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Public Health Prerequisites

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Hello, I don't really have a great counselors at my college, and it takes forever to make an appointment, so I need some guidance. I am still an undergraduate in college and I'm trying to (with a lot of time) decide if I should go down the public health or political science master's degree route. I want to work on policies for pharmaceutical companies or do research for think-tanks. Right now I like both equally and they both have some pros and cons based on what to do, but it seems that a MPH seems to have more prerequisites to complete before applying. Is there anyone on here that could tell me what classes I should take that will help me if I decide to go on the MPH route? I pretty much know what political science and economic courses if I choose political science route.


Thanks in advance 

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Work experience is very important in public health, especially for the MPH because it is a professional degree. Volunteer experience or internships in a public health setting can also help you if you're lacking in this area, and practical qualifictions will also help you so you're not coming out of grad school with a fancy degree and no work experience. In addition to reading the application pages of schools you're considering, I recommend the decision threads here and on the public health forum at Student Doctor. As you can see from this forum, it's not at all uncommon for people with sub-3.0 GPAs or unrelated majors to get into MPH programs because they are demonstrating interest and aptitude in the field elsewhere. Also, there are very few undergrad programs in public health so the applicant pool almost has to be diverse.


Personally, I got in most places I applied with a history degree, basic math, and no relevant science courses (my favorite science in college was geology). I said in my application that I planned to take some that spring at a city college, but I was accepted to my schools before those grades ever came back and without even confirming what classes I ended up in. The reason is that I've coordinated clinical research for 4 years. So I'd advise you that, if you feel you lack prerequisites for an MPH, don't take classes-- take a gap year. Be a research assistant or volunteer at a hospital or public health agency while working a less relevant job or do AmeriCorps. Public health schools love that. As you're choosing your schools, while you still have time to take a couple of courses, contact their admissions departments and just ask if they would be interested in an applicant like you.


In general an MPH will qualify you for both of the jobs you listed. Biostatistics is probably the best MPH concentration if you want to work for pharma (biostatisticians help a lot with the design of giant multi-site research protocols), and it wouldn't hurt you in you policy jobs either. Some schools offer health administration or health policy concentrations as well. An MPH will often involve an internship or capstone project, as well as core courses in all major public health sub-fields, so my personal advice is, if you go this route, to choose the concentration with the strongest quantitative focus they'll let you into. Those skills are very marketable. I haven't been able to find data on this, but my reading suggests that people working in the field consider epi and biostats the most marketable concentrations. However, if you need to gain knowledge in a specific content area where you want to work, there are a lot of other specializations that might be right for you.

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What type of policy are you thinking? Seems that a poli sci or public policy would be more versatile than an MPH in health policy/management (HPM). Based on my understanding of HPM at Emory, the focus is more on improving health systems and quality of care. As themasses mentioned, epi/biostats are marketable if you are interested in doing analysis work, more so than policy because those concentrations don't really focus on translating data into policy (at least based on my experience). 


As for prereqs, they will vary by department and, maybe schools. For enviro health, the focus is on the hard sciences so most of the prereqs are several years of bio/chem and lab experience. I suggest browsing websites of schools you're potentially interested in to get a full list. 

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[...] Right now I like both equally and they both have some pros and cons based on what to do, but it seems that a MPH seems to have more prerequisites to complete before applying. Is there anyone on here that could tell me what classes I should take that will help me if I decide to go on the MPH route? [...]


If you're looking to do policy work, you'll probably want to look at Health Management & Policy programs. The prerequisites for HMP are a lot less stringent than other programs like epidemiology and biostatistics. For example, at Michigan there are no prerequisites at all: "Since we are looking for students with varied backgrounds and interests, the Department welcomes applicants from all undergraduate majors, and therefore no specific undergraduate courses are required" (http://www.sph.umich.edu/hmp/programs/masters/admissions.html).


If you're looking to do research, you'll have to have at least some basic background in math. For biostatistics, obviously, you're going to need a pretty extensive background. For example, at Michigan (for the sake of comparison): "The minimum mathematics prerequisite for admission is one-and-one-half years of calculus, a course in matrix or linear algebra, and an introductory course in statistics or biostatistics or the equivalent" (http://www.sph.umich.edu/biostat/students/#prereq). In general, epidemiology and biostatistics are two sides of the same coin, where epidemiology focuses more on health outcomes and biostatistics focuses more on the numbers. Epidemiology will usually require only one math course, although many schools don't even require that (like Michigan, ;-P ).


But, like others have said, it ultimately depends on the program. Every program is explicit about their prerequisites, and you just have to find the right website to know what they are.

Edited by FreeRadical
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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry for the late response but I appreciate all the advice. I'm kind of leaning towards public policy but feel like I can miss working with hospitals and people more directly. 

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