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Degree overview: Public health

Public health refers to a very broad, dynamic, and multidisciplinary field that focuses on improving the health of people and communities through research into illness and injury prevention and through efforts to promote healthy lifestyles and habits. Within the field, there are several areas of specialization which touch upon nearly every facet of daily life. Some examples include:

  • the quality of the air we breathe (environmental health)
  • having and wearing seat belts in cars (public health policy and health education)
  • childhood immunizations as well as vaccinations people get before overseas travel (maternal and child health; global health)
  • food nutrition labels (nutrition and health education)
  • HIV/AIDS (epidemiology, global health, and health education)

The field of public health also has a strong social justice component in its work to reduce health disparities and increase health care equity, quality, and accessibility. As a graduate student of public health you will learn, broadly, about the issues that affect population health and, through a more focused lens of a concentration within the field, how to address and prevent the health problems that arise within a community.

In contrast to clinical health professional degrees such as a Medical Doctorate (MD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) with their emphasis on the treatment of individuals, a graduate degree in public health focuses on disease prevention and health promotion of a wider population. Clinical health professionals usually provide health care to an individual on an as-needed basis, whereas public health professionals are continually working towards improving the health of the community, which is affected by a variety of factors at any given time.