How to Choose a Concentration in a Masters in Public Health Program

BY Peter Olsen PhillipsApril 27, 2022, 1:41 p.m.

Tulane students spend Friday nights socializing on the banks of the Mississippi, as seen in March 2022 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein—Corbis/Getty Images)

Tulane University students spend a Friday night in March 2022 socializing on the banks of the Mississippi in New Orleans. (Andrew Lichtenstein—Corbis/Getty Images)

Public health officials must deal with a complex array of conditions spanning behavioral, environmental, and social categories, among others. And just as the factors that affect the health of a community vary widely, so do the specializations available to students in online master’s programs in public health.

There are 48 distinct areas of study, according to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, ranging from aging to epidemiology to tropical medicine. And work on these tracks is taking place in an equally diverse range of settings, whether in school districts, large corporations, hospitals or public health districts.

The wide range of concentrations means that students need to think carefully about which area of ​​population health they are most passionate about and what type of workplace they see themselves in. These considerations are especially important for a degree that emphasizes applied learning and engagement with people. they will serve.

“Know that this is a practitioner’s degree,” says Catherine Gihlstorf, associate director of online programs at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, noting that good MPH programs give priority to practical experience. “Part of our accreditation requirement is an internship of over 200 hours, so it’s really about learning and applying in practice.”

MPH concentrations offer different perspectives on public health

All MPH programs that are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) must ensure that students master the core skills of the field, which include epidemiological methods and an understanding of health systems, as well as structural and social inequalities. This knowledge ensures that public health practitioners from all disciplines speak a common language, as different types of public health practitioners will often work on different aspects of the same problem, and sometimes in concert.

Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine offers online master’s degrees in public health in the areas of community health sciences, disaster management, health management and occupational safety and health and the environment.

People from different public health specializations often work in tandem, as illustrated by Alicia Battle, the institution’s associate dean of online programs, with an example from the 2019 collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel, then under construction in downtown New Orleans.

“There were professionals and environmental specialists who were evaluating [the collapse] because it’s outside the workplace,” Battle explains. “Then you had some of the people in charge of labor management and safety; their objective was: “How do we determine whether the specifications were safe or not for the workers who worked in the building? The other people were talking about the safety of people walking around the building.

The building collapse is just one example of the need for a wide range of public health professionals in times of crisis. “I tell my students all the time that public health done well is a team sport,” Battle says.

There is also a great need for public health specialists in disaster management, whether these disasters are natural or man-made. Battle says a coal mine collapse is another relevant example of the role public health experts are playing in the questions raised afterwards: “How do you make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future? ? What happens to the peripheral community? What structures, programs and policies do we need to put in place to keep it safe? »

At the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, online MPH degrees are offered in epidemiology, nutrition, a combined nutrition and dietetics program, and leadership.

“Leadership is a bit broader than other concentrations because you can apply these leadership skills in a political setting, in a public health setting, in a nonprofit setting, in a government setting — in different ways” , explains Gihlstorf.

Meanwhile, the nutrition concentration prepares students to promote knowledge of and access to healthy diets through a variety of different employment opportunities. For example, some MPH graduates may go on to work in a WIC program (a special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children) or a SNAP program (supplemental nutrition assistance program), notes Gihlstorf. “They can work with schools to promote nutritious and healthy eating. [They could be] nutrition coaches; they can work in government to develop policies around food access, food availability, food deserts, things like that.

For MPH students seeking a wide range of practice settings, community health (also called population health or community health science) tends to be the broadest MPH concentration. This concentration prepares students to monitor and diagnose health issues and engage communities to ensure effective programmatic responses, which can take place in a variety of different workplaces.

“I have to say in the future [students] come into my program all the time you can’t Google what we do,” Battle says.

A community health specialist typically works in one of six major practice areas. In addition to the areas we may traditionally associate with public health workers, such as governments and international organizations, community health scientists also find roles in K-12 education systems, hospitals, and other settings. clinics, businesses, colleges and universities.

“It’s us who bring the school nurses together, who have to make sure that the environment — and it’s the physical environment and the social environment of the children — is safe,” says Battle, whose own professional training is in community health. science.

Community health also applies to workforce communities.

“Corporations and big corporations – most of them have chronic workplace wellness plans, right?” Battle points. “We’re the people who send those love notes saying, ‘Hey, join the gym,’ or, ‘You’ll get a deal on your health insurance if you quit smoking.'” Smoking Cessation Execution [program]yoga classes – these are community health scientists.

How MPH Levels Will Affect Daily Work

Above all, master’s degrees in public health place great emphasis on real-life implementation.

“I’ve spoken to a number of students who said, ‘Oh, I’m so excited. I want to be an epidemiologist. I want to do research. I say, ‘That’s fantastic. We have an MS program that is ideal for you, or a Ph.D. program,” says Gihlstorf. “If you want to be a practicing applied epidemiologist, then MPH is the way to go.”

In addition to understanding the different prerequisites and practice settings of different public health tracks, it may be helpful for candidates who are stuck on the fence to think about the locale, work life, and deliverables of a concentration. given.

When discussing options with students, Battle encourages them to imagine their lives five years from now, including whether they live in a city, suburb or rural area. “If you know you don’t like wearing a suit to work, there are certain types of healthcare fields that you’re just not going to be suited for,” she says. “Ultimately, what legacy are you looking to leave? When students begin to answer these questions for themselves, then they can begin to gravitate towards what they would like to do in public health.

See how the schools you are considering fared Fortune’s ranking of the best master’s programs in public health, business analytics programs, data science programs and part-time, executive, full-time and online MBA programs.

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