Public Health

What is public health?

Public health is the practice of preventing disease and prolonging life, often attempting to address the racial, ethnic or economic disparities in populations. Rather than focusing on an individual, public health officials attempt to keep communities safe by promoting a clean living environment, controlling the spread of pathogens, working for early diagnosis and prevention of disease, and educating individuals on how to best maintain their health. In the last century, the efforts of public health officials have produced vaccination regimens that decreased mortality rates, increased motor vehicle safety, fluoridated drinking water to prevent tooth decay in children and tooth loss in adults, and made workplaces safer. As you can see, public health is a broad discipline and there is an increasing demand for licensed professionals.

What does a person with a degree in public health do?

Students entering public health can specialize in one of several areas. Depending on the specialty, people in public health work in a variety of settings including the government, hospitals and clinics, relief agencies, rehabilitation centers, etc. Their function within the public health community varies widely:

Behavioral Sciences/Health Education: This field is dedicated to helping people make healthy choices through community education programs. Examples might include the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases through use of condoms and teaching young people about the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

Biostatistics: This field relies on data analysis to identify health trends within communities and help pinpoint the cause of diseases or injuries. Examples might include estimating the number of deaths resulting from ecstasy use and looking at trends in the spread of West Nile virus.

Environmental health: This field studies the impact of our environment, i.e., food, water, air, and land, on our health. Examples might include studying the effects of power lines near a school or assuring that our water supply is not contaminated.

Epidemiology: This field studies the root of disease or disability in population subgroups, identifies who is most at risk, and how to prevent further problems. Examples might include understanding and controlling the outbreak of SARS in China and finding the source of contamination in a community with particularly high rates of cancer.

Health Services Administration: This field combines politics and health to manage the financial resources necessary to deliver good public health services to a community. Examples include developing budgets to run a hospital and creating policies for health insurance companies.

International/Global Health: This field encompasses all other specialties within public health and deals with health concerns primarily in developing countries worldwide. Examples include addressing prevention techniques and treatment options for HIV/AIDS across cultures and dealing with carbon dioxide emissions in a variety of developing and developed countries to protect the ozone layer.

Maternal and Child Health: This field focuses on the mother and child as it provides advocacy, education, and research for this part of the community. Examples include providing information and access to birth control and making prenatal care available to all pregnant women.

Nutrition: This field studies how food and nutrients impact the health and lifestyle of a community and presents educational opportunities to promote good nutritional habits. Examples include promoting healthy eating and exercise regimens and teaching the dangers and prevention of obesity in children.

Public Health Laboratory Practice: This field performs scientific tests on samples in order to diagnose, treat, and prevent disease transmission in communities, to assure the cleanliness of our food and water supply, and respond to bioterrorist attacks. Examples include determining the poison sent via our mail service a few years ago and its origin, and testing our water supply for chemical contaminants.

How long will it take to obtain my public health degree and what does a typical curriculum look like?

The answer to this question depends on which degree you decide to pursue. The Master's in Public Health (MPH) programs are typically 2 years in duration. During the first year, students generally take foundation courses that include epidemiology, biostatistics, health administration, environmental health sciences, and health and community behavior. In the second year of the program, students will concentrate in one area of public health and take concentration courses in that area as well as elective courses. The Doctorate in Public Health program generally requires you to already have a MPH, and typically takes a total of four to five years to complete (including the Master's degree). Students in these programs generally conduct their own research project on an area of public health that is of interest to them.

Pre-Health Advisor

Matthew Collier, Ph.D.
Professor of Biology
BDK Science Center 207
(937) 327-6395

What courses should I take at Wittenberg to prepare for public health school?

Most public health schools require a baccalaureate degree for admission and have very few courses that they actually require (if any). Suggested courses for some schools might include:

  • 1 year English (101 and another English A course)
  • 1 year of Mathematics (one semester of DATA 227 and another course)
  • 1 year of General Biology (170 and 180)
  • 1 year of General Chemistry (121 and 162)
  • 1-2 semesters of Behavioral or Social Science ( Wittenberg's S courses)
  • 1-2 semesters of Humanities ( Wittenberg's A or R courses)

What major should I pursue at Wittenberg if I am interested in public health?

