Pre-Public Health at UH Mānoa

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

Public Health Programs in Hawai`i : University of Hawai’i Office of Public Health Studies

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

The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) defines public health as “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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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 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 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 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:

International/Global Health addresses health concerns among different cultures in countries worldwide.

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 tests biological and environmental samples in order to diagnose, prevent, treat, and control infectious diseases. Practitioners include bacteriologists, microbiologists, and biochemists.

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, health administration, law, medicine, and dentistry.

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Public Health Programs

Becoming a public health professional requires 6+ years of education:

Bachelor’s Degree (~4 years);
Master’s Degree (~2 years); and/or
Doctorate (~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 (e.g., Master of Public Health (MPH), Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), Master of Health Administration (MHA)) are oriented toward practice in public health settings. Academic degrees (e.g., Master of Science (MS), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Science (ScD)) are oriented toward careers in research or university teaching.

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 (nursing), MPH/MPP (public policy), MPH/MD (medicine), MPH/DDS (dentistry), MPH/JD (law), MPH/MBA (business administration).

The University of Hawai`i Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) currently offers the following degree programs:

Degree
Specialization
Bachelor of Arts (BA)*Public Health
Master of Public Health (MPH)Epidemiology
Health Policy and Management
Social and Behavioral Health Sciences
Master of Science (MS) in Public Health**Epidemiology
Social and Behavioral Health Sciences
Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)Community-based and Translational Research
Epidemiology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)Epidemiology
Graduate CertificateGlobal Health and Population Studies

* The Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Public Health is intended as a generalized health science degree to prepare students for graduate studies in public health, medicine, and other health professions. Please remember that the typical entry-level degree for public health practice is the MPH.

** The Master of Public Health (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 MS in Public Health 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 MS degree usually requires completion of a research project.

An MD/MPH combined degree program is now available at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. 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).

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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 mathematics, but does need to have basic competency in pertinent math principles.

The following list, provided by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) 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.

Public Health Concentration
Undergraduate Major/Minor
Behavioral Sciences/Health EducationAnthropology, Communication, Education, Marketing, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology
Biostatistics or EpidemiologyBiology, Computer Sciences, Mathematics, Microbiology
Environmental HealthBiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Global Environmental Science, Microbiology, Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM), Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences (PEPS)
Health Services AdministrationEconomics, Family Resources, Human Resource Management, Journalism, Management Information Systems, Marketing, Political Science
International/Global HealthAnthropology, Biology, Communication, Ethnic Studies, Foreign Languages, Geography, History, Linguistics
Maternal and Child HealthBiology, Family Resources, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology, Women's Studies
NutritionBiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Food Science and Human Nutrition

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

Specialization
Degrees Required
Recommended Coursework
Epidemiology (MPH/MS)Bachelor's degreeBiology
Microbiology
Immunology
Chemistry
Calculus
Health Policy and Management (MPH)Bachelor's degreeTraining in social science, health, or human services
Social & Behavioral Health Sciences (MPH/MS)Bachelor's degreeMathematics or Statistics
Biology or Human Development
Sociology or Psychology
Epidemiology (PhD)Master's degreeNatural 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 need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the public health curriculum and are likely to become good public health professionals.

Are you capable of completing the public health curriculum?

Admissions committees seek students who have:

  • a high overall GPA
  • the necessary academic foundation for their chosen concentration
  • performed well on the GRE (if applicable)
  • balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic

Are you likely to become a good public health professional?

Admissions committees seek students who have:

  • demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service
  • high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
  • demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability)
  • a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences
  • experience in the field and with what public health entails
  • a well-rounded life that balances academics, community service, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.)
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • strong letters of recommendation

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Researching Schools

There are currently about 50 accredited schools of public health in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.  Applicants can research schools using the ASPH website.

Although there are resources that “rank” schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. 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 a5dmissions directors, and chat with students.

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Entrance Exam

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). 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 skills.  Remember that the verbal sections are not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in a public health program, but also the most difficult scores to improve.

GRE Summary: The GRE assesses your knowledge and skills in Verbal Reasoning, Analytical Writing, and Quantitative Reasoning. The test requires approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE is offered in computer-based and paper-based formats, and is offered year-round for computer-based administrations and up to three times per year for paper-based administrations.

GRE Scoring: The Verbal and Quantitative sections each receive a score between 130 and 170, in 1-point increments.  The Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 0 to 6, in half-point increments. GRE scores are often reported as percentiles, with the median score (50th percentile) among examinees being 150 for the Verbal and Quantitative sections and 3.5  for the Analytical Writing section. Scores at around the 50th percentile or higher are considered competitive for public health programs.

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 schools screen applicants before requesting secondary applications.  Secondary applications commonly request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation.

Note: Most public health schools participate in SOPHAS. Students interested in applying to other schools must complete each of their prospective schools’ individual applications. For these schools, the application process consist only of steps 2 and 3.

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 interviewingincluding airfare, lodging, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals.

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Contact Information

University of Hawai`i
Office of Public Health Studies
1960 East-West Road, Biomed D204
Honolulu, HI  96822
pubhlth@hawaii.edu
(808) 956-8577

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

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
Email: andrewg@hawaii.edu

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
Email: ogsas@hawaii.edu

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Additional Information

UHM’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law 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 Studieswww.hawaii.edu/publichealth/
UH Global Health and Population Studieswww.hawaii.edu/publichealth/ghaps/
American Public Health Associationwww.apha.org
Association of Schools of Public Healthwww.asph.org
What is Public Health?whatispublichealth.org/
ASPH’s Public Health Employment Resourcepublichealthjobs.net/
Graduate Record Examinationwww.ets.org/gre
Schools of Public Health Application Servicesophas.org/
Council on Education for Public Healthwww.ceph.org
Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Programpreparingforgraduateschool.weebly.com/
Public Health Onlinewww.publichealthonline.org