Why study public health?

As we’ve learnt with Covid-19, public health policy is incredibly important and has far-reaching consequences for society. Public health workers focus on disease prevention and improving the health and life expectancy of people and communities.

There is a wide range of public health functions and public health workers can specialise in one of many different public health disciplines.

Public health bridges work done in hospitals and medical labs and the wider communities they provide for. Some public health workers work more on the medical side, for example, to find a cure for a disease. Other public health workers operate more on the community side by, for example, carrying out public service campaigns to encourage better hygiene.

A bachelor’s degree in public health will equip graduates with the skills they need to begin their career. A master’s degree in public health is for those who’ve already worked in the field and are looking to advance their career.

Studying a public health course to earn a degree in public health will give you an in-depth understanding of public health principles and the many ways these can be applied in society. There’s growing demand globally for skilled public health workers across government, private business and non-profit organisations.

Public health workers and experts have been behind much of what we’ve experienced recently with the Covid-19 pandemic. It was public health workers who helped form national health policies and laws in each country. They assisted in developing and testing vaccines and are now ensuring these roll out efficiently to the public.

Public health workers also work on a smaller scale, such as managing the implementation of new health and safety requirements at businesses and public places such as hospitals or airports.

Public health degree disciplines and functions

There are five main areas in the field of public health. Public health workers can specialise in biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health policy management or social and behavioural sciences. Qualified public health workers have many different work opportunities, but these core public health disciplines cover the most common areas of public health work.

Biostatistics deals with the statistical side of public health. Biostatisticians are responsible for setting up and analysing health-related surveys, testing and experiments. They gather and make sense of data to improve health.

Environmental health sciences look at factors in the environment that affect community health. These can be biological, physical or chemical factors. Public health workers working in this field might, for example, study the health of a community living near an air-polluting power station or where drinking water may have been contaminated by industry.

Epidemiology deals with the causes and spread of diseases and other issues affecting health within the population. Epidemiologists work out how diseases spread within communities and identify factors that increase or reduce the risk of spread.

Health policy management builds on the work of the above public health disciplines, using the information to create and manage policies to improve public health. This field focuses more on management and administration and examples include those managing hospitals, larger healthcare networks and even national health regulations and programmes.

Lastly, those specialising in the social and behavioural science side of public health deal with how individuals and communities adopt and adapt to public health policy. They deal with public service campaigns and education. They also look at things like cultural barriers or misconceptions that prevent people from changing their behaviour.

Bachelor’s degree vs master’s degree

A bachelor’s degree in public health will qualify you for entry-level work to carry out public health functions. An online public health course will equip students with the skills they need to become community health workers or health educators.

A bachelor’s degree in public health is a good starting point to enter the field, obtain some valuable work experience and determine what field you would like to specialise in should you choose to further your studies with a masters degree in public health.

Due to the high level of responsibility that senior public health workers carry, as well as the education required, a master’s degree is recommended for those wanting to go far in their career.

A master’s degree in public health prepares students for leadership positions in community and government healthcare or non-profit organisations. If you want to carry out scientific, medical or statistical research, then a master’s degree is preferred. A master’s degree is also needed to become an epidemiologist, advanced health educator or health survey researcher.

Distance learning public health courses

UPOnline’s public health distance learning courses allow you to study without taking a break from your career. Through distance and online learning you can complete the course in your own free time, in the evenings or on weekends.

Unlike with traditional contact learning models, you can start at different times of the year. Rather than just one starting date at the beginning of the year, UPOnline’s online programmes have six different starting dates.

Students can do their distance learning public health course at the same pace as traditional full-time degrees or at a slower part-time pace.

Students enrol for one module at a time, each taking either seven or 14 weeks. This gives even greater flexibility to adjust should unexpected changes in your life leave you with more or less time.

While the course is much more flexible than old-fashioned full-time studies, the amount of work covered in these distance learning public health courses is the same. Prospective students should not fool themselves. The flexibility of UPOnline’s online public health programmes does not mean they are easier or less valuable.

Becoming an experienced public health worker

As shown, there are many different public health disciplines and qualified public health workers have a wide range of areas to choose from. By studying online you can gain work experience at the same time as you complete your qualification.

Bachelor’s degree students can find internships or lower-level jobs while they study. This also allows experiencing the workplace firsthand and help you to decide which areas you might want to specialise in earlier.

To study UPOnline’s Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health, you need to have already worked in the field for a few years or have already studied at an honours level. Completing a postgraduate qualification in public health will open up higher-level leadership opportunities or areas of advanced specialisation.

Whether a graduate or postgraduate, UPOnline’s public health programmes will open you up to a world of work opportunities.