You can choose any of Wittenberg's 20+ majors if you apply to a public health program upon graduation from Wittenbergas long as you take the prerequisite courses required by the schools to which you apply. The major or minor that would give you the best background for public health depends on which of the concentrations within public health interests you the most. Suitable majors include Biology, Communication, Computer Science, Education, Management, Mathematics, Psychology, Sociology, and Statistics, but are not limited to these. As far as the public health schools are concerned, they do not put much emphasis on whether you graduate with a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree - that choice is yours. Look at the prerequisite requirements for the schools that you are interested in and the degree requirements for your major to determine which degree is the best match for you.

Do I need to have medically related hours when applying to public health schools?

No. Most public health programs do not have specific minimum requirements for number of paid or volunteer hours spent with a public health practitioner. However, gaining hands-on experience in public health prior to applying gives you more confidence in your career decision, and demonstrates your commitment to the profession.

Is it important that I participate in extracurricular activities while at Wittenberg?

Yes. While the schools do not require a specific number of extracurricular activities or leadership positions, they look for both in your application materials. They consider how many years you spent with each organization and how involved you appear to be with each one (e.g., leadership roles). The schools use your experiences in this area to better understand your ability to socially interact with others, your leadership potential, and your time management skills. They seek to recruit well-rounded individuals who can successfully balance a heavy academic load with medically related experience and extracurricular activities. If successful, they infer that you will rise to the challenge of their academic program when you have fewer non-academic commitments.

How can I locate the public health program that is best for me?

Start early. The public health schools have not agreed on one standard set of prerequisite requirements. Identify 5-7 schools of potential interest before registering for classes in the spring of your SOPHOMORE YEAR. There may be requirements specific to the schools you are interested in. It is best to know about those requirements while you still have room in your schedule to fulfill them.

Do research. Go to the schools' websites and make a table of courses required, average GPA of their incoming class, and number of hours in a medical setting (if any). These will give you some idea of where you need to be academically when you graduate from Wittenberg, and the courses you need to take inside your major and in the general education program to make you a good candidate for that particular set of schools. Schools consider both your science GPA and your cumulative GPA, so it is not wise to prioritize your grades in science courses over those taken for your general education requirements.

Summarize your findings.Create a sample table of school information. Add a column for each different course as you encounter them as prerequisites at your schools of interest.

 StatisticsData AnalysisGeneral BiologyGeneral ChemistryManagementAverage GPA
School 1XX XX 
School 2X X X 
School 3XX    

Evaluate your findings. Match your cumulative GPA and GRE (or MCAT) scores with the averages for the last incoming class at each school. Look for data that report on the percentage of students that have passed the board exams.

Apply to the school in the state where your parents are living and paying taxes if there is one. You have the best chance to get into the public school in that state, and the tuition at your in-state school is much less than at a private or out-of-state public school. Consider applying to between 3 and 5 schools.

How and when should I apply to public health schools?

  • Take the GRE in the spring of your junior year or the summer between your junior and senior year. While not all public health schools require the GRE, it is a good idea to take the test in case you decide later to apply to one that does require it.
  • Apply directly to the public health schools of your choice by the end of October of your senior year if you intend to go directly from Wittenberg to public health school.
  • Typically, they will require official transcripts and three letters of evaluation be sent on your behalf. It is best to have at least one person in public health and one faculty member send letters to your schools.
  • Some public health schools do not require on campus interviews. It is in your best interest to arrange a visit with the schools that you are interested in, however, to better evaluate their faculty, facilities, and students in order to determine which schools are a good match for you.
  • Wait for the results of your application after the interview (if required) to find out if you have been accepted, wait listed, or rejected by that particular school.
  • You are at a disadvantage if you opt to take the GRE (or MCAT) late or submit your materials late in the cycle - applications are often considered as they arrive, not at the time of the deadline. Complete and send your materials in a timely manner.

Do I need to go through the Pre-Health Professions Committee when applying?

No. Public health schools do not require its applicants to have a composite letter of evaluation that is generated by Wittenberg's Pre-Health Professions committee. Instead, you will usually be required to have three letters of evaluation submitted directly to the schools on your behalf. When choosing your evaluators, consider asking at least one person in public health and one faculty member, but be sure to follow the specific directions for each school to which you apply.

What standardized tests are accepted by the public health schools?

