Pre-Public Health

What is public health?

Public health encompasses work in health education, epidemiology, environmental health, public health policy, global health, disaster preparedness, health communication, maternal and child health, community health services administration, public health nutrition, and many other areas.


What is the typical educational pathway for public health practitioners?

Most public health professionals earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. An MPH degree builds skills in areas such as epidemiological and statistical analysis, health systems analysis, project management, program evaluation, health policy analysis, and leadership and communication as well as a selected concentration area. Some people who have earned an MPH and have several years of work experience opt to earn a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) that equips them with advanced leadership skills. Both MPH and DrPH degrees are applied practice degrees rather than research or clinical degrees. A variety of non-degree credentials in specialty areas are also available to public health professionals. For example, a CHES is a Certified Health Education Specialist.


What are the requirements for admission to MPH programs?

There is no standard set of courses that must be taken prior to applying for an MPH program, but most schools recommend that applicants complete undergraduate courses in statistics (data science), the social sciences (such as psychology and sociology), the life sciences (biology and environmental science), and communication in addition to health-specific coursework the core courses for the health studies major. Additional coursework may also be expected for selected concentrations, such as calculus for biostatistics concentrations, chemistry for environmental health concentrations, economics for health management concentrations, or anthropology for health promotion concentrations. In addition to coursework, applicants are encouraged to gain real-world public or environmental health experience through employment or volunteering. The pre-MPH advisor can help you select an appropriate set of courses and outside-of-the-classroom activities that align with your interests.  

Meet a Health Studies major

photo of Julia Brittain

Just a few months after graduating from UR, Julia Brittain ’23 was ready to move to Zambia to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. “My time as a Health Studies major connected me with numerous opportunities to explore what health inequities look like in the ‘real world,’ and as a UR student I eagerly engaged with learning and service activities that align with my passion for promoting health within the U.S. and abroad,” she explained. “Now, I’ll be serving as a health extension volunteer, working with healthcare centers to build their capacity to provide medical and nutritional services.” 

 She is not joking when she says that she eagerly engaged with the various types of experiential learning available to UR students. She participated in the Humanities Fellows Program, exploring the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on members of the LGBTQ+ community in Richmond; received internship funding from UR to complete research on racial disparities in preterm birth at the Virginia Institute of Behavioral and Psychiatric Genetics; completed a semester of study abroad in Kenya; did two and a half years of weekly shifts as an EMT with Tuckahoe Volunteer Rescue Squad; spent a summer volunteering at a free rural health clinic; participated in the will program for students interested in gender and social justice, earning a minor in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies along the way; was an active member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity; and worked with UR’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement during her senior to increase opportunities for other UR students to do health-related community service.   

 Julia will serve with the Peace Corps through the end of 2025. “After I complete my term of service with the Peace Corps, I will likely pursue a medical degree so that I can transition to working in a clinical role within the global health field. No matter what professional pathway I end up pursuing, I know I will remain committed to promoting health equity.”