What are the drawbacks to majoring in public health?
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- The competition for an entry-level job is unbelievable! Not only are you competing with other public health majors, you’re also up against a surplus of biology majors and pre-med majors that are also qualified to do various jobs in public health. Since there’s also a surplus of master’s degree and PhD holders, you are up against even more competition. Many employers want candidates with a master’s degree or PhD and fill entry level lab positions with MPH degree holders. Considering your competition, it’s very difficult to get an entry level job without securing lots of research experience and internships as an undergraduate.
- If you do manage to get a job in your field, employment can be very unstable. Many labs, public health programs at hospitals, non-profit organizations that work within the public health sector, hire you on a yearly basis. If they don’t secure enough funding, you might not have a job.
- Public health requires a great deal of schooling, yet pays relatively low . Money isn’t everything, but do understand that there are 2-year vocational programs that will lead you to higher paying and more stable jobs than a master’s or PhD in public health.
- Some of the work can be dangerous or high-risk. The two most obvious examples being epidemiologists that work with highly infectious diseases, and people doing certain types of field work in public health toxicology. Obviously, they take immense precautions to keep employees safe, but it’s not 100% risk-free. To be fair, this holds true for many other fields.
- Public health is an integrated science with many subfields. Many people (including some prospective employers) are confused as to what public health entails. There are so many sub fields within public health, and public health borrows from many fields from the soft sciences like sociology to hard sciences like chemistry and health physics. To make matters worse, some schools like to rename their public health programs to sort of “brand them” (e.g. one university may call it “public health” whereas, another calls it “health science”.) This complicates the identity of the major and your degree. Don’t be surprised if part of a future job interview consists of the interviewer asking you to explain your degree. You can also highlight relevant coursework and/or submit your transcript, so they can see what coursework your degree is comprised of.Edit: I don’t want this to scare anyone away from public health. Public health is both extremely important and a very rewarding field. I did enjoy my time studying it, working in it, and even though I switched careers, I am still intrigued by public health. I just want to be honest and straightforward with the drawbacks.
I can think of two things (IMHO/IME):
- In the public health field, you kind of need a graduate level degree to get a decent job. Just having your BA in PH can be kind of limiting in terms of employment opportunities right after undergrad. Which leads me to my second point…
- There are only really ~4 major concentrations in PH: Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, and Health Policy & Management. If you’re not really interested in any of these, you might be at a loss in terms of picking a concentration for your graduate degree. However, most graduate PH programs also have a “Global Health” concentration.
I ended up graduating with a BA in Public Health Studies from my undergrad at Hopkins because it was the only major I could finish the requirements for in order to graduate in a reasonable amount of time. The major itself was really easy. I got A’s in most of my classes just by going to class and doing the homework; I never needed to cram for exams and I never pulled an all nighter. That being said, PH is a huge pre-med major at Hopkins so it’s actually super competitive so you really need to do the work to do well.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after undergrad so I went to Hopkins (again) for my Master’s of Health Science degree. Hopkins has one of the best graduate PH programs in the nation. I wasn’t interested in any of the concentrations I listed above but JHSPH has a PH masters program in Mental Health, which is what I ended up doing. After I graduated, I still couldn’t find a job so I’m actually going back to school again this summer for OT.
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Honestly, Sarena Dills mentioned most of the practical drawbacks for majoring public health.
For that case, I’ll list the academic drawbacks and some practical drawbacks not listed when majoring in public health:
- When majoring in public health, you don’t get to really learn much of anything biology. You are somewhat expected to know the basics, but not any deeper than that. For my public health degree plan, all I was required to take was introductory biology; all the other required classes were purely informational—there aren’t that many hands on opportunities.
- Almost all the available internships for public health require junior or senior standing. For those who are freshmans and sophomores, they need to wait until they are of junior standing—the job market won’t wait for you. With public health, it is more difficult with the exception of those who attend a very well known school in the STEM fields or related.
- For entry level public health jobs, you need to acquire certain credentials that your college classes vaguely touch upon. Without those credentials, you are not qualified for the job. Your good grades won’t help you in this case.
