Those in public health careers—many of whom are backed by a public health degree—work tirelessly around the globe, helping ensure we have cleaner water to drink, more nutritious food to eat, higher-quality air to breathe, and access to a broad range of services to promote human health, from vaccines and doctors to public parks.
But what is public health exactly? Why is it important? And if you’re interested in going to school to enter the field, what can you do with a public health degree? From the definition of public health to public health jobs, we cover everything you need know about this burgeoning field.
What is public health?
When we think about the word “health,” we typically associate it with medical matters, so the definition of public health can seem a little confusing. Unlike the practice of medicine in clinical settings—like a doctor’s office or hospital—public health is not a one-on-one discipline, nor do those in the field practice medicine.
Instead, public health focuses on improving and protecting community health and well-being, with an emphasis on prevention among large groups of people. Those with public health degrees keep communities healthy through child wellness, disease prevention, education, disaster relief, clean water, access to healthcare, and much more.
Why is public health important?
Most of us rarely think about these roles until a crisis, such as a devastating hurricane, captures our attention. But public health officials—many of whom may hold public health degrees—work on a daily basis to keep people healthy and safe, locally and around the world, by preventing disease and injury.
Public health initiatives such as vaccinations, family planning, motor vehicle safety laws, and clean air and water policies have increased life expectancy in the U.S. by nearly 30 years.*