Group of health professionals holding a meeting.

While public health and primary care share a common goal, they’ve historically functioned independently of one another. But public health initiatives are becoming increasingly global, requiring international cooperation among government agencies, public health organizations, and primary care providers. Professionals with online public health and health sciences degrees are becoming an important catalyst for this shift in awareness and collaboration.

Definition of Public Health

The World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency, defines public health as follows:

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“Public health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole. Its activities aim to provide conditions in which people can be healthy and it focuses on entire populations, not on individual patients or diseases. Thus, public health is concerned with the total system and not only the eradication of a particular disease.”*

Public health professionals focus on a broad array of services across communities, cities, states, and countries. Walden University offers a full suite of accredited online public health and health sciences degree programs that prepare students to launch or advance their careers in this critical field.

Definition of Primary Care

Primary care practitioners focus on the health and well-being of their own patient populations and are generalists, not specialists. They provide a range of medical services to promote patient health and well-being through preventive care, treatment of acute issues, and management of chronic conditions.

At the same time, they’re often the first ones to see patients with medical concerns that relate to broader public health considerations—so they, too, play a vital role.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Promotes Cooperation Between Public Health and Primary Care

A CDC undertaking known as the Primary Care and Public Health Initiative (PCPHI) emphasizes the importance of bringing these disciplines together. According to the PCPHI, “Strong links between healthcare and public health are vital to addressing national health priorities across the healthcare system. Health reform changes driven by the passage of the Affordable Care Act make collaboration and communication more important than ever.”

Collaborative Role for Public Health Professionals

The PCPHI calls for patient-centered primary care physicians to increase their awareness of public health problems and national initiatives that offer potential solutions.

The American Academy of Family Physicians also recognizes that “public health competencies and tools are crucial for this realignment to facilitate a better understanding of the needs of the population, prioritizing activities according to epidemiological, organizational, and economic trends.”

Online Public Health and Health Sciences Degree Programs Are Part of the Solution

Walden University offers a broad range of online public health and health sciences degree programs to prepare students for rewarding careers that help support this collaboration:

Doctoral Degrees

Master’s Degrees

Bachelor’s Degrees

Graduate Certificates

Walden University, an accredited institution with online degree programs, has been serving the higher education needs of adult learners for nearly 50 years. Today, more than 47,800 students from across the U.S. and more than 150 countries are pursuing their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees or certificates online at Walden.

Explore Walden University's online public health degree programs and specialized certification programs that fit your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your life and schedule.

*World Health Organization (WHO). Trade, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, and Health. Public Health at

†Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support. Primary Care and Public Health Initiative at

‡American Academy of Family Physicians. Integration of Primary Care and Public Health (Position Paper) at

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