- Other Drawbacks:
- From what I’ve observed recently, it is often the public health sector of work that is often on a tight budget (they don’t get enough funds) compared to other sectors. This is not good for public health nor is it good news for the workers.
- When majoring in public health, you are mostly learning information through a broad perspective. In public health, having knowledge that is surface-deep won’t help very much when it is necessary to provide a biological perspective into why certain viruses or illnesses behave in unpredictable ways (when informing the public about it); Jack of all trades, master of none.
As many have said below, PH is a great degree for understanding health systems and the foundation of how diseases and other exposures become a PH concern and what are the best ways to intervene and prevent those disease and exposures.
After having discussed some of the positives of majoring in PH, here are the negatives:
- As mentioned below, a PH degree is not connected to a license or certification, so Social Workers, Nurses, Health Psychologists, and the list goes on are all equally qualified and some much more so to do the same job.
- Additionally, a PH degree is not part of the health system, like a nurse or a phlebotomist and some jobs that actually involve less education than a even at the undergraduate level, e.g. a Phlebotomist degree only requires an Associate Degree. That means, you will need to refine your career goals and get another degree or at least another certification.
- Lastly, since a person with a degree in PH is not part of the health system, people don’t even know what a PH degree entails. Jobs in health care fit into a hierarchy with many fulfilling specific roles, the PH degree is great for understanding health, disease etc, but it doesn’t give you a role in the system.
I would only suggest a PH degree to a person who is passionate about understanding health and disease but doesn’t exactly know what they want to do AND they are wealthy enough not to take out loans and then be able to go on to pursue another more practical degree.
There are typically 5 specialization areas in public health programs including: policy and administration, health behavior and education, biostatistics, epidemiology, and environmental health. The answer to your question will vary somewhat depending on the specialization.
Some of the previous answers have already identified some of the drawbacks related to competitiveness, starting salaries, and the need for a graduate degree. One drawback to the major that I would add is that many students majoring in public health do not fully understand what the major and the profession are really about until they are well into the program. The fact is that public health is a multi-disciplinary field that requires specialists from the various core areas I noted above. While every public health student studies each of the core areas, there is not really an entry-level demand for public health generalists that do not have advanced training in one of the specific competencies..
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Public Health is an awesome degree but to me after majoring in it in undergrad and getting a masters in it, it’s more of a frame of mind. It’s about systems thinking.
The big drawback, imho, is that public health doesn’t exactly teach to how healthcare is changing and where it’s going. It’s really focused on old ways of doing things. It’s not to say that some programs are not innovative but I think the disservice of some programs to its students is they don’t have the skills to compete in the workforce.
Even if you do major in PH, you should take classes in design, engineering and business. They will give you more skills. Combine public health expertise with computer science and some writing skills and WOW you got a job for life.
What are drawbacks to any major?
How crowded is the field? What are the requirements? Where can you go with this major?
I thoroughly believe in learning, for its own sake. Nothing learned and enjoyed is ever a waste. But when you are working on a career path, it is best to follow the best path. To me, Public Health is one of those majors that are slightly loosey goosey in how they work afterwards. Do you earn anything that will actually help your career to move smoothly ahead? When a job simply requires a college degree and not a particular kind of degree that is what devalues all degrees.
Dr. Tedrous Adhanom is not a medical doctor, and yet he runs WHO. Most ‘public health’ careers demand politics, not medicine.
For yourself, work it out. Determine where you would like to be in the future and then work backwards to see the best path. Good luck.
No specific job when you finish. You’ll most likely need to go for an MPH or go into a medical profession school when you graduate. With the current political climate, there will be even less jobs in public health. You could still major in it, but it would be best to combine it with some sort of certification, specialization, or other major.
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One major factor is job security. Most of the PH jobs are going to clinical professionals such as RNs and MDs. If you go into this degree field, ensure that you are searching for jobs at least 6 months before you graduate. It is a tough job market out there. In all fairness, PH is a broad field, so the opportunities that have not presented may present at a later time.
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You must like people. You need be kind to patients. If you don’t want to see blood it’s not something you should major in. You need to care about everyone & want to make patients be cured.
You will be going into a field where, no matter how hard or long you work, you will always feel you should do more and, if everything goes right, nothing happens.