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Public Health Overview

  Public health is an organized effort to protect, promote and restore people’s health by studying the scientific, political, and cultural causes of disease, the medical treatments for diseases and the ways to prevent and treat public health crises around the world. Its mission is to focus on the prevention of illness, disease and healthcare inequalities around the world. An interdisciplinary field, public health includes endemiology, environmental health sciences, health policy and management, and biostatistics, all drawing on a fundamental knowledge of biology and an appreciation of socio-economic and cultural variance of different societies and peoples. A few of the challenges public health professionals face include:

  • Identifying sources of illness in population groups;
  • Controlling disease outbreaks;
  • Evaluating the economic impacts of changing demographics;
  • Developing media campaigns to promote healthy behavior;
  • Writing and lobbying health policy legislation;
  • Researching and promoting public understanding of issues such as childhood nutrition, work-related hypertension, pesticide exposures and other threats to public health.

  The undergraduate program in public health at Johns Hopkins allows students to focus in either natural science, which fulfills requirements for admission to medical school, or social science, which prepares students for careers in health policy, finance, ethics, law, and environmental issues. Both concentrations are designed to provide excellent preparation for graduate programs in public health, but also medical and law school. To accomplish this, all senior public health majors are required to take a full semester’s worth of graduate courses at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, giving students a real-world introduction to study at the graduate level.

  The distinction between public health and clinical health is that where clinical health focuses on the diseases and disorders of the individual by offering diagnosis and treatment, public health focuses on the overall health of populations through prevention and health promotion. As the world’s population grows and challenges arise in prevention and sustainability, public health is emerging as one of the most exciting and influential areas of healthcare and social science.

Public Health Career Options

  The public health profession works to protect the health and welfare of all people by preventing and controlling disease, and this requires the expertise of practitioners across a broad spectrum of disciplines, including medicine, nursing, business, epidemiology, law, biology, economics, nutrition, social work, environmental science, and education.8 An undergraduate degree in public health provides a foundation for a career or advanced study in any of these disciplines, and the field of public health involves the coordination of knowledge and practice within all these disciplines.

  Public health professionals work in a variety of settings including government agencies, community clinics, academic and research institutions, biotechnology firms and non-profit organizations.9 The types of positions in which graduates work vary by discipline, but a few include:

  • Policy advisor – investigates specific public health care issues, provides analysis of alternate points of view and provides policy recommendations to legislators, government agencies, non-profit organizations and academic institutions;
  • Epidemiologist – studies the distribution of diseases, health determinants and disease risk of human populations by testing hypotheses using data garnered from population studies;
  • Behavior scientist – addresses public health issues such as HIV/AIDS, smoking, violence, accidents and substance abuse through research and work in agencies, hospitals and clinics;
  • Public health educator – works to change policies and environments as well as attitudes and behaviors that affect health;
  • Mental health researcher – conducts research on mental health issues aimed at helping other public health professionals understand the structure of communities as an essential precursor to the development and implementation of meaningful public health outreach;
  • Communications specialist – creates strategies for encouraging people to change certain attitudes, beliefs or behaviors so that they adopt better health practices to improve their health;
  • Journalist – acts as an information interpreter and filter to the general public by reporting on health and medical issues via the media;
  • Corporate medical director – monitors the health of workforces so that employees can work effectively and safely;
  • Environmental scientist – works with government agencies, private organizations and community groups to identify and solve health problems by examining the ways in which biological, chemical and physical environmental agents affect human health;
  • Public health attorney – works in the policy, regulation and legislation that govern public health-related issues.

  While this list is by no means inclusive, public health professionals in all areas of the field experience the opportunity and rewards of making a positive and tangible difference in the lives of people throughout the world.

Public Health Career Prep

  Most public health professionals obtain advanced degrees such as a masters or doctorate, while others pursue fields such as medicine and law. In addition to excellent academic credentials, internships in government agencies, non-profit and community based organizations, biotech and pharmaceutical firms, and healthcare consulting firms are recommended to give undergraduates real world experience and an opportunity to explore different areas of specialization. The Public Health program at Hopkins also involves superior opportunities to participate in undergraduate research.

Public Health Alumni

  Hopkins Public Health alumni go into a variety of career fields. Since 2003 the Career Center has surveyed recent graduates about their academic and career plans 6 months after graduation. Here is a summary of their responses.

