Is there a difference between public health and community health?

The term "public health" and "community health" are often used interchangeably and tend to go hand in hand.  Public health often looks at the "big picture" and society as a whole, while community health tends to look at a particular population or community and targets a program or intervention to meet their specific needs. However, the goals are nearly identical: to prevent disease, illness and injury while improving quality of life.

Why pursue a career in public health?

  • Public health is an exciting and growing field of study. The field challenges its professionals to confront complex health issues, such as improving access to health care, controlling infectious disease, and reducing environmental hazards, violence, substance abuse, and injury.
  • Public health is a diverse and dynamic field. Public Health professionals come from varying educational backgroundsand can specialize in an array of fields. A host of specialists, including teachers, journalists, researchers, administrators, environmentalists, demographers, social workers, laboratory scientists, and attorneys, work to protect the health of the public.
  • Public health is a field geared toward serving others. Public health professionals serve local, national, and international communities. They are leaders who meet the many exciting challenges in protecting the public's health today and in the future.
  • Public health is a rewarding field. The field of public health offers great personal fulfillment - working towards improving people's health and well-being is a rewarding day's work.

Who should consider a degree in public health?

Public health is a field that offers an abundance of job opportunities to suit a variety of interests and skills. Whether you are more interested in crunching numbers, conducting research, or working with people, there is a place for you in the field of public health. Public health is ideal for those that gain satisfaction knowing that they are working to improve the lives of others.

What kinds of jobs can I get with a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health?

Entry-level jobs with the words “assistant” or “associate” in the title seem to be typical. Locations are varied, including government, nonprofits, consulting, and advocacy organizations. Here are where some recent UMD Community Health undergraduates have found jobs post-graduation:

  • FDA—Center for Health and Radiological Devices
  • National Library of Medicine
  • Lupus Foundation of America
  • Anne Arundel Department of Health
  • Casa de Maryland
  • Capital Breast Care Center—Georgetown University
  • ESAC, Inc.
  • IRD—International Relief and Development
  • IQ Solutions 

Here are some general examples of what graduates who majored in public health are doing:

  • Serving as a program assistant with an international health organization
  • Carrying out health-related assessments at construction sites
  • Working as a research assistant with a nonprofit organization
  • Doing consulting work related to disease prevention
  • Working at a company that does health communication and health marketing
  • Conducting air quality sampling and surveying
  • Responding to calls at a West Nile virus hotline
  • Serving in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps
  • Participating in a CDC training fellowship

There are also many students who go straight on to medical school, pharmacy school, or other graduate programs.  Often, entry-level jobs don’t specifically require a public health degree. But as one program director pointed out, the public health major gives you a unique knowledge base—and that could be an advantage.

Public Health Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor (2010), jobs in the field are expected to grow by 37% between 2010 and 2020.  The median salary of a community health practitioner is $45,830. The average starting salary can range between $26,000 to $38,000, with those holding a Bachelor’s degree on the lower end of the spectrum and those with a Master’s degree toward the higher end.  Internship, job, and volunteer experience also factor into one’s starting salary, with employers preferring to hire someone with previous experience.

What are some of the areas of public health that I could pursue?

The following are a list of different areas of public health that are of interest to many Community Health majors. Note that while many have entry-level availability, some of these areas may require a more advanced degree, such as a Masters in Public Health (MPH). 

Behavioral Science / Health Education

Stopping the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and HIV/AIDS; helping youth recognize the dangers of binge drinking; and promoting seatbelt use. Behavioral Science/Health Education focuses on ways that encourage people to make healthy choices. This includes the development of community-wide education programs that range from promoting healthy lifestyles in order to prevent disease and injury, to researching complex health issues.Specialists encourage people to make healthy choices and develop educational programs that promote healthy lifestyles and prevent disease and injury. They also promote more efficient uses of health services, adopt self-care practices, and participate actively in the design and implementation of health programs. Some examples of concentrations include mental health, aging, health promotion and disease prevention, public health practice, health education and behavior change, disability and health, and social research.

