A Career In Public Health Offers Diverse Specialty Options - Part One

June 23, 2014

Public Health Offers A Wide Variety Of Specialties For Those Interested In This Field

All ready for a day of observation! The field of public health is highly varied and encompasses several different academic streams within a few core areas. If you are interested in pursuing a career in public health, these are some of the core areas you can choose to specialise in:

Health Education/Behavioural Science

This sub-specialty focuses on ways to encourage people to make healthy choices. The job functions range from developing community-wide educational programs that promote healthy lifestyles and prevent disease and injury, to researching complex health issues. As a professional in this field you would also work to promote more efficient uses of health services and participate actively in designing and implementing health programs with regards to aging, public health practice, disease prevention, mental health, disability and health, health education and behaviour change. Your job function would also include helping young people to recognize the dangers of binge drinking and taking measures to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS. 

Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

Public health professionals in charge of emergency medical services are responsible for ensuring that all communities have adequate emergency medical responders who are trained and always available to respond to emergencies. Responsibilities in this specialty include licensing paramedics and emergency medical technicians, licensing EMS instructors, evaluating and approving the training curriculum and ensuring ambulances are well-equipped, safe and functional. Your job function would also include ensuring that every community has access to emergency care starting from first aid responders through to a sophisticated trauma centre. 

While the actual emergency services may be provided by a hospital, the fire department, a non-profit organization or private company, your responsibility as an EMS Public Health professional, would be to ensure a coordinated EMS system that works seamlessly to provide rapid, efficient, emergency care to all citizens.

State or regional public health specialists may focus on training, quality control, licensing, research or disaster preparedness. 

Environmental Health

Environmental health focuses on the complex interactions between human genetics and the surroundings. It involves studying how man-made and natural environments influence the health of entire populations and what can be done to reduce the risk factors, particularly for diseases such as asthma, food poisoning and cancer. In this sub-specialty you would be working in a team along with specialists from diverse disciplines including toxicology, chemistry, engineering and others.  

Because environmental health is so broad in scope, it is broken down into several, more specific sub-sections including:

– Air quality

– Water quality

– Food protection

– Noise control

– Housing quality

– Radiation protection

– Solid waste management

– Hazardous Waste Management

– Environmental control of recreational areas

– Housing quality


Biostatistics is an integral part of public health. This specialty includes studying, assessing and estimating the number of deaths from gun violence, drunk driving and other factors using math and science. Public health professionals, who specialise in biostatistics help to identify health trends, determine the causes of disease and injury and forecast scenarios within the community. Biostatistics is often utilized along with epidemiology.


Epidemiologists are also called disease detectives. They are responsible for the initial identification and subsequent containment of an outbreak. When food poisoning or an influenza outbreak attacks a community, these professionals are responsible for investigating the cause of disease and putting in place measures to control its spread. They do the fieldwork to determine the causes and risk factors behind widespread disease or injury, identify who is at higher risk for the disease or injury and assess the effectiveness of various measures that can be put in place to prevent further incidences. They identify and understand the social and demographic trends that influence disease and injury and assess newer and more effective treatments. Several key health-related discoveries in history are associated with epidemiology. One of the most prominent is the landmark 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking tobacco that emphasised its harmful effects. Epidemiology is often used along with Biostatistics.