Public Health

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Public Health School Requirements

Public health involves various specialty areas that address the physical, mental and environmental health concerns of communities and populations at risk for disease and injury. Its goal is to improve and enhance quality of life through the application of health promotion and disease prevention technologies and interventions. Public health is open to all undergraduate students in a variety of majors, from the biological sciences to social sciences.

Public health workers have the following goals:

  • assessing and monitoring the health of communities and populations at risk, and identifying health problems and priorities;
  • collaborating with community and government leaders and formulating public policy to solve local and national health problems and priorities;
  • assuring all populations have access to appropriate and cost-effective care, including health promotion and disease prevention services, and evaluating the effectiveness of that care

How is Public Health Different From the Other Health Professions?

Public health comprises many professional disciplines such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, optometry, nutrition, social work, environmental sciences, health education, health services administration and the behavioral sciences, and its activities focus on entire populations rather than on individual patients. 

The population-based approach to health:

  • works to eradicate life-threatening diseases (e.g. smallpox, polio);
  • works to control and prevent infectious diseases and outbreaks (e.g. measles, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and Ebola virus);
  • works to reduce death and disability from unintentional injuries through formulations of policies designed to protect the safety of the public (e.g. seat belt and worker safety laws);
  • promotes healthy lifestyles to prevent chronic diseases (e.g. cancer, heart disease, obesity);
  • educates populations at risk to reduce sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and infant mortality;
  • facilitates community empowerment to improve mental health, reduce substance abuse and violence;
  • works to assure access to cost-effective care;
  • evaluates the effectiveness of clinical and community-based interventions;
  • works to assure drinking and recreational water is safe;
  • works to prevent pollution of air and land through enforcement of regulatory control and management of hazardous wastes;
  • formulates policies to increase the quality of health care at local and/or state levels

The Difference Between a School and a Program

Schools of public health and public health programs differ in size and the opportunities they provide. In a school of public health, different departments focus on specific public health areas. This means more concentration areas will be offered. A public health program is part of a medical school or graduate school department and usually has a single focus, such as health education. However, an MPH or related degree will have the same credibility, regardless of the institution.

Criteria and Requirements for Applying

  • GPA – some schools only look at the upper division coursework.
  • Standardized test score – The general GRE is required. Some schools also accept the MCAT, especially for applicants to joint degree programs.
  • Experience – volunteer work and internships are always helpful. Up to two years of paid work experience may be required, depending on the school. 
  • Personal statement 
  • Letters of recommendation – from both professors and work supervisors. 
  • Interview – not conducted by all schools; phone or in-person format depends on school.

Areas of Concentration

Regardless of their specialties, all students take introductory courses in biostatistics and epidemiological sciences basic to public health. Most schools also require one or more courses in health administration, environmental health and behavioral sciences. These core areas are essential for an MPH and recommended for all degree candidates.

Once an area of concentration has been chosen, a student can develop a course of study geared to his/her individual professional goals, and encompassing classroom activity, field experience and a significant research or laboratory project. Many schools either require or strongly recommend some type of work experience before enrollment and most encourage their students to seek summer employment that will further develop and enrich their public health background.

Specific concentrations include:

  • Public health practice and program management
  • Health services administration
  • Biostatistics
  • Biomedical and laboratory practice
  • Epidemiology
  • Nutrition
  • Behavioral sciences/health education
  • Occupational safety and health
  • International/global health
  • Environmental health sciences
  • Maternal and child health

UC Merced students interested in pursuing advanced study in public health are encouraged to add the public health minor available through the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts. More information on the minor can be found at the Public Health website.

Public Health in California