Most public health schools accept a variety of standardized tests to be used in the admissions process, including the GRE and MCAT. Only one of these tests is necessary for admission, be sure to check which tests are required by the schools to which you wish to apply.

What is the General Record Exam (GRE)?

The General GRE is a test taken by students wishing to pursue a graduate degree in many professions including public health and is typically taken at the end of your junior year. It is not a test based on specific courses that you have taken in college, but rather is a test of general knowledge and aptitude. While it is not linked with specific courses, the General GRE is difficult, and you should consider studying for it well in advance. The verbal section is particularly difficult as they assume that you have continued to learn new vocabulary throughout your college career. It may be taken as many times as you like, but has a mandatory wait period before it may be retaken. The General GRE is a computerized test that can be taken year round at testing centers in Athens, Centerville, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Stowe, and Toledo, Ohio.

The General GRE is approximately 3 hours in length and contains three sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning: Composed of analogies, antonyms, sentence completions, and reading comprehension, this section has students apply their knowledge of words, concepts, and sentence structure, and apply that knowledge to understanding complex passages.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: Consisting of basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis, this section tests logical reasoning and basic mathematical skills. You are not allowed to use a calculator for this section of the test.
  • Analytical Writing: This section is designed to assess your ability to communicate complex ideas effectively in writing. In the "issue" task, students choose one of two provided opinions and then construct and defend their own view of the issue. The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate sound thinking as you defend your position. In the "argument" task, students are given only one argument and critique the logic of that argument.

For more information on the GRE, visit the GRE Web site at or call 1-800-GRE-CALL.

What is the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)?

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to help admission committees predict which of their applicants will perform adequately in the medical school curriculum. The MCAT should be taken in April of your junior year if you plan to go directly to medical school after graduating from Wittenberg, or in April of your senior year if you plan to take a year off between graduation and matriculation into medical school. It can be taken three times before special permission is required. The MCAT assesses scientific problem solving, critical thinking, and writing skills. In addition, it explores the student's understanding of scientific concepts and principles that are necessary to the study of medicine. Because this is a content based test, you should have taken General Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Math, and Physics prior to taking this examination.

The four parts of the MCAT are:

  • Verbal Reasoning: You will be given a series of passages that test your ability to comprehend, reason, and think critically. The passages vary widely in their content, but are usually esoteric.
  • Physical Sciences: You will be given a series of passages related to Physics and General Chemistry which will require you to problem solve and apply your basic knowledge of these areas.
  • Writing Sample: You will be given two prompts (subject matter varies widely), each of which has a topic statement and directions for three writing tasks. You must explain or interpret the topic statement and then follow the directions provided for the second and third tasks according to prompt you received.
  • Biological Sciences: You will be given a series of passages related to General Biology and Organic Chemistry which require you to apply your general knowledge in these areas to the text.

Sample questions for the multiple choice sections and prompts for the writing sample are available on the MCAT website (,in addition to free access to the full-length version of this test (http:/

Do I need to coordinate my application through a service?

No. There is no central application service for applying to public health schools. You must request and fill out separate applications for each public health school to which you apply.

Do you have any tips for preparing an attractive application?

Filling out applications for these professional schools can be difficult and tedious, but require your best effort. Applications must be filled out completely and correctly or they will be returned to you. Having your application returned for further information delays contact with the admissions offices of your target schools. Pay particular attention to the required one page personal statement. Have someone assess your essay (i.e. Career Center staff, Writer's Workshop, etc.). Remember that you are trying to sell yourself to an admissions committee. Irrelevant details, poor sentence and paragraph structure, incorrect grammar, misspelling, typographical errors, etc. detract from the image you wish to create as their ideal candidate.

What are some of the accredited public health programs in this geographical area?

OhioDegreeMean GPAMean GRE
The Ohio State UniversityMPH>3.0>50% on each section
University of Illinois at ChicagoMPH, DrPH>3.2Verbal and Quantitative total >1000
University of MichiganMPH, DrPHNARequired
New York
Columbia UniversityMPH, DrPH>3.0>50% on each section
New York Medical CollegeMPH,DrPH>3.0Not required
University of Albany, SUNYMPH, DrPH>3.0Required
Drexel UniversityMPH, DrPHNARequired
University of PittsburghMPH>3.0>500 on Verbal,
>500 on Quantitative,
>4 Analytical Writing
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