What is a Community Health Degree?

Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to ask and answer another question. What is the difference between public health and community health? Public health is concerned with the scientific process of preventing infectious diseases. Community health focuses on the contributors to a population’s or a community’s physical and mental health.

Community health workers have different roles depending on where they work and the specific populations they serve. Their responsibilities may include:

  • helping people access resources such as health insurance, food, housing, quality care, health information, and education and employment supports
  • helping people understand their health conditions and develop strategies to improve their health and wellbeing
  • providing informal counseling, support, and follow-up
  • advocating for local health needs
  • mediating between families and services such as child welfare or disability services
  • providing health services such as monitoring blood pressure and providing first aid
  • making home visits to chronically ill patients, pregnant women and nursing mothers, individuals at high risk of health problems, and the elderly
  • translating and interpreting for clients and healthcare and social service providers

In short, community health workers create bridges between socially and economically marginalized populations and mainstream health and social services. Degree programs in the field teach students how to plan, deliver, and oversee these services in community settings.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Community Health – Four Year Duration
The primary objective of the bachelor’s program in community health is to provide the background required to understand factors that influence community health. Students explore how organizations work together to support individuals and groups and promote health. They learn to assess community health issues and design interventions that address them.

Here is a sampling of bachelor’s level community health courses:

  • Leaders in Community Health – exploration of the leadership role in health promotion in communities
  • Health Theory – applies health theories to medical problems to explore the different levels of influence on behavior, from individual to social network, community, and health system and policies; understanding how influence on our health is constructed all around us
  • Public Speaking – verbal and nonverbal communication in speaking to a live audience; organizing and developing public communication
  • Introductory Sociology – the basics of sociology, organization of human groups and society, processes of interaction, and social change
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology I – structure and function of the human body; cells, tissues, integumentary system (organ system consisting of skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands), skeletal system, muscular system, and nervous system
  • Ethics for the Healthcare Professional – healthcare ethics; ethical decision making at clinical and health policy levels
  • Culture and Health – the relationship between culture and health / illness; cross-cultural communication; awareness of one’s own cultural influences; indigenous and alternative healing practices
  • Introduction to the Health Professions and the US Healthcare System – introduction to the historical, social, political, economic, and interprofessional contexts in which healthcare professions and the US healthcare system evolved
  • Writing in Health Professions – effective communication practices in health-related fields; workplace communication; information and technology literacy; becoming proficient in collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing information using appropriate tools, sources, and styles
  • Elements of Statistics – basic concepts and methods of statistics, including descriptive statistics, significance tests, estimation, sampling, and correlation
  • Statistics for Social Workers – how to use statistics in social work practice
  • Social Statistics – statistical methods for analysis of social data; computer applications
  • Internship – structured practical experience, supervised by faculty and practitioners
  • Human Development – lifespan development from conception through adulthood; family influences; recognition of individuality
  • Introduction to Psychology – major areas of theory and research in psychology; the relationship between health and psychology; how people react to sickness and illnesses; practices that can increase health and wellness from a biopsychosocial perspective
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology II – structure and function of the human body; cardiovascular, respiratory, lymphatic/immune, endocrine, renal, digestive, and reproductive systems
  • Microbiology with Laboratory – basic principles of microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa, algae, fungi, and viruses) and the role they play in health, ecology, and applied fields
  • Human Nutrition – the macronutrients and micronutrients in food, how these nutrients are utilized by the body and their effect on overall health and disease; what makes a healthy diet; assessing the credibility of nutrition information in the media; the cultural aspect of food; food sustainability; food safety
  • Human Pathophysiology – chemical, biologic, biochemical, and psychological processes associated with disease or injury
  • Evidence-Based Practice for the Healthcare Professional – methods of clinical and scientific inquiry; the application of an evidence-based practice approach
  • Leadership and Change – the leader’s role in bringing about significant organizational and societal change; group and organizational behavior dynamics, establishing a vision, mobilizing and empowering individuals and groups, and assessing outcomes of the change process in a variety of settings
  • Social Change – patterns of social change, resistance to change, and change-producing agencies and processes
  • Environmental Community Health – the interdependent relationship between the health of the environment and the health of communities; agencies and laws involved in the health of communities
  • Health Literacy for Healthcare Professionals – best practices for health communication that promote consumer health literacy
  • Technology: A Tool to Advance Innovation in Healthcare – the role of technology in achieving improved quality, improved patient experience, and decreased cost in healthcare
  • Community Health Capstone – an opportunity to explore the health status of communities and to develop strategies for community health improvement
  • Research Methods for the Healthcare Professional – the basic concepts of qualitative and quantitative research design utilizing methods of assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation
  • Foundation to Healthcare Systems – exploration of the impact of the current US healthcare system on the health of individuals, families, and communities
  • Health Innovation: Foundational Concepts – foundational knowledge for leading health innovation; innovation process, leadership structure, outcomes, evidence-based practice, finance, policy, and technology and communication
  • Assessing Needs, Assets, and Capacity for Health Education – at the individual, family, and community levels

Master’s Degree in Community Health – One to Three Year Duration
The master’s curriculum in community health provides students with knowledge and skills to conduct community-based research and to develop an enhanced understanding of healthcare systems and policy. Graduates often enter careers which involve the design, implementation, and management of health-related programs. The master’s thesis must demonstrate both proficiency in the health-related subject chosen and the ability to undertake research. Program duration varies depending on whether students attend full time or part time.

