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Pre-Public Health Preparation at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the Association of Schools of Public Health website,
the Public Health Institute website, the Center for Disease Control website,
Pfizer’s Guide to Careers in Public Health website by ASPH
and the UHM 2013-2014 Catalog.


Hawai'i Public Health program: University of Hawai'i Office of Public Health Studies

Public Health Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Entrance Exam
The Application Process
Contact Information
Additional Information
Downloadable Brochure


The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) defines public health as follows:  “Public health is the science and art of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention.

“Public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country. Public health professionals try to prevent problems from happening or re-occurring through implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services, regulating health systems and some health professions, and conducting research. Public health professionals also analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, public health in the twentieth century dramatically increased the quality of life and average lifespan of Americans by developing programs for vaccination, motor vehicle safety, workplace safety, controlling infectious diseases, family planning, ensuring safer and healthier food supplies, and fluoridation of water, to name only a few.

Public health encompasses a wide variety of disciplines, such as biology, sociology, mathematics, anthropology, public policy, medicine, education, psychology, computer science, business, engineering, and more. Consequently, there is no single pathway to public health and there is no “typical” public health job.

Because public health is so broad, students pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree choose an area of specialization, or concentration. Schools vary in which concentrations they offer, but all accredited schools offer the five core disciplines.

Core Disciplines

Behavioral Sciences/Health Education
            Behavioral Science/Health Education focuses on ways that encourage people to make
            healthy choices. These include the development of community-wide education programs that range from             researching complex health issues to promoting healthy lifestyles in order to prevent disease and injury.
            Biostatistics identifies health trends that lead to life-saving measures through the application of statistical             procedures, techniques, and methodology.
Environmental Health
           Environmental Health studies the impact of our surroundings on our health and how to reduce                                    environmental risk factors.
            Epidemiology investigates the cause of disease and controls its spread. Epidemiologists do fieldwork to             determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are, who is at risk, and how to prevent further             incidences. They spot and understand the demographic and social trends that influence disease and injury             and evaluate new treatments.
Health Services Administration/Management
            Health Services Administration/Management combines politics, business, and science in managing the             human and fiscal resources needed to deliver effective public health services. Health services administration             studies health care systems, health care reform, health care law, financial management, clinic management,             and policy analysis.

Additional Concentrations may include:

International/Global Health
            International/Global Health addresses health concerns among different cultures in countries worldwide.
Maternal and Child Health
            Maternal and Child Health improves the public health delivery systems specifically for women, children, and             their families through advocacy, education, and research.
            Nutrition examines how food and nutrients affect the wellness and lifestyle of populations. Nutrition                         combines education and science to promote health and disease prevention.
Public Health Laboratory Practice
            Public Health Laboratory Practices tests biological and environmental samples in order to diagnose, prevent,             treat, and control infectious diseases. Practitioners include bacteriologists, microbiologists, and biochemists.
Health Policy
            Health Policy works to improve the public's health through legislative action at the local, state, and federal             levels.

Public health professionals work in both public and private sectors, including local, state, or federal health departments, non-profit organizations, pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, and universities.

Related Careers: social work, sociology, psychology, health administration, law, medicine, and dentistry.

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Public Health Programs

Becoming a public health professional requires 6-11 years of education:

            Bachelor degree (~4 years);
            Master (~2 years);
            Doctoral (~4-5 years)

The public health curriculum varies from school to school, but often includes courses in each of the five core disciplines, courses within the area of concentration (sometimes called the major), electives, practicum experiences, and a final, culminating experience, often conducted in a work environment.

Schools of public health offer a variety of degrees, which can be separated into two categories: professional or academic. Professional degrees (i.e. Master of Public Health (MPH), Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), Master Health Administration (MHA)) are oriented towards practice in public health settings. Academic degrees (i.e. Master of Science (MS), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Science (ScD)) are oriented towards a career in teaching at a university or conducting research.

