If you’re considering a Masters degree in Public Health (MPH), ask yourself: “Why do I want to do this?”. Are you going into public health for clinical reasons? Or are you interested in public policy, the regulation of public health agencies, or health litigation? Your answer to these questions could help you clarify your motivation and figure out which course is right for you, potentially saving you the pain of realising, halfway through your course, that you signed up – and paid – for the wrong program (ouch!).
The qualifications you currently hold are another factor that could determine which MPH degree program you apply to, although many universities are happy to consider applications from candidates with substantially relevant experience.
Public health is about protecting and improving health and social care for large population groups in society. It tends to have a strong focus on preventive measures. The Faculty of Public Health, which sets standards for public health professionals in the UK, defines it as “the science and art of promoting and protecting health and well-being, preventing ill-health and prolonging life through the organised efforts of society.”
Public health issues range from chronic illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, to infectious or communicable diseases such as bird flu or sexually transmitted diseases. It includes work on immunization, nutrition, tobacco, alcohol and drugs recovery, sexual and reproductive health as well as children’s health. Epidemics and pandemics are also public health issues, as are the health-related consequences of natural, environmental and political disasters. Earthquakes and wars could lead to population displacement and refugee camps, where illness often becomes widespread. These days there is also increasing focus on obesity and its resulting illnesses.
The field is however not restricted to clinical issues; public health is very closely linked to governments’ social, economic and public policies, as decisions taken around sanitation, pollution, water, housing, nutrition, poverty and access to healthcare and health education can have a massive impact on public health. This means that the global community of professionals involved in public health comprises a diverse group of people; economists, academics, scientists, nutritionists, lawyers, educators, journalists, sociologists and many more.
There are a number of Masters of Public Health course variations that offer flexibility to match your interests. You could study Public Health Law or Public Health and Law. Alternatively there are LLMs in Health or Medical Law and even LLM Medical Law and Ethics.
If you’re interested in the policy and socio-economic issues around public health, a Masters in Public Health could put you on the path to a management, advisory or consultancy position in government or other health-related organisations, national or international. It is also possible to combine the study of Public Health with other subjects for instance with Communication or with Law.
If you’re interested in the legal, regulatory and litigious side of things, an LLM in Health Law or Medical Law & Ethics enables you to specialise in the niche field of health, while primarily remaining a legal professional. You could become a Public Health lawyer or work in a law firm that has a medical practice.
You would imagine that if you were applying to do a Masters in Public Health you’d be expected to have a clinical or related background. However, as mentioned earlier, if you have other relevant experience that is not necessarily clinical, you could be accepted onto an MPH program.
To study a law-related public health degree – for instance a combination degree like Public Health and Law – you would need a first degree in a social science subject or in medicine, science or nursing. In some universities, courses structured around healthcare ethics could accept a first degree in religious studies or philosophy.
To do the LLM in Health or Medical Law, many institutions prefer you to have a qualifying first degree in law, which is a law degree that makes you eligible to go on to the other stages required to qualify as a solicitor or barrister. If your first degree was not in law, you would need to take a law conversion qualification such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Common Practice Examination (CPE). If you don’t have a qualifying law degree and aren’t keen to go through the palaver of taking a law conversion course, again some institutions will consider your application if you have experience that is relevant to the program.
In terms of the class of your first degree, most universities require you to hold a 2:1 (second class upper) but some may accept a minimum of 2:2 (second class lower.)
Your qualifications aren’t the only thing to be considered. Think about the skills you would need to succeed. The management of public health is evidence-based and relies heavily on statistics so it would help if you have strong analytical skills and some interest in statistics.
Whether you choose to do an MPH or health-related LLM, the career prospects are quite promising. Healthcare dominates the agendas of governments around the world, with significant portions of national budgets allocated to public health issues. You could become a consultant to governments and policy makers, work in an advisory role to legislators and regulators, work in health and social care or work for international organisations such as the World Health Organisation or humanitarian bodies like the Red Cross or Red Crescent. You could also work for charities, non profit organisations, pharmaceutical companies of the food and beverage industry, particularly with the current concerns around obesity. Food safety, education and research are other areas where your qualifications could be relevant. This is certainly a field where you can do your bit to save the world, everyday!
Master's of Public Health and LLM programs in health can be found as web-based distance learning degree courses; full time and part time. The ‘stigma’ once associated with online degree courses has all but faded, particularly now that well-established universities and educational institutions offer distance learning courses. In fact online study is now recognised as a great way to study for a postgraduate law program while continuing with your everyday life.
Thousands of students around the world take advantage of the internet to earn a postgrad qualification without leaving home and work, so if your commitments will keep you from travelling, consider taking an online MPH course.
So, should you do a Masters of Public Health or an LLM in Health Law, that's the question, and it all boils down to what career you are interested in; essentially what you see yourself doing on a daily basis. If social and health issues are your thing, a Masters of Public Health would suit you as a path to a rewarding career where you can contribute to making a real difference in society.
If, however, you are interested in specialising in the legal side of the medical field, consider doing an LLM in Medical or Health Law. Again, what do you see yourself doing? Working in a law firm that handles medical malpractice, or in the legal department of a medical establishment, working on regulation and compliance? It’s important to remember that if you intend to practice as a legal professional you would still need to take the necessary professional exams to qualify, whether you have an LLM or not.
If you want a bit of both then consider doing a Masters of Public Health and Law. If after doing this combined degree you decide that a career in law is for you, and you start to imagine yourself striding into court with a white wig on your head, remember that you may still have to do a law conversion course or a qualifying LLM as well as the necessary professional exams, because a Public Health and Law degree is not a qualifying law degree for the purpose of becoming a solicitor or barrister.
Whichever degree you choose, it would be helpful to take some time to really think through why you want to do it and where you want your degree to take you. By evaluating your current qualifications, your skills, interests and motivation you’ll figure out whether you should or could do a Masters in Public Health.