Biostatistics

This involves the application of statistics to analyze a variety of public health and biological related topics. Estimating the number of deaths from gun violence or looking at trends in drunk driving injuries by using math and science are examples of the study of biostatistics. Using biostatistics, one can identify health trends that lead to life-saving measures through the application of statistical procedures, techniques, and methodology. Forecasting scenarios, identifying health trends within the community, explaining biological phenomena, as well as determining the causes of disease and injury, biostatistics are an integral part of public health. Biostatistics are often utilized in tandem with epidemiology.

Emergency Medical Services

Ensuring that communities have trained emergency medical responders always available to respond to emergencies.  Emergency Medical Services focuses on ensuring a functioning emergency care system.  This includes licensing paramedics and emergency medical technicians, approving the training curriculum and licensing EMS instructors, ensuring ambulances are safe and well-equipped, and ensuring that every community has access to emergency care-from first responders through to a sophisticated trauma center.

Environmental Health

The air we breathe; the water we drink; the complex interactions between human genetics and our surroundings. How do the built and natural environments influence our health and how can we reduce risk factors? These environmental risk factors can cause diseases such as asthma, cancer, and food poisoning. Specialists from chemistry, toxicology, engineering, and other disciplines combine their expertise to answer these important questions. Environmental health studies the impact of our surroundings on our health.

Epidemiology

When food poisoning or an influenza outbreak attacks a community, the "disease detectives" or epidemiologists are asked to investigate the cause of disease and control its spread. Epidemiologists do fieldwork to determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are, who is at risk, and how to prevent further incidences. They spot and understand the demographic and social trends that influence disease and injury and evaluate new treatments. The initial discovery and containment of an outbreak, such as West Nile virus, often comes from epidemiologists. Some of the most important health-related discoveries in history are associated with epidemiology including the landmark 1964 Surgeon General's report on smoking tobacco stating its harmful effects. Biostatistics are often used in tandem with epidemiology.

Health Services Administration/Management

Managing the database at a school clinic; developing budgets for a health department; creating polices for health insurance companies; and directing hospital services all depend on health administrators. The field of health services administration combines politics, business, and science in managing the human and fiscal resources needed to deliver effective public health services. Specialization can be in planning, organization, policy formulation and analysis, finance, economics, or marketing.

Global Health

Addressing health concerns from a global perspective and encompassing all areas of public health (e.g., biostatistics, epidemiology, nutrition, maternal and child health, etc.). International health professionals address health concerns among different cultures in countries worldwide.  Globalization has linked our health more closely to one another than ever before. The rapid movement of people and food across borders means that a disease can travel from a remote village to an urban hub at breakneck speed. Global public health meets the rising health challenges that transcend national boundaries. This international field encompasses virtually all specializations in public health.

Maternal and Child Health

Professionals in maternal and child health improve the public health delivery systems specifically for women, children, and their families through advocacy, education, and research. Providing information and access to birth control; promoting the health of a pregnant woman and an unborn child; and dispensing vaccinations to children are part of maternal and child health.

Nutrition

Promoting healthy eating and regular exercise; researching the effect of diet on the elderly; teaching the dangers of overeating and over dieting are the responsibility of public health nutritionists. In short supply in both public and private sectors, this field examines how food and nutrients affect the wellness and lifestyle of population. Nutrition encompasses the combination of education and science to promote health and disease prevention.

Public Health Laboratory Practice

Public health laboratory professionals such as bacteriologists, microbiologists, and biochemists test biological and environmental samples in order to diagnose, prevent, treat, and control infectious diseases in communities. In order to ensure the safety of our food and water, to screen for the presence of certain diseases within communities, and to respond to public health emergencies, such as bioterrorism, public health laboratory practice is essential.

Public Health Policy

Analyzing the impact of seat belt laws on traffic deaths; monitoring legislative activity on a bill that limits malpractice settlements; advocating for funding for a teen anti-smoking campaign. Professionals in public health policy work to improve the public's health through legislative action at the local, state, and federal levels.

Public Health Practice

Public health is an interdisciplinary field and professionals in many disciplines such as nursing, medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy routinely deal with public health issues. A degree in public health practice enables clinicians to apply public health principles to improve their practice.

Adapted from: American Public Health Association & Association of Schools of Public Health