What Is Public Health and Why Is it Important?

By Traci Williams

public health professional helping patient during a virtual appointment

Public health is defined as the science and art of protecting and improving the health of communities where people live, learn, work, play and pray.1

Preventing health problems before they occur, promoting health and wellness, and analyzing how our genetics, behaviors and environment affect our health are all goals of public health professionals.

What Is Public Health in Our Daily Lives?

Each of us puts public health principles into practice on a daily basis, whether we are aware of it or not. The regular health choices we make are science-based solutions to health problems.2

Brushing your teeth daily helps to prevent cavities and tooth decay. Putting on your seatbelt every time you get into a car protects you from injury in the event of an accident. Taking a break from your computer to walk around the block increases your physical activity. Getting your flu shot helps to prevent the spread of disease. All these common practices affect public health.

What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?

Earning your degree in this field gives you the knowledge and skills needed to affect change in important health topics and issues, such as tobacco use, HIV/AIDS, cancer, obesity, mental health, vaccinations, employee health and safety, nutrition and healthcare reform. Industry professionals focus on preventing disease and injury and promoting health by:

  • Implementing health education programs
  • Tracking and monitoring disease outbreaks
  • Developing policies
  • Administering healthcare services
  • Conducting research
  • Regulating healthcare systems

Due to the more advanced nature of issues and systems in this profession, many careers in this field require a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree for both entry and advancement. Even if you aren’t yet sure which path you want to pursue, this degree program will teach you the following core skills and qualities you need to succeed in any public health career.

  • Communication: Effective written and verbal skills are essential for virtually all professionals in this field.
  • Analytical, assessment and problem-solving skills: Many roles in this industry require skills in analyzing health-related issues within the community and supporting programs that help address the issues.
  • Leadership and interpersonal skills: Companies are always looking for professionals who can successfully lead teams to meet their goals and objectives.
  • Cultural competency: This field serves diverse communities and populations, so it’s important to be able to show trust, fairness and respect for cultural differences.
  • Research/data analysis: Whether you are in a data analysis position or need to conduct research, this degree will give you the critical thinking skills to summarize findings and report them to different stakeholders through various channels (e.g. presentations, reports, brochures, etc.).

There are many ways to put your education to work, whether you have a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in public health.

What Are Common Public Health Jobs?

There is a wide variety of areas you can work in with a degree in public health, including social and behavioral health, environmental health, maternal and child health, health services administration, epidemiology and biostatistics.

The following are a few examples of positions that may be held by graduates of this program:

  • Environment scientist or engineer
  • WIC nutrition specialist
  • Nurse midwife
  • Government policy analyst
  • Medical and health services manager
  • Epidemiologist
  • Research analyst
  • Biostatistician
  • Social worker
  • Psychologist

Gaining Public Health Experience

Before getting your degree, you may want to gain some firsthand experience in the field and learn more about the different areas and what public health professionals do. The sooner you start building connections and experience, the better your chances of finding a job in your preferred field after graduation. Here are a few ideas to help get you started in your search.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to get started in the public health field. There are many organizations who are looking for dedicated volunteers, including:

  • Health clinics and hospitals: Work on an immunization program, in a reproductive clinic or on a wellness challenge program.
  • Nonprofit organizations: Provide ongoing or disaster-relief services to the public with organizations such as the American Red Cross.
  • Local health department or federal agency: Help provide direct support services to your own community or on a national scale with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Public service organizations: Offer specific services to various communities throughout the United States or the world. Well-known public service organizations that are looking for volunteers are the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America and PATH.

Internships

Internships give you the opportunity to work with public health organizations to gain experience and help advance your career. There are many factors to consider when looking for an internship, including location, services provided, whether the program is open to students and what level of students can apply.

There are many internship opportunities, especially for those with an advanced public health degree. Take the time to review your options as opportunities vary widely. To help ensure you apply for the best internship in your preferred area, schedule a meeting with your university advisor, do some research online and meet with a public health professional where you volunteer.

Short-Term Contracted Positions

If you have already started your career or are interested in gaining knowledge and skills in a specific area within the field, you may want to consider a short-term, contracted position. The CDC, for example, offers unpaid and paid positions that can be two weeks to one year in length, depending on the position.3

These positions work with programs and services in the following areas:

  • E-learning
  • Policy
  • Environmental health
  • Management/leadership
  • Emergency response

Every community needs public health educators to help promote healthy behaviors that prevent disease and reduce healthcare costs. This industry is important because it helps us to live healthier, longer and better-quality lives.

Public health professionals come from a variety of backgrounds and training, but Grand Canyon University’s Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is the flagship degree for those interested in working in this field. To learn more about the College of Nursing and Public Health Professions, click on the Request Info button on this page. 

1 Retrieved from CDC Foundation, What Is Public Health? in June, 2021

2 Retrieved from American Public Health Association (APHA), What Is Public Health? in June, 2021

3 Retrieved from CDC Foundation, Interested in Enhancing Your Public Health Career? in April, 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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