Hopkins Alumni who majored in Public Health

Hugh Scott II- Science Teacher, Nash Rocky Mount Public Schools (Teach for America), Public Health, Class of 2006

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I always had the goal of teaching at some point in my career. When I came into Hopkins I wanted to be a doctor, as many people do. I thought I would practice medicine for a while, retire and then teach. However, the opportunity arose to teach during my summers at JHU with the Teach Baltimore program. In the program I was able to teach 1st and 3rd grades in a local, public school.
  2. Is your career the same or different from what you had envisioned your career would be when you started at Hopkins as an undergraduate? How is it similar and/or different? - After two years teaching in Baltimore schools for the summer, I was hungry for more opportunities to teach. I applied for the Teach for America program my senior year and was accepted the 1st round. I was placed in Eastern North Carolina and received my training in Atlanta, GA in the summer of 2006. With my public health major, I still have the goal of being a health educator. The great thing about teaching science is I get to teach my students the required information, and I slip in my facts and knowledge about health as well. However, I do plan on going back to graduate school to get my master’s in public health in the future.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - My first job was (and still is) a science teaching position in Nash Central High.
  4. What advice do you have for current Hopkins students in general? - Keep your options open when moving into the career field. Apply early for whatever career you plan on going into.
  5. What advice do you have for a Hopkins student entering your career field / industry? - Keep an open mind when dealing with students; you may not know their background and what they have to struggle through. If you are willing to listen, they will open up to you.
  6. What is your typical day like? - I wake up at 6:00 AM and prepare for my day. I leave for school at 7:10 AM and arrive at 7:15AM. I work in four block-scheduled class periods from 7:45 to 2:45. I also serve lunch duty and bus lot duty during lunch and in the morning respectively. After school, I have students come in for tutoring and makeup work. After leaving the students, I go to coach or assist with a sporting event (soccer, basketball, softball, track, football). After sports (about 7:00), I go home and get something to eat, grade some papers, and go to bed (by 10:30 or 11:00).
  7. What's most rewarding about your industry and / or job? What's most challenging? - My student’s success: if you can see your student’s progress and be thankful for what you have done for them, you’re in the wrong field. The most challenging is managing the student’s respect and trust. Teenagers are very skeptical of new teachers and will test teachers over the course of a semester/year to see if they will bend or break. Once you have survived you have gained some respect.
  8. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - In teaching, there are many lateral entry positions available for people to receive. Lateral entry simply means you didn’t go to school for an education major to teach, but have an adjacent degree to a subject that is taught. In order to be successful, here is the motto for successful teachers: Beg, borrow, and steal resources from fellow teachers, it helps you and it allowed. There is a PRAXIS exam that is usually required in any state you teach. Check with the state you want to teach in as to what scores are required. Also, be expected to take course work to receive your license to continue to teach.

Cecily Naron- Industry: Health Communications, Account Executive, Hager Sharp, Johns Hopkins University, Public Health, Class of 2007, Master’s in Communication, Johns Hopkins University, 2010

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - I came to Hopkins interested in psychology, but wanted to pursue a broader degree. A Public Health major allowed me to study psych and more. After taking a few public health courses, I realized I really enjoyed it. I had always been intrigued by the field of communications, and the intro marketing course at JHU encouraged me to explore it further.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - I had several internships in college that were either primarily public health OR communications/marketing focused. I wanted something that truly combined the two (by marketing health), but wasn't sure where to find it. Without a clear job path, I went straight to grad school. It was there that I learned about the wide field of health communications and met a classmate who led me to my current job.
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - I started at my current company as a Fellow during the last semester of grad school. I was hired as a full employee five months into the six-month fellowship.
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Start interning and going on informational interviews as soon as possible--the earlier you learn what you don't want to do, the earlier you learn what you do want to do. If you can get by with four classes a semester plus an internship (for course credit), do it.
  5. What is your typical day like? - I work on developing and promoting government funded public health campaigns. Currently, I focus on an osteoporosis prevention campaign for tween girls. My specific roles include partnership development, developing the parents' campaign component, and exhibit manager. Today, I'll connect with partners (organizations who fit with our mission) to discuss ways to cross promote, work on developing strategy and timeline for creating parent materials, and figure out logistics for upcoming exhibits attended by campaign team members.
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - I feel good about what I'm doing. I'm not selling anything but health, and we receive very positive feedback from those in the community who have seen the campaign and used its materials. One challenge is that we probably have more restrictions on what we are able to do than we would if we were working for a private company.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - The entry-level position would be an Account Assistant. Like any job, it's important to work well in a team and alone, volunteer for opportunities, keep track of schedules/deadline, and be passionate about the work.
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - Getting bigger. There will always be public health issues, and there will hopefully always be work done to reduce them. Plus, corporate social responsibility is becoming of big interest to corporations.
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences (i.e. internships, co-curricular activities, volunteering, etc.) are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Good language skills are vital. You need to be able get a point across clearly and concisely both in writing and verbally. Internships at communications firms that work with diverse clients and topics are ideal.
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - One could move up in his or her company, to another firm, or even to the client side. There is a lot of reshuffling in this field--why it's important to maintain relationships.
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - I'm not in any, but I imagine PRSA and APHA would be helpful. JHU career services could be helpful too.
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - If you don't want to work at a communications firm, look into whether specific companies/government agencies have in-house communication/marketing departments. You could also look into consulting.

