Description: ‘Public Health’ is defined by the CDC as the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention, and detection and control of infectious diseases. Public health is a broad field that encompasses biostatistics and health informatics, community health, epidemiology, environmental health, global health, policy and health management, health communications and public relations, and the application of these fields to various subpopulations. Intersections of relevant disciplines create unique niches, for example disaster epidemiology and pharmacoeconomics. Settings for those working in public health are government (city, state, national, and international), nonprofits, and the private sector (health care institutions, consulting groups, pharmaceuticals, and insurance companies).
Advantage of an advanced degree: A PhD in biostatistics or epidemiology pays immediate dividends, as these disciplines are the engines of many public health enterprises. A PhD that utilizes computational skills in relation large-scale data has emerged as well to be highly valuable. But an MD or a PhD in most biomedical disciplines connotes a sophisticated understanding of mechanisms of disease, diagnostics, and therapeutics, which is a distinct advantage in virtually all public health careers. Training in biomedical research can be especially powerful if coupled with specialized training in public health, for example through certificate or masters programs. The acquisition of an MD or PhD is also a testament to a variety of non-bench skills and traits that are attractive in public health concerns. Government agencies in particular employ MDs and PhDs for basic, translational, and clinical research. This is discussed under ‘Research’ within the BGS career development website.
Key competencies: Training in biostatistics, epidemiology, and computation, as noted above, is key to a variety of positions within public health. An understanding of disease mechanisms, diagnostics and therapeutics is important as well. Certain areas of public health require specialized forms of expertise that may or may not relate to training in the biomedical sciences, for example economics, engineering, environmental sciences, and sociology.
On-campus student organizations: Searching ‘health’ on Groups Online@Penn pulls up a number of organizations whose interests relate or center on public health. The Penn Science Diplomacy Group and Penn Science Policy Group may be especially relevant.
First steps: Penn’s Center for Public Health Initiatives (CPHI) can provide a wealth of information (note also its seminar series). CPHI sponsors both certificate and masters programs in public health. For those interested in public health in relation to the environment and/or toxicology, Penn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET) is a good source of information. CEET provides a certificate program in environmental health sciences.
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Additional resources: None