healthy lifestyle. You can specialize in this area by choosing a program in health education. This subject sits under the umbrella of being a champion for social policies that lead to a healthier population. A foundation in the sciences of biology and microbiology are subjects included in the Bachelor of Science in Health Education at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Oral and written communication classes are essential to your skills as an educator. Courses in holistic health, stress reduction, and environmental health give you the knowledge to assess and recommend beneficial health practices in the community.

Epidemiology is part of the SFSU degree also. To educate the public, you must understand the factors and patterns of how disease spreads. An understanding of parasites, viruses, and bacteria are paramount to teaching people about the transmission of various conditions.

Employment

What are the job prospects for graduates? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) paints a favorable future with job growth for Health Educators and Community Health workers to be 16% through 2026. The percentage represents a change in 19,200 jobs. As of 2016, the BLS reported 118,500 working in this combined occupation with a median income of $45,360 per year based on a bachelor’s degree (May 2017).

The BLS states that community health workers earn an average of $38,370, and health educators earn $53,940.

Additional Resources: 

What is the Difference between a Master of Public Health and a Master of Science in Public Health Degree?

What Jobs are in-demand with a Degree in Public Health?

What is the difference in a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Health?