Graduate Study in Public Health


The mission of public health workers is to promote physical and mental health and to prevent disease, injury and disability among communities and populations. Public health professionals focus on communities rather than individuals. Public health is an interdisciplinary field that emphasizes a proactive, preventative approach to sustaining healthy communities.

Because the field of public health encompasses such a range of services and responsibilities, graduate schools of public health are interested in applicants with a variety of undergraduate majors. Almost any undergraduate course of study will prepare you to enter at least one of the public health specialties. Though not a prerequisite, it is useful to take a course in statistics prior to starting a graduate program in public health because you will be required to take graduate level statistics courses as part of a public health curriculum.

The core areas in public health study are*:

Behavioral Science/Health Education: the development of methods, skills and program strategies to help people maintain healthier lifestyles; the design and implementation of programs that affect health.

Biostatistics: the application of statistical procedures, techniques, and methodology to characterize or investigate health problems.

Emergency Medical Services: the administration of emergency response procedures including training, licensing, quality control, access, research, or disaster preparedness.

Environmental Health: the assessment of the impact of environmental factors on community health.

Epidemiology: the systematic study of the distribution and determination of disease or disability in population groups.

Health Services Administration/Management: the application of business, policy, and science to manage resources and the delivery of public health services.

International/Global Health: the effort to improve health standards in developing countries using the skills and techniques of all public health specialties.

Maternal and Child Health: the integration of many fields in public health to focus on the needs of women and children.

Nutrition: the study of the interaction between nutrients, nutrition and health and the application of sound nutritional principles to maintain good health.

Public Health Laboratory Practice: the application of basic science and laboratory research to help with the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases in communities.

Public Health Policy: the effort to effect legislation about public health issues from local governments to international policy making organizations.

*The above summaries are adapted from www.whatispublichealth.org , an informative web site about graduate education and careers in the public health professions developed by the Association of Schools of Public Health. This web site is a comprehensive resource of information and a great place to start your exploration of the field of public health.

Public health professionals generally complete a master’s degree, which takes two years of graduate study. The Master of Public Health (MPH) is an interdisciplinary degree that includes courses from health administration, epidemiology, environmental health, and behavioral health. There are also other graduate degrees with a specific focus in individual fields of public health, such as Master of Health Services Administration or a Master of Science in Epidemiology. Applicants to graduate programs in public health take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) and (for most schools) apply through a centralized web based application service known as SOPHAS. 

Many MPH programs will not accept students into their graduate programs without prior work experience. Some programs will accept applications from college seniors who have acquired significant experience through summer internships whereas other schools require that applicants work after graduating from college before applying. There are many opportunities through Bryn Mawr to gain experience in public health positions. Some courses have an experiential learning component such as a field placement or internship. The Civic Engagement Office and the Katherine Houghton Hepburn Center also sponsor service programs and internships related to the field of public health.

If you are interested in public health, please consider joining the public health focus group. There are often postbac premedical students in the focus group who have an MPH or significant work experience in the field of public health. Check out the Prehealth Student Organizations section of this web site to get more information about joining the public health focus group, which is an informal student club devoted to exploring the field of public health.

Be sure to attend some of the public health panels and programs that are held on campus. Each year there are information sessions given by admissions officers from schools of public health, and there are seminars given by public health professionals about their work.