Studying a Master’s in Public Health
If you’re keen to make a real difference in the world, studying a Master’s in Public Health could be incredibly rewarding. If you’re committed to improving the health of people all over the world, you’ll find that studying public health can lead to a range of rewarding and important public health careers.
Global health concerns such as AIDS, avian bird flu, SARS, malnutrition, global warming and the recent Ebola virus have significantly increased awareness and understanding of the critical importance of public health in today’s global society.
If you’re interested in bringing your skills to make a contribution to this field, Read below for information about Masters in Public Health degrees, entry requirements, specializations and a range of public health careers.
Studying a Masters in Public Health
Public health degrees are generally taught with an international overview, focusing on the various ways in which public health professionals have become indispensable worldwide. Often this work overlaps national borders, as public health leaders and researchers develop methods to prevent disease, develop reforms, and promote health and well-being.
Public health degrees offer students the chance to gain an in-depth understanding of the complex and varied nature of public health issues affecting people today. This opens up opportunities to enter public health careers focused on making real differences to people’s quality – and length – of life. If you have a passion for public health and want to help reduce health risks worldwide, this could be the degree for you.
Many public health degrees are focused on equipping students with quantitative analytical skills, while maintaining an interdisciplinary focus. The subject often overlaps with other subjects, including sociology, psychology, economics, statistics, and politics/international relations.
Masters in Public Health degrees are typically offered as either MPH or MSc qualifications, and may be one or two years long depending on which country you study in. They are often structured with a combination of core modules and optional modules, allowing for specialization.
Some providers of Masters in Public Health degrees require applicants to have previously studied a medicine or science-related subject, but many universities will accept graduates from any discipline. In the UK, some applicants may need to take an online MPH selection test.
Public health specializations
At most schools of public health, students are offered a selection of concentrations to choose from. Specialized tracks on offer may include biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health education and communication, health law, industrial hygiene, international health and development, maternal and child health, nutrition, social and behavioural sciences, and toxicology.
In addition, some schools of public health offer opportunities for graduate study in tropical medicine and parasitology.
Below are the most common specializations you can choose as part of your MPH degree. Depending on your degree, these may be required/core subjects, or optional modules.
Epidemiology is the study of how health affects large populations of people, in particular the patterns, causes and effects, and how problems related to public health crises can be prevented. This discipline is important for public health research, identifying risk factors for disease, and the best treatment methods in clinical practice. In this specialization you’ll study how to analyze and interpret relevant data. You may be able to specialize further in a topic such as nutrition, genetics, environment, and ageing, HIV/AIDS, cancer and heart disease.
Often overlapping with epidemiology, biostatistics provides public health students with specific training in quantitative methods. In this specialization you’ll learn to use and adapt statistical procedures in both the design and the analysis of studies which span the entire spectrum of research in healthcare.
Health services management
Health services management examines the practical aspects of running healthcare services, including the costs, quality, availability, delivery, organization, funding, and overall outcomes. Students will therefore increase their knowledge and understanding of health service structures, perhaps leading to careers in this field with a focus on improving services.
Overlapping with international relations, public security involves studying how ongoing political instability and terrorism present global challenges for public health. You’ll study in-depth the health aspects of disasters, emergency management and crises, including bioterrorism and epidemics.
This specialization, also available as a dedicated MPH degree, focuses on understanding the ways in which you can promote good health practices to the public. This means looking at the methods used to implement health promotion for individuals and communities, evaluating their success in a variety of settings, and reflecting on the diversity and differences in approaches.
Other specializations you may be offered include health law, industrial hygiene, international health and development, maternal and child health, nutrition, social and behavioral sciences, and toxicology.
Careers in public health
Your Masters in Public Health degree should equip you with many skills which are desirable in a wide range of careers. You may, for example, have specialized in leadership or management during your degree and wish to pursue this in your career.
Here are some popular public health careers for MPH degree graduates:
Epidemiologists investigate patterns, causes and effects of diseases in the general population. This public health career encompasses various roles, including careers as a clinical epidemiologist. This means working on studies of individual patients in clinical research, and is a role suited to graduates with a strong interest and background in medicine. You could also work as a veterinary epidemiologist, studying diseases in groups of animals. Previous work experience in a hospital or a statistics-related position would be an advantage when applying for a role as an epidemiologist.
Health administrators ensure the smooth financial, strategic, and day-to-day running of health services, including hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and community centers. The role involves liaising with members of staff and any partner organizations, while considering the local circumstances and demands.
Biostatisticians work as academics in the biomedical field, using statistics to analyze the effects of treatments, environmental conditions, and other factors on living things. Common places of employment include government agencies, educational institutions, and pharmaceutical companies.
Public health practitioner
Public health practitioners, also known as health promotion specialists or health education specialists, help people to gain awareness of how they can both improve their health and take more control of it. You might advise people face-to-face or produce strategies to promote good health, such as running campaigns to encourage healthy eating, or any other local or national government public health initiatives.
Public affairs consultant (public health lobbyist)
Ideal if you have an interest in foreign affairs, a role as a public affairs consultant involves lobbying government officials to commit more strongly to the healthcare delivery system, centering, at times, on specific schemes.