Is there a Difference Between a Degree in Public Health and a Degree in Health Science?

In today’s healthcare industry there are a variety of graduate degree programs covering various areas of advanced specialization. To those who are just getting involved, or perhaps looking to choose the graduate degree program that’s right for them, the differences between these specialized pursuits can be a little unclear. Unfortunately, the differences aren’t easy to sum up briefly in concise descriptions of programs, courses or schools, which leads to a lot of confusion. However, there are a few points on which health sciences and public health, two commonly confused programs, can be clearly differentiated, as well as others where the difference is more subtle — but still undeniable.

Here are some of the fundamental differences between a degree in public health and a degree in health sciences:

What Sets Health Sciences Apart?

Health sciences represents a general approach to non-clinical healthcare practices. There are many aspects of today’s healthcare industry which don’t involve contact with patients; the vast majority of healthcare personnel provide an infrastructure of support. These include communications professionals, information technology professionals, certain researchers, experts in medical and healthcare law, and administrators, just to name a few. For every individual writing a prescription for a patient, there are hundreds who are instrumental in the behind-the-scenes processes involved in researching the medication, ensuring that all government regulations were met, and protecting the security of the patient’s private medical information.

What Sets Public Health Apart?

Where health sciences is a broadly focused field relating to non-clinical work, public health involves a mixture of clinical and non-clinical work. The essential focus is on clinical practices, but as they relate to general policy and enforcement, as opposed to a single institution. In the case of a widespread health catastrophe, or an institution failing to meet professional standards, public health organizations may put boots on the ground in an effort to help redress the situation; predominantly, they are concerned with the establishment and maintenance of such professional standards. Public health relates, first and foremost, to the prevention of crises through responsible administration.

Are There Overlapping Skills?

Degrees in public health and health sciences involve several areas of strongly overlapping skills, mostly due to the range of support functions that professionals with either background may be called upon to fill. Strong communications skills are needed to provide clear communication between medical suppliers and hospitals — and to help create public relations policy. Other areas of overlap include administrative skills, as either graduate program can lead to leadership positions, and logistical skills, which help to hold our expansive and complicated national medical and healthcare industries together.

Health Sciences is a Frequent Precursor to Public Health

It is not uncommon to find graduate students enrolling in Master of Science programs relating to public health, after receiving their undergraduate degrees in health sciences. Health sciences is an excellent foundation for non-clinical healthcare work; it includes advanced training in administrative, logistical and communications skills. These are all very viable skills for a career in public health, and this combination looks particularly desirable for an individual looking to advance up the administrative chain within a variety of concerned government agencies.

By carefully weighing the differences between these two degrees, a prospective graduate student will be better informed about where either program will take them, what skills either program will impart, and what career paths they best prepare students to follow. Additional sources of information on these and other healthcare specialties can be reliably sourced at the websites of many prominent professional associations related to the healthcare industry.

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