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Column: Finding a career in public health

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This column is one in a series from Public Health Discussions, a student consultancy and awareness group dedicated to identifying and addressing public health issues on campus. Founded in 2017, the group has 15 consultants who have worked on three campus projects regarding mental health, vaping and nutrition, and have hosted numerous public health awareness events on campus.

What comes to mind when you hear “public health”?

If you’ve been reading along with our columns, you’ve read articles about nutrition, vaping and mental health. These are key public health topics, but who studies them? What does a career in public health look like? 

We can start off by looking at publichealth.org, which lists twelve categories of public health careers that are further broken down into specific occupations. OU’s own public health college, the Hudson College of Public Health, can help narrow this list to five of the most common sectors: mental health, environmental health, health public policy, epidemiology and biostatistics.

Mental health is the only one of the above sectors that OU’s Hudson College doesn’t have a specific program for. However, a Health Promotion Sciences or Interdisciplinary Master of Public Health (MPH) degree would be excellent preparation for a career in the mental health sector.

For example, many of the administrators within the counseling department at Goddard Health Center have MPHs.

Environmental health professionals study the relationship between the natural world and human health and disease. At the Hudson College, one can obtain an MPH in Environmental Health to prepare for a job as a state/federal environmentalist or an environmental health manager, among others things.

Health public policy professionals can act as liaisons between legislators and public health agencies or between legislators and the scientific community. It is the job of these professionals to translate research into concrete public policy to positively improve human health.

Getting an MPH in Health Administration and Policy from the Hudson College can lead to a job as a health care policy analyst or health services manager, among other things.

According to the World Health Organization, “epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including disease), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems.” OU offers both an MS and a Ph.D. program in epidemiology, preparing students to conduct population-level research.

Biostatistics applies mathematical and statistical theory to various topics within biology and medicine. OU offers both MS and Ph.D. degrees in biostatistics, leading to job opportunities in research hospitals, public health agencies and biotechnology companies.

It is important to note, however, that many public health careers are interdisciplinary and can’t be neatly divided into just one of the aforementioned categories.

For example, an epidemiologist may work as a policymaker, or a biostatistician may be working within the environmental health sector. However, the outline provided above provides a simple framework for an introduction to public health careers and OU’s graduate programs that correspond to them.

If you’d like more information about public health careers, please visit publichealth.org, publichealth.ouhsc.edu, or reach out to OU’s Public Health Discussions student organization at ouphd1@gmail.com

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