What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Public Health?

February 10, 2021

Public health is the study of the measures that can be taken to ensure the health and wellbeing of people in a given population. It focuses on promoting certain conditions within a society—big or small—that result in positive health outcomes for all.

Public health covers everything surrounding the health and safety of society, from the quality of the air and water to the response against infectious and chronic diseases. Public health officials work to implement policy, programs, and research to achieve wellness goals within their focus communities.

For those interested in pursuing a career in the field of public health, many will choose to enroll in a master’s in public health (MPH) program to boost their skills and give them hands-on experience working alongside epidemiologists, climate scientists, biostatisticians, health policy experts, researchers and more. 

What is a Master's in Public Health?

A Master’s in Public Health, or MPH, is a graduate-level degree program that emphasizes the practical aspects of public health. It aims to teach its students about the steps necessary to improve and protect the health of societies on both global and local scales. The innovative structure of the two-year Columbia Master of Public Health (MPH) program integrates seven different components to ensure that learning in one part of the program informs activities and assignments in other parts of the program.

Master’s students in public health often study a wide range of focus areas, including:

•    foundations of public health
•    research methods and applications
•    social determinants of health
•    public health interventions
•    global and developmental perspectives
•    health systems, policies, and administration 
•    maternal and child health
•    environmental health
•    community-based health
•    chronic and infectious disease
•    minority health and disparities
•    population science

These courses tend to be cumulative, building on each other to provide a holistic and solid foundation of knowledge required for an advanced career in public health.

What Can You Do with a Master's Degree in Public Health?

As a result of the broad scope of the field, Public health graduates enter the workforce with a wide variety of career options. A master’s degree opens the door for higher-level job opportunities beyond the entry-level positions available to undergrads. 

Here are a few fields and career paths that you can pursue with a master’s degree in public health.

•    Biostatistics. The study of theories and techniques for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting quantitative data relevant to public health issues. 

As an MPH graduate, you can choose to pursue a career in biostatics, especially if you are drawn to the more quantitative side of public health. As a professional in this field, your main job is to interpret and disseminate findings in accessible ways, both to public health professionals and the world at large.

•    Environmental Health SciencesStudy of assessment, control, and prevention of factors in the environment that can adversely affect the health of present and future generations.

Environmental health science experts have extensive knowledge in areas such as biology mechanisms, data analysis, risk assessment, environmental health, epidemiology, and policy. They identify environmental and occupational hazards, working to ensure a safe environment for the public.

•    EpidemiologyApplication of the scientific method to the study of disease in populations for the purpose of prevention and control.

A career in epidemiology as a public health practitioner involves researching the causes, prevention, and control of human disease. Professionals in this field discuss current issues in epidemiological research and apply principles to prevent disease within populations.

•    Health Policy and Management. Blends research and education on the development, implementation, and evaluation of health policies and the administrative functioning of health systems and organizations.

Health policy and management works with the evaluation of current health policies in a community. It works to optimize health system functions and administration to better serve their local populations. Individuals in this sector may specialize in management, health policy, global health, and comparative research.

•    Population and Family HealthStudy of the science of demography and health implications of major population issues, including population size, composition, distribution, and change.

The field of population and family health uses global health policy and practice to improve health systems and health outcomes for populations in low-income, unstable, or inequitable environments worldwide. As a public health expert in this sector, you must understand the complex factors that impact local and global health. Specific job roles include practitioners, researchers, evaluators, and policy advocates.

•    Sociomedical Sciences. The focus on the social determinants of disease and health and the examination of the correlation between trends in health and its social causes, including social inequality and structural inequities.

Sociomedical Sciences, as a career, cuts across various disciplines such as sociology, economics, psychology, anthropology, history, ethics, and contemporary public health issues. Generally, sociomedical science involves an expansive array of issues like sexuality, health education and promotion, HIV/AIDS, aging, drug use, immigrant health, urban health, and healthcare access.

Master’s in Public Health Degree Programs

If you are interested in a public health career, you may be searching for master’s programs or specifically a master's degree in public health online programs. MPH degrees are typically 1-3 year programs and offered in a variety of formats.

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) works to accredit and recognize schools that offer high-quality public health programs. Enrolling in an accredited program can ensure ample post-graduate opportunities and eligibility for any certifying exams, such as the Certified Public Health exam.

The Columbia Mailman School of Public Health is an accredited school in public health studies, offering both two-year and accelerated MPH programs.

The Mailman School of Public Health's breakthrough MPH curriculum sets a new standard for public health education. Graduates leave with a broad systemic understanding of public health issues, critical thinking skills, and the leadership training needed to tackle today’s complex public health challenges.


Learn more information about Columbia’s master's degree in public health (MPH). For any admissions, enrollment, or program-related questions, contact us directly.