How to Choose a Community Health Degree

This article will tell you how you should choose a community health degree and what you can do with it. We will tell you about the type of work you can find as community health professional and the most common types of courses you will need to take. We also provide information about good online community health degree programs for your consideration.

What Is a Community Health Degree?

A degree in community health will prepare you to work with people in community health services, wellness centers, employee health programs and public health organizations at the local, state and federal levels.

Community health is focused on organized efforts that attempt to address the mental, physical and environmental health concerns of entire communities and populations. The goal of the community health professional as a whole is to reduce the incidence of various diseases, illnesses and injury the the community.

There are several levels of community health degree: bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral.

Community health workers provide a vital connection between the local community, health educators and many other healthcare and social service health professionals. Depending upon the type of work you end up getting and your degree level, being in community health for a career usually involves these types of duties:

  • Monitoring the health status of communities to identify health problems
  • Diagnosing and investigating serious health problems and health hazards in the area
  • Informing, educating and empower community members about public health issues
  • Organize and mobilize community partnerships to solve serious community health problems

Why Get a Community Health Degree?

Many workers get involved in community health today because they have a passion for making a difference in people’s lives, and because there is a stronger focus on good public health today. Ensuring that we all live in safe and healthy environments reduces society’s health care costs overall.

Growth in the community health sector is growing because focusing on preventative medicine  rather than treatment medicine is the best way to keep people healthy in the most affordable way.

Government statistics tell us that the community health worker field will see a 13% rise in jobs by 2024, which makes it a good career growth field. Also, the median wage in the field is $51,960, with those with master’s and doctoral degrees earning $92,000 per year.

If you decide to earn a community health degree, it is recommended that you sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam after you conclude your program. Earning your CHES designation will greatly increase your hiring potential for the best community health positions.

Types of Community Health Degrees

There are several types of community health degrees. It should be noted that community health is a sub specialty of the larger public health field. If you decide to earn a master’s degree in public health, you can focus your career in several areas:

There are three basic types of community health and/or public health degrees that you can obtain. Earning a bachelor’s in community health is appropriate for many entry level positions in community health and fitness.

Earning a master’s or Ph.D. in community health or public health is for the serious academic who wants to dedicate their career to bettering public health, and/or conducting intense research in public health.

Bachelor’s Level Degree Options

To obtain an entry level position in community health, you can earn your bachelor’s degree in health education, community health or health promotion.

Most bachelor’s programs in these fields will teach you about the methods and theories of health behavior and health education. You will develop the skills and knowledge in public health so that you can assemble effective health education programs and materials.

For example, you should consider a bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education that is offered by Southern New Hampshire University.

This is a Bachelor of Science program that allows you to focus on improving the health of the community based upon their lifestyle needs. Students will explore the most effective ways to plan, develop and implement many types of community health programs.

Also, you will learn the most important parts of public health education, including behavioral health, research and assessment and epidemiology. This BS degree is a solid foundation in community health, and will be very useful as well if you eventually decide to earn your Master of Public Health or MPH.

Required classes in the BS degree program are:

  • Community Health Education
  • Wellness Across the Lifespan
  • Communicable Diseases
  • Social and Behavioral Health
  • Principles of Epidemiology
  • Evaluation Methods in Public Health
  • Community Health Capstone

Master’s Level Degree Options

If you have gotten work experience in community health and already have a bachelor’s degree, you may want to consider earning a master’s degree in the community health field.

There are a few ways that you can earn a master’s degree in this field. One of them is to earn a master’s degree in community health education. Merrimack College offers an online Master of Science in Community Health Education that will ready you to work in health care and public health environments where you will administer health education programs.

At Merrimack, you will study current community health issues and will discover how to apply the newest, evidence based professional practices to communities, government agencies, hospitals and schools.

Many graduates of this MS program eventually go on to work in these occupations:

  • Health education manager
  • Community health education director
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Health counselor
  • Community health worker

Master of Public Health

The other master’s degree option is to earn a Master of Public Health. The University of Maryland offers an excellent Master of Public Health degree, with a specialty in behavioral and community health.

This two year, online program focuses on the many behavioral and cultural factors that influence public health today. The purpose of the program is to both train and nurture expert behavioral and community health professionals who have an expert grasp of public health, and are completely committed to applying the knowledge to tackle difficult community health issues.

All MPH students will take these classes:

  • Epidemiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Introduction to Health Systems
  • Health Behavior
  • Foundations of Environmental Health
  • Foundations of Public Health Education
  • Public Health Communication
  • Community Health Program Planning
  • Community Health

Ph.D. Level Degree Options

For those who are in community health for many years and earned their master’s degree some time ago, you may eventually decide that you want to earn a Ph.D. in community health. The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health offers a highly competitive Ph.D. in Community Health Sciences.

It is most appropriate for the public health or community health professional who wants to focus their career on public health research. The curriculum integrates both applied and basic approaches to community health and public health problems in many communities. It will teach you how to use the vital tools of planning, assessment and evaluation.

Training for this Ph.D. program is very specialized, and stresses the very deep public health expertise that you will need for a long research career. You will learn how to integrate theory and research in a focused area. The content in this area is developed in detail by the student, as he or she works with the school’s guidance committee.

Accreditation

As you are considering getting a community health or public health degree, accreditation is very important. Be sure that your university has proper regional accreditation from one of these agencies that are recognized by the US Department of Education. These include:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Also, you should determine if your program, if it is an MPH program, has been accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.

Summary

Community health is a dynamic and growing career field, and you will be able to find many challenging, good paying jobs in this field. You will be able to specialize more and more on certain areas of community and public health as you further your education.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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