Seven Areas Of Specialization In Public Health Degrees
Similar to the medical field, public health caters to the well-being and health of populations. But rather than the therapeutic procedures and practices, public health education focuses on preventive measures and preparedness to manage healthcare issues. Even then, public health complements and augments the healthcare sector by improving, protecting, and prolonging the wellness of populations. Thus public health practitioners and specialists have broad and dynamic role-play in the healthcare sector. They strive for the wellness of communities, spread awareness about healthcare challenges, research and investigate, predict, prevent, and manage public health issues, provide relief in emergencies and disasters, facilitate access to healthcare services, contribute to policies and decision-making, and much more. It may be a subdivision of medicine, but the diversity, vastness, and interdisciplinary nature of public health education make it a standalone field of study with several concentration areas.
For instance, child and maternal health, epidemiology, environmental health, food and nutrition, public health administration, occupational health, biostatistics, and health policy are some mainstream concentrations in the public health discipline. Aspirants can choose their specialization areas while pursuing undergraduate degrees, but they have more flexibility and diversity in higher education programs. For instance, an MPH degree, doctorate, and post-doctorate in public health also enrich their knowledge, expertise, and analysis, enabling them to provide consultancy, counseling, educational, and advisory services in multidisciplinary settings.
The following sections explore some specializations in public health degrees.
1. Child and maternal health
Child and maternal health focuses on mothers, newborns, young children, and expecting women and caters to their health challenges during pregnancy, labor, and the postnatal phase. It is a concerning subject of public health as almost every country lacks the knowledge, infrastructure, funding, and facilities to ensure the well-being of women, adolescents, and children. Statistics are more alarming in developing countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa accounts for ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths each year, and one in thirteen young children succumb to health issues before turning five. But many such cases are preventable if women and children can receive quality healthcare services at the right time. Hence, child and maternal healthcare specialists take a holistic approach and focus on social, economic, psychological, physical, behavioral, relational, environmental, and climatic aspects of public healthcare challenges. They investigate specific risk factors and educate people about the complications of childbirth, pregnancy, and postnatal periods.
Epidemiological studies and experts investigate how healthcare issues emerge, spread, and accelerate in populations and communities. Epidemiologists explore and work on control measures to prevent outbreaks and massive damage from public health emergencies. They investigate which communities and individuals are at a higher risk of health issues and cater to factors that increase their vulnerability. They also study and evaluate trends and patterns of previous health issues and observe correlations with existing ones. For instance, the correlation between the outbreak of infectious diseases like the Middle East respiratory syndrome, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and the COVID-19 virus was also the outcome of such epidemiological investigations. The zoonotic origin of these healthcare crises further helped epidemiologists understand how viruses and other pathogens hop between species and how to intercept their translocation. Epidemiologists then communicate their research findings to healthcare experts, policy-makers, and the public and help them prepare for future health emergencies with better preparedness, preventive measures, drugs, and therapies.
3. Environmental Health
Environmental health focuses on how the environment affects physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Environmental health experts research and investigate how air pollution, hazardous chemicals, unclean drinking water, soil contamination, unsustainable food production techniques, or unsafe handling of infectious waste can cause, promote, and aggravate community healthcare issues. They explore all aspects of one’s environment and surroundings that contribute to healthcare challenges, including physical, biological, chemical, social, cultural, and geographical. Based on their findings, they educate clients, policy-makers, and the public and enforce stringent regulations in problematic areas, such as the hygiene and safety of food, water, and other consumables. They also influence local, regional, and international relationships between governments and persuade them to collaborate on prevalent public health challenges.
4. Food and nutrition
Diet and health have a direct relationship. As such, nutritious food is crucial for healthy functions of the mind and body, and it enhances immunity against many well-being issues. Unhealthy and unhygienic dietary choices are among the primary causes of many non-communicable and preventable health issues like diabetes, obesity, stroke, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, hypertension, tooth decay, and others. Thus improving public health, well-being, and quality of life is at the heart of food and nutrition experts. They explore the scientific basis of how unhealthy and non-nutritious food contributes to health issues in individuals and the public. Based on the scientific findings, they help people adopt, create, and practice healthy eating habits and choose nutritious foods specific to their body’s requirements. They also participate in clinical practices, awareness and counseling campaigns, and research initiatives to plan and help people stick to healthy eating habits.
5. Occupational health
Public health challenges have multifaceted nature with innumerable risk factors, including unhygienic workplaces and occupational hazards. As per the principles of occupational health, physical, mental, emotional, interpersonal, and social turmoil in workplaces also affects one’s well-being, quality of life, and longevity. Thus occupational health specialists aim to minimize and root out workplace dangers and create a healthy working environment for all workers in every industry and commercial setting. And for that, they strive for the safe handling of chemicals and hazardous substances, adherence to hygiene and safety protocols, and a conducive work environment. They also investigate if the workplaces adhere to essential labor laws and offer due compensation for workers’ services. Occupational health experts facilitate both workers and commercial organizations and help them identify and minimize risk factors and dangers.
Biostatisticians carry out an extensive literature review, analyze data, interpret results, and present findings to the concerned authorities, experts, and decision-makers. They study, investigate, and find viable answers to prevalent and pressing public health challenges and crises by digging into existing literature and analyzing ongoing efforts. They use statics, mathematics, and statistical analysis tools to research and find answers to public healthcare concerns. For instance, they participate in clinical trials and observe the success rate of a specific therapeutic procedure or drug. What diseases are prevalent in certain genders, communities, and age groups, why, and what is the survival rate? Their investigations and statistical findings then help scrutinize flaws in the healthcare infrastructure, predict emerging crises, and redirect actions and efforts for better preparedness and efficient services.
7. Public health policy
Healthcare issues and challenges evolve and require better solutions and remedies. Thus public health policy experts observe healthcare issues at the grassroots level and endeavor for welfare and well-being through legislation. They evaluate existing healthcare practices and policies, identify drawbacks, and plan, guide, influence, endorse, oversee, and facilitate legislation for better services. They advocate for public health concerns at policy-making platforms and divert the attention of decision-makers, governmental representatives, investors, and other stakeholders for more research initiatives and investments for persistent and emerging healthcare challenges. Immunization vaccinations, family planning, inclusive access to healthcare, disease preventive measures, occupational safety protocols, environmental sustainability, regulation of addictive substances, clean water supply, sanitization, and other such initiatives are the outcomes of the efforts of public health policy experts.
The mentioned concentrations are just a few possibilities in public health education. Given the progressive nature of the discipline, the future awaits even more development, enrichment, and diversification. But regardless, individuals with public health degrees have a vast scope and potential for growth in governmental, non-profit, and private organizations, including research institutes, academia, healthcare facilities, and pharmaceuticals.