Because public health incorporates such a broad spectrum of disciplines, many students pursue a public health degree in tandem with a second degree related to their intended area of specialization. Joint/dual degrees can be completed simultaneously or sequentially. Some of the most common joint/dual degrees include:
            MPH/MSN      (Master of Science in Nursing)
            MPH/MSW     (Master of Social Work)
            MPH/MPP      (Master of Public Policy)
            MPH/MD        (Medical Doctor)
            MPH/DDS      (Doctor of Dental Surgery)
            MPH/JD          (Juris Doctor)
            MPH/MBA     (Master of Business Administration)                   

University of Hawaii’s Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) currently offers:



Master of Public Health

Health Policy and Management
Social and Behavioral Health Sciences

Master of Science in Public Health*

Social and Behavioral Health Sciences

Doctor of Public Health

Community-based and Translational Research

Doctor of Philosophy


Graduate Certificate

Global Health and Population Studies

*The MPH degree provides a set of skills and principles essential for students who intend to apply their training in a professional setting, provide leadership in a specific health specialty, and improve and protect the health and well-being of populations. In general, the MPH degree will include coursework in a number of public health disciplines, such as administration, epidemiology, environmental health, and behavioral health. The MSPH degree prepares practitioners for a career that includes research in a specific aspect of public health. It provides a set of skills in research design, data collection, analysis and application of research in public health intended to improve and protect the health of populations. The degree is suited for students with good quantitative and/or qualitative skills and an interest in the science of public health and a comprehensive research experience. The MSPH degree usually requires completion of a research project.

A MD/MPH combined degree program is now available at the John A. Burns School of Medicine starting with the 2012 entering class. To be eligible for admission to the MD/MPH program, applicants must fulfill all admissions requirements by their posted deadlines. Applicants must apply to both programs simultaneously: to the MD program through AMCAS and to the MPH program through UHM. The MD/MPH program AMCAS deadline for the application is November 1, 2013 (EST).

UHM’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) offers Master of Science (MS) and Master of Public Health (MPH) degrees in three of the core disciplines: Epidemiology, Health Policy and Management, and Social & Behavioral Health Sciences. Degrees in these concentrations require approximately two years to complete. The MS degree prepares students to pursue research or a doctoral degree; the MPH prepares students to begin a career in public health.

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Prerequisites for Admission

Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school!  Almost any major can prepare students for a career in public health, but it does help to have foundation courses in your intended area of concentration. For example, to pursue biostatistics, a student does not have to major in math, but does need to have basic competency in pertinent math principles.

The following list, provided by the Association of Schools of Public Health and adapted to UHM majors, demonstrates how a variety of majors can prepare students for a career in public health. Whatever your major, courses that develop strong verbal and written communication skills are essential.

Undergraduate Majors/Minors                                    Public Health Concentrations

Education, Sociology, Psychology,                            Behavioral Sciences/Health Education
Anthropology, Biology, Marketing,
Communication, Criminology

Math, Statistics, Biology and other Basic                  Biostatistics or Epidemiology
Sciences, Molecular Biosciences and
Bioengineering, Computer Sciences

Biology, Chemistry, Engineering,                               Environmental Health
Agriculture, Earth Sciences (Geology,
Meteorology, Oceanography), Archeology,
Psychology, Natural Resources and
Environmental Management

Business, Economics, Public Policy,                           Health Services Administration
Political Science, Health Science, Marketing

Social Sciences, Linguistics, Political Science,           International/Global Health
History, Biology and other Basic Sciences,
Anthropology, Communication, Ethnic and
Culture Studies, Social Sciences

Biology, Social Sciences, Health Science,                  Maternal and Child Health
Public Policy, Social Work

Biology, Chemistry, Food Science and                      Nutrition
Human Nutrition

Although no specific major or degree is required, OPHS recommends the following academic preparation for the various specializations:


Degrees Required

Recommended Coursework

Epidemiology (MPH/MS)

Bachelor’s degree


Health Policy and Management (MPH)

Bachelor’s degree

Training in social science, health, or human services

Social & Behavioral Health Sciences (MPH/MS)

Bachelor’s degree

Mathematics or Statistics
Biology or Human Development
Sociology or Psychology

Epidemiology (PhD)

Master’s degree

Natural and/or social sciences

Community-based and Translational Research (DrPH)

MPH or graduate degree in allied profession


Global Health and Population Studies (certificate)

Bachelor’s degree or concurrent graduate degree


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What makes a strong candidate?

