Want to make the world a healthier place? Public health majors do just that, going on to positively impact health on local, national and even global scales. You can count on someone with a public health degree to motivate you to go to the gym while they work to improve the health of global communities. So go learn how to change the world already. The Earth and its people desperately need you.
What You’ll Be Doing
Public health majors find their classes offer a balance between conceptual learning and memorization. You’ll definitely need to break out the flash cards for anatomy class to memorize the ins and outs of the human body. Now get excited for the classes that come after. This major will teach you how health problems affect communities and how to design public policy to combat these problems. At American University, a current public health student serves as a program assistant to the new public health majors, helping them through any struggles they might face in classes or finding an internship. “It has been nice having someone in close proximity who has experienced everything I currently am and who is able to help with most issues I face,” said AU freshman Charin Khan.
The Classes You’ll Take
You’ll need to take an introductory course to the major before saving the world. Intro to public health, for example, shows you potential careers in the health field. Human Health and Disease focuses more specifically on diseases and how they affect the human body. Some required courses include Health Policy and Behavior Change and Multicultural Health. Seeing how they will actually be able to make a difference gets students most excited for their future. Intro to Health Research lets students see how they will be able to apply what they have learned to an internship. “I really enjoyed this course, I learned a handful of skills that have helped me during internships and other research opportunities,” said AU senior Katie Lu Cloughtery.
Internships for This Major
You don’t need to look far to find a place to intern as a public health major. Medical practices and nonprofits offer positions, plus all businesses need people from the health field to incorporate policies into the workplace. Students can seek out internships in local practices, hospitals or federal institutions that reach across borders. Interns get a firsthand look into the operations of a workplace and how healthcare plays a role in a lot of decision making. The three-year public health program at American University incorporates a unique opportunity for students to intern abroad and see firsthand how they can impact global communities. “[I] had an internship at Lea Toto, an HIV clinic in Kangemi, [Kenya]. At my internship I was able to work alongside the social worker participating in home visits. I helped to triage patients and worked with the nutritionist to learn more about the Kenyan health system,” Cloughtery.
Narrow your career focus based on which populations you feel the most compelled to serve. Public health careers vary based on impacting either a local community, or reaching across national borders.
Changing your eating and exercise habits can be pretty difficult. Nutritionists make it easier, working one-on-one with clients to help them improve their daily habits. They create a plan for their client and then motivate them to stick to it.
2. Healthcare Administrator
A lot of people haven’t even heard of this career, but it’s one of the most important careers in the health field. Healthcare administrators are responsible for the business operations of a hospital or medical practice. They create new policies, take care of finances and hire the people that will work in the facility.
After completing an undergrad degree in public health, you can either continue in school to receive an MD or MPH (master’s in public health). “I want to work in a clinic serving homeless LGBTQ+ populations or homeless populations dealing with mental illness. The goal would be to take care of their health care needs,” said AU sophomore Giselle Rodriguez.
Want to become a “disease detective”? Your friends will be really impressed when you tell them you’re studying to be an epidemiologist. Epidemiologists study diseases within specific groups of people. They work to figure out what causes disease outbreaks and what they can do to prevent them from occurring in the future.
5. Environmental scientist
People aren’t the only ones who need healthcare. An environmental scientist develops solutions to public health issues that affect both humans and their surroundings. They work to implement strategies to decrease pollution and waste and increase the health of the environment.
1. “I am happy I joined this program. I have access to so many different opportunities being in D.C. and because the Health Studies Department is incredibly experienced and willing to help. Graduating in three years will give me the chance to gain experience in the work force and put me ahead of my peers.” – Giselle Rodriguez, American University, Class of 2019
2. “The public health scholars program prepared me well to transition to a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health by exposing me to a broad range of disciplines within the field of public health, primarily through experiential learning. The program emphasized engaging with the community, both local in D.C. and global during our time abroad, to understand the public health issues we are facing. Without a doubt, my experiences in the scholars program prepared me quite well for my role at NIH and my future career in the health field.” – Wyatt Bensken, Post-Baccalaureate Fellow at the National Institutes of Health
3. “As a public health major at American, I gained a tool box of skills to build a public health program. I gained exposure to multiple public health programs through internships and guest speakers. This was one of the best assets the program has; internships available to students to partake in hands on learning. These real world experience skills helped set me apart to land my first job.” – Hana Stenson, Health Corps Program Coordinator in Oklahoma