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What Is Public Health and Why Is It Important?

Those in public health careers—many of whom are backed by 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 public health jobs, we cover everything you need know about this burgeoning field.

What Is Public Health and Why Is It Important?

What is public health?

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 prevention among large groups of people. Those with public health degrees keep communities healthy through child wellness, disease prevention, education, disaster relief, clean water, access to healthcare, and much more.

Why is public health important?

Most of us rarely think about these roles until a crisis, such as a devastating hurricane, captures our attention. But public health officials—many of whom may hold public health degrees—work on a daily basis to keep people healthy and safe, locally and around the world, by preventing disease and injury.

Public health initiatives such as vaccinations, family planning, motor vehicle safety laws, and clean air and water policies have increased life expectancy in the U.S. by nearly 30 years.*

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?

While it’s possible to gain experience in the field, many public health careers require a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree for entry and advancement in the profession.

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.

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:

Explore Walden’s online public health degrees.

Browse Programs

  • 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?

While too numerous to list here, 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: †

  • Community health worker
  • Disease investigator
  • Environmental health specialist
  • Epidemiologist
  • 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

Ready to keep communities healthy and safe with a career in public health? Earn your public health degree online at Walden University, an accredited institution offering online degree programs in a flexible, convenient format.

* “Make a Difference With Public Health,” on the Internet at

†Career 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,