Herb Dorsey- Retired, US Public Health Service FDA, General Engineering, Public Health, Class of 1962, Master’s in Systems Mgt, 1971 George Washington University

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Started as chem e ,then civil, then operations research due to poor grades in first two but also summer industrial eng and it summer internships.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Ibm jr-sr summer, then US Navy then Bell System then consulting then GWU Med Center IT manager then USPHS commission
  3. What was your first job after college? Was it in your current field? - US Navy Supply Corps: closer to IT mgt than first glance since lots of personnel management (40 bodies) and contracts (>$50M)
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Get a summer job that is not in a JHU lab. Real world work on a team is invaluable. Apply in DEC of sophomore year for USPHS COSTEP summer Program
  5. What is your typical day like? - Now I play tennis and volunteer. When I worked : 10% personnel mgt, 25% strategic planning; 25% trouble shooting; 25% contract management; 15% idle time ("social networking, PT, "mental health, trip planning, etc)
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - It's always rewarding to accomplish a goal and even know you are progressing. If goal is a big public health benefit, all the better. Most challenging is priority changes from on high and contractor management.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Entry level is at best team leader of 3-5 people. Try consulting first, lots of responsibility and exposure and chance to take risks. Success is reward for hard work AND team play
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - IT and public health both expanding
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Summer internships a must (see above) lots of campus clubs (EWB, Baja, etc. offer lots of management/leadership experience
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - 2: Team leader (3-5 people) 5: Branch (15-20) 10: Division (50-100)
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Look outside JHU if there is no professional org w/ a student chapter since all have national student memberships and often big city chapters. Ask dean for recommendations
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Take a Bloomberg School of Public health course or two

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    For more information on what you can do with a Public Health Major go to What can I do with a major in Public Health.

    Want to know more? Read our Hopkins Career Profiles on Public Health, Medicine, and Pharmaceuticals. If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

  LinkedIn.com - a professional networking site where you can identify Hopkins alumni. Join the LinkedIn Johns Hopkins University Alumni Group to add over 4000+ alumni to your network.

Public Health Grad School

  The Career Center is here to help you navigate the graduate school search process. Click here for guidelines and preparing for Graduate School and Professional School.

  For information on the specific programs, the best people to talk to are the experts in your field you wish to study, faculty members and graduate students in that specific discipline. We strongly encourage you to talk with your advisor and other faculty members with whom you have a good working relationship. This will also help when you request letters of recommendation. The Career Center has a handout to guide you in asking for letters of recommendation.

Public Health Societies

  Given the dynamic and interdisciplinary nature of public health, there are countless organizations devoted to furthering its work and fostering connections among those who work in it. Among the larger organizations are the American Public Health Association and the Public Health Foundation (PHF).

  The American Public Health Association is the oldest, largest and most diverse organization of public health professionals brings together researchers, health service providers, administrators, teachers, and other health workers in a unique, multidisciplinary environment. The organization strives to protect American communities from preventable health threats and to ensure that preventive health services are universally accessible in the United States.

  The Public Health Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to achieving healthy communities through research, training and technical assistance, and to helping health agencies and community health organizations connect and more effectively use their resources.

Public Health Links