Schools of public health are graduate programs, which means that admission is competitive. Admissions committees are looking for applicants who

  • have strong academic records
  • have a strong overall GPA
  • have effective written and oral communication skills
  • understand the field of public health and have clear career goals
  • performed well on a standardized test (not required for all schools)
  • have relevant volunteer, school-based (e.g. internships), or work experience
  • have the necessary academic foundation for the chosen concentration
  • submit a well-written, carefully considered personal statement

Applicants to UH’s OPHS should have not only an appropriate academic background, but also experience in public health, and should be able to demonstrate their interest and commitment.

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Researching Schools

There are now 50 accredited schools of public health listed with the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), each one unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.  Applicants can research schools using the ASPPH website.

Although there are resources that “rank”, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicant or specific programs. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.
To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 50 schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your GRE scores, create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into ‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to.
If possible, visit the schools to see their facilities, talk to Admissions Directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

Required standardized tests vary by school and program.  Visit the School of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS) website to check school specific test requirements.
Schools of public health accept a number of different standardized tests, including the Dental Admission Test (DAT), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). Students who learned English as a second language may also need to submit scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or from the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).  However, the most frequently requested test is the GRE.

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the GRE is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning.  Remember that your Verbal Reasoning score is not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in graduate school, but also the most difficult score to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE is administered year-round, appointments are scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis, and is available only in computer-based format. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete and assesses your skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning

GRE Scoring: Scores for the Verbal and Quantitative sections each yield a scaled score of 130 to 170, in 1-point increments. The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point increments, and you will receive a single score for your overall performance in this section.  Competitive scores for public health programs begin around 150.

Official Test Preparation Material:

  • The Official Guide to the GRE revised General Test from ETS
  • Practice Questions on the GRE website
  • Free diagnostic exam on the GRE website

Note: For tests other than the GRE, you will need to provide a designation code to indicate that you are applying to schools of public health; the codes are available on the SOPHAS website.

Click Here for the GRE Overview

Click Here for the current MCAT Overview

Click Here for the MCAT2015 Overview

Click Here for the DAT Overview

Click Here for the PCAT Overview

Click Here for the LSAT Overview

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The Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to Public Health programs: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview.

1. Primary applications must be filed with the Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS), which is a centralized application system.  Once the application is complete, SOPHAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated

2. Secondary applications are specific to individual schools, and are sent to applicants after receiving the SOPHAS application. Some but not all schools screen applicants before requesting secondary applications.  Secondary applications commonly request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation.

3. Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications, some public health programs invite promising applicants for an interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs incurred while interviewing, including airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals.

Note: Most, but not all schools participate in SOPHAS; to apply to those that do not, request applications directly from the individual schools.  UH’s Office of Public Health Studies does not participate in SOPHAS.

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Contact Information

University of Hawai‘i
Office of Public Health Studies
1960 East-West Road, Biomed D204
Honolulu, HI  96822
(808) 956-8577       

For questions regarding epidemiology, contact Dr. Andrew Grandinetti at (808) 956-7495 or For questions regarding health policy and management, contact Dr. Maile Taualii at (808) 956-7231 or For questions regarding social and behavioral health sciences, contact Dr. Claudio Nigg at (808) 956-2862 or For questions regarding community-based and translational research, contact Dr. Kathryn Braun at (808) 956-5768 or

For further information regarding the MD/MPH degree program, please contact:
Andrew Grandinetti, MD, PhD
Associate Chair & Associate Professor
Ph#: (808) 956-7495
Fax#: (808) 956-5818

For Application Information:

Office of Graduate Student Academic Services (OGSAS)
John A. Burns School of Medicine
1960 East West Road, Biomed D204
Honolulu, HI  96822
(808) 956-8267

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Additional Information

UHM’s Pre-Health and -Law Professions Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to schools of public health.

UH Office of Public Health Studies

UH Global Health and Population Studies       
American Public Health Association
Association of Schools of Public Health
What is Public Health?                                                 

ASPH’s Public Health Employment Resource              
Graduate Record Examination
Schools of Public Health Application Service
Council on Education for Public Health                       
Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program

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