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Public Health Degrees

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While health is an individual concern, it's also something that affects entire communities. This principle lies at the center of public health, a career field committed to addressing issues ranging from policies that affect society to health epidemics. Public health careers include jobs such as health educators, public health planners and epidemiologists.

To become a public health professional, there are a number of public health degrees available, ranging from a bachelor's degree in environmental health to a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). Courses in these programs cover a number of disciplines, such as environmental health and social and community health. Some in the field go beyond a bachelor's degree, earning a master's or doctorate degree in public health.

Public health programs

The length of a public health program depends on the particular degree being pursued. While a bachelor's degree will typically take four years or more to complete and a master's degree at least two years (on top of the four years required to complete a bachelor's degree), a Ph.D. can take four or more years, not including the years necessary to earn a bachelor's degree beforehand. Different public health schools have different degree requirements. Some programs include specializations where a student can delve deeper into one particular public health concern, such as alcohol addiction or diabetes.

Some courses in public health programs may include:

  • Environmental health: This course examines different environmental health concerns (biological and chemical) that can affect the overall health of a community. You may also learn how to maintain health-supportive environments.
  • Health promotion program planning: Students may learn how to develop health promotion programs, which seek to identify health risk factors and implement interventions within a community.
  • Global health policy: Going beyond just a local or national community, students learn in this course about historic global health policies, as well as cultural health issues and the roles that state, national and federal governments play in improving health issues.
  • Drugs, alcohol and society: You may take a variation of this course in master of public health programs. The course may go through the history of alcohol and drugs around the world, as well as prevention and treatment via public policies and law.

Certification and licensure

Whether or not you need to seek certification or licensure depends on which position you're applying for and what city or state you're in. Here are just five of the available certifications for different public health careers:

  • Certified Asthma Educator (AE-C)
  • Certified in Public Health (CPH)
  • Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
  • Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP)
  • Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)

A health educator, for example, may be required to receive a CHES, which is offered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. Certification is typically awarded after earning a bachelor's degree and passing an exam. Other public health jobs may have different requirements, however.

Careers and salary

There are a number of different public health careers, many of which embody the overall goal of public health: to respond well to the many health issues that the local and global public faces. Here are four of those careers:

  • Health care social workers: Typically provide individuals and families with psychosocial support needed to cope with serious illnesses, as well as provide care or interventions meant to promote health and prevent disease. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports health care social workers earned a national mean annual wage of $51,460 in May 2012.
  • Health educators: Develop health programs and teach people about health topics. They also create and distribute educational materials and assess the need for health education in the public. Some work in health care organizations. According to the BLS, as of May 2012, health educators earned a national mean annual wage of $53,100.
  • Environmental science and protection technicians, including health: Conduct environmental tests in the laboratory and the field to locate and study sources of pollution and other environmental issues that may impact health. The BLS reports a May 2012 national mean annual wage of $44,570 for these workers.
  • Epidemiologists: Investigate the causes of different diseases and public health problems and prevent them from spreading to the general public. According to the BLS, epidemiologists earned a national mean annual wage of $71,400 as of May 2012.

Sources

American University: Public Health Courses
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Epidemiologists
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Healthcare Social Workers
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics: Health Educators
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Epidemiologists
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Health Educators
New York Department of Health: Careers in Public Health
UNC Charlotte: Department of Public Health Sciences: Careers in Public Health
USF Health: College of Public Health: Graduate Degrees


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