What Is Public Health and Why Is It Important?
People in public health careers—many of whom have a public health degree—work tirelessly around the globe, helping ensure we have cleaner water to drink, more nutritious food to eat, higher-quality air to breathe, and access to a broad range of services to promote human health, from vaccines and doctors to public parks.
But what is public health exactly? Why is it important? And if you’re interested in going to school to enter the field, what can you do with a public health degree? From the definition of public health to a list of public health jobs, we cover everything you need know about this burgeoning field.
What is public health in simple words?
The CDC Foundation defines public health as “the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.”1
When we think about the word “health,” we typically associate it with medical matters, so the definition of public health can seem a little confusing. Unlike the practice of medicine in clinical settings—like a doctor’s office or hospital—public health is not a one-on-one discipline, nor do those in the field practice medicine.
Instead, public health focuses on improving and protecting community health and well-being, with an emphasis on preventing illnesses, diseases, and injuries among groups of people. A group might be as small as a neighborhood or as big as an entire country.1 People working in the field use their public health education and training to keep communities healthy through child wellness programs, disease prevention efforts, education, disaster relief, clean water, access to healthcare, and much more.
Why is public health important?
Most of us rarely think about public health until a crisis, such as a devastating hurricane or pandemic, captures our attention. But public health officials work on a daily basis to keep people healthy and safe, locally and around the world, by preventing disease and injury. In fact, public health initiatives such as vaccinations, food safety regulations, and clean air and water policies increased life expectancy in the U.S. by more than 30 years between 1900 and 2020.2
What does a person working in public health do?
There are a wide variety of jobs and careers in the public health field. Some public health roles include:
- Teaching groups of people how to improve their health.
- Investigating causes of diseases or injuries.
- Reducing substance use disorder in a community.
- Advocating for public health policies and laws.
- Conducting research to determine community health trends.
- Responding to disasters like fires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes.
- Working to improve maternal health.
- Addressing mental health challenges in a particular population.
What are some examples of public health?
Here are five examples of public health in action:
- An environmental health specialist monitors water quality at a beach to ensure it’s safe for swimmers, surfers, and divers.
- An emergency preparedness coordinator identifies a road that is susceptible to flooding. The coordinator develops a plan to block the road and reroute traffic when heavy rain is predicted.
- A community health worker conducts home visits in a low-income neighborhood, identifies families with young children who lack access to healthcare, and connects them with local clinics and social services to ensure they receive essential medical care and support.
- A nutritionist works with a school district to develop healthier school lunch options for kids.
- An occupational health and safety officer assesses workplace hazards and conducts safety training for employees.
What are the three Ps of public health?
The three P’s of public health are prevention, protection, and promotion. These are the core functions of public health. Most public health careers involve preventing illnesses, injuries, or death; protecting vulnerable groups; and promoting lifestyles, actions, and laws that can improve health and safety.
What can you learn in a public health degree program?
Whether you pursue your education on campus or online, public health degrees provide students with a solid foundation in issues that impact population health and healthcare systems, including environmental health, disease prevention, health informatics, global health, ethics, and behavioral and cultural issues.
What can you do with a public health degree?
Whether you get a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, there’s no shortage of ways to put your public health degree to work, and public health careers are as diverse as the field itself. Many public health careers require a Master of Public Health (MPH) for entry and advancement in the profession.
Where are public health careers available?
Those with public health degrees pursue their public health careers in a variety of settings, including but not limited to:
- National, state, and local government
- National and local health agencies and departments
- Nonprofit organizations
- Private health-based organizations and foundations
- Colleges and universities
- Faith-based organizations
- Insurance companies
What are some common public health jobs?
Public health jobs cover a broad variety of areas, including epidemiology, environmental health, biostatistics, health services administration, and more.
Here are just some of the public health careers you can pursue with a public health degree:3
- Community health worker
- Disease investigator
- Environmental health specialist
- Global health professional
- Health officer
- Health policy advisor
- Occupational health and safety specialist
- Public health analyst
- Public health educator
- Public health emergency preparedness and response coordinator
- Public health information officer
- Public health policy coordinator
- Research analyst
Online Public Health Degree Programs
Prepare for a fulfilling public health career by earning an online degree in public health. An online public health program allows you to earn your degree from anywhere in the world and gain the knowledge, skills, and qualifications you need. You can even continue working full time while you earn a degree, because online learning enables you to study at whatever time of day or night is best for you.
Walden University offers a broad range of online public health and health sciences degree programs to prepare you for a variety of public health careers.
Doctoral Degrees in Public Health
- Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA)
- Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)
- PhD in Health Education and Promotion
- PhD in Health Services
- PhD in Public Health
Master’s in Public Health Degrees
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- MS in Health Education and Promotion
Bachelor’s in Public Health Degrees
Graduate Certificate in Public Health
With so many fields and roles, public health offers many career opportunities. And thanks to online education, you can earn a public health degree and put yourself in a position to land an in-demand public health job.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering public health degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
3Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of this degree program.
Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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