Posted September 26, 2012 by

Public Health Graduate Programs: More than Just Nursing

Wheelchairs circling the words "health care"When you think of public health, what immediately comes to mind? Groups of traveling nurses vaccinating small children against devastating diseases, or scientists in laboratories looking at virus outbreaks, trying to figure out ways to quell the spread of disease and the best treatments? Or maybe it’s the campaigns you see in the media, designed to get people to stop smoking, start exercising or engage in a certain behavior, such as breastfeeding or hand-washing?

If you came up with any of these, you’re certainly correct, but public health is so much more than direct patient care and research. And if you’re considering an online master’s in public health, you might be surprised to discover that you have dozens of career options after graduation – and some might surprise you.

Disaster Management

When a major disaster strikes, it’s not just property that’s at risk. There are some major public health concerns that come along with any storm, act of terrorism or other disaster. For example, when a hurricane hits a major city, and services such as clean water and sanitation are disrupted, it’s up to public health officials to assess the risk and communicate solutions to prevent the spread of disease. Another important part of this field is preparation. All communities need to be prepared in the event of an emergency or disaster, and public health professionals work with other service providers, such as local hospitals, police, fire and public works to develop disaster management plans and prepare for potential problems.

Health Communication

Nearly every hospital, healthcare system, government agency, university and municipality in the country has a communications department with the sole purpose of providing information to the community. Whether it’s explaining the results of a new research project or announcing an upcoming event, health communication is important – and with the knowledge you gain in your classes , you can serve in the important role of sharing information.

Many health communication professionals work closely with public health educators to develop materials and messages that are appropriate for the audience. A solid understanding of the principles of communication, as well as marketing, is important for this role, so it’s not uncommon for health communication programs to be closely associated with business administration programs and courses.

Healthcare Administration

Another public health specialization that’s closely associated with business is healthcare administration. Healthcare organizations and programs don’t run themselves, and require knowledgeable individuals who can manage the finances, human resources and strategic planning aspects of public health. Programs in this area focus on the management aspects of public health, rather than the practical, science-based aspects.

Global Health

While many public health programs operate on a local level, international health is of a great concern as well. Programs that deal with global health help students build the analytical and methodological skills they need to assess, design and implement public health programs internationally. For example, students in this concentration area will develop strategies for public health education in the context of the political and cultural norms of a foreign country, as well as building professional networks, handling crises and managing infectious diseases. If you plan to work for a relief agency such as the Red Cross, a non-governmental organization, or any other research or academic institutions, a background in global health is important.

Public Health Law

A small, but growing specialization is the area of public health law. As the healthcare environment grows and changes, it’s inevitable that there will be questions as to the legality and ethics of public health programs and initiatives. Although most current programs are designed for those who already hold law degrees or practice law, there are a growing number of programs that combine a law degree with the study of public health. With experience and knowledge in public health laws and ethics, you can not only work as an attorney, but also in a consultant or researcher role for a healthcare organization or law firm.

Of course, when you choose to study public health, taking a more practical or scientific route is always an option. If you aren’t interested in those areas though, but have a passion for public health consider one of these areas of concentration. You’re bound to have an exciting and fulfilling career making a difference in the lives of others.

Megan Brooks recently earned her master’s in public health with a concentration in global health. She works for a NGO developing vaccination education programs.

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