These are some examples of master’s level courses in community health:

  • Health Education Program Planning – assessing individual needs, evaluating existing programs, planning and implementing helpful programs
  • Communication Strategies – how to effectively reach the public with active communication
  • Research Design – research methods applicable to community health; finding applicable research subjects, designing research, analyzing results
  • Health Policy and Management – health policy analysis; how to manage community and public health teams; ethics and diversity

Doctoral Degree in Community Health – Six Year Duration
The Doctoral Degree in Community Health prepares students for careers in which research predominates. It emphasizes the integration of theory and research in a focused content area developed by each student in consultation with his or her faculty advisor(s). Examples of focus areas are behavioral health (the connection between behaviors and the health and wellbeing of the body, mind, and spirit), population health, and global health. Most universities require that doctoral candidates have some experience working in community health or health promotion.

In the doctoral program, a very large share of the learning takes place informally, in non-credit seminars, in self-study, in employment on research projects, as teaching assistants, and through interaction with faculty. Classroom activity may include courses such as the following:

  • Foundations of Epidemiology – definitions, examples, and explanations of the reasoning and biology behind various illnesses and diseases; investigation of how illness and disease are maintained and spread throughout communities
  • Economics of Public Health Systems – the economic, financial, and ethical concerns associated with the public health system; funding and budgeting in development of effective public health programs; the economic state of different areas and its effect on public health
  • Social Psychology – how the way that people feel, act, and think during social interactions plays a role in the development of health-related ideas and habits; the acceptance of health education as a primary means of change
  • Environmental Health – the effects of pollution, biology, and other environmental triggers on human health; how the environment plays a role in the development of helpful community health policies

Degrees Similar to Community Health

Healthcare Administration
Degree programs in healthcare administration prepare students to manage the business aspects of medical facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and private practices. These programs provide training in basic medical and health knowledge and terminology, as well as in the clerical tasks of maintaining patient medical records, managing billing, and overseeing staff.

Marriage and Family Therapy
Marriage and family therapy is psychotherapy that focuses on the relationships between couples and within family units. Degree programs in the field teach students how to lead and facilitate this kind of therapy.

Mental Health Counseling
The mental health counseling curriculum teaches students how to help people dealing with issues that impact their mental health and overall well-being. Coursework often includes the holistic or mind and body approach to counseling.

There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees. A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.

Public Health
Students who enter degree programs in public health look at how access and lack of access to healthcare, health education, and funding affect the spread, treatment, and prevention of disease. Epidemiology – the science concerned with the spread and control of diseases and viruses – is the science at the heart of public health.

Social Work
Social work is about helping people solve and cope with problems and challenges in their everyday lives. Students who pursue a degree in the field gain the knowledge and skills, as well as the ethics and values, to work for social justice for individuals, families, organizations, and communities. The typical curriculum examines issues such as child welfare, mental health, poverty, aging, domestic violence, and marginalized groups.

Substance Abuse Counseling
Degree programs in substance abuse counseling prepare students to counsel people suffering with alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders, and other behavioral problems. The curriculum covers topics such as coping mechanisms and treatment plans.

Skills You’ll Learn

The work of encouraging individuals and communities to adopt healthy behaviors fosters a diverse set of skills:

  • Communication / public speaking – conveying information effectively, both verbally and in writing
  • Social perceptiveness
  • Active listening
  • Social and service orientation – a genuine desire to help people
  • Critical thinking
  • Ongoing / continuous learning
  • Persuasion
  • Problem solving
  • Teaching and counseling
  • System and process analysis and evaluation
  • Training and instructional methods
  • Performance monitoring and assessment
  • Time management
  • Negotiation
  • Customer / personal service mindset
  • Administration and management
  • Integrity / ethics
  • Initiative
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
  • Stress tolerance
  • Persistence

What Can You Do with a Community Health Degree?

Career opportunities for holders of a community health degree span the areas of:

  • Health education
  • Wellness
  • Fitness
  • Research
  • Policy
  • Direct care

Workplaces include:

  • Public health units and other government agencies
  • Community health centers
  • Ethno-specific and multi-cultural community-based organizations
  • Faith-based groups
  • Non-profits
  • Healthcare service settings – hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and specialized outpatient services such as pain management clinics
  • Academic settings – colleges and universities

In general, the more advanced the degree the more specialized the career path.

Bachelor’s Degree
A bachelor’s degree in community health opens doors to frontline, practical application jobs in the field.

  • Health Coach
  • Community Health Worker
  • Community Health Advisor
  • Family Advocate
  • Public Health Aide
  • Health Educator
  • Health Interpreter
  • Health Translator
  • Health Services Manager
  • Community Outreach Specialist

Master’s Degree
The master’s degree typically leads graduates to senior positions in community health and health promotion. Holders of this graduate degree may also enter the research sector.

  • Health Management Analyst
  • Community Outreach Manager
  • Health Education Program Manager
  • Health Communications Specialist
  • Hospital Administrator
  • Public Health Researcher
  • Research Program Manager
  • Health Policy Analyst

Doctoral Degree
Doctoral graduates generally assume roles in research, academia, or community health leadership.

  • Health Specialties Educator
  • Clinical Researcher
  • Medical and Health Services Director
  • Research Director
  • Professor / Academic Chair


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