What Is Community Health?

The community you live in is part of who you are. On a daily basis, the decisions you make impact those around you, like neighbors and other community members. Improving that community and helping others may be at the forefront of your mind, but you’re not exactly sure where to start. Studying community health could set you on the path to do just that, allowing you to make a difference in your community and area healthcare systems.

So, what is community health?

Community health is the collective well-being of community members. It focuses on the physical and mental well-being of people in a specific region as well as socioeconomic challenges and cultural standards that affect overall health. As an important subsection of public health, it includes initiatives to help community members maintain and improve their health, prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and prepare for natural disasters.

While public and community health professionals may not work with patients directly, they play an important role in creating healthcare plans and awareness campaigns. The public health sector comprises community health programs that improve access to preventive healthcare services, engage citizens in care decisions, and help to lower medical costs. 

Community Health and Public Health

Before deciding if health care administration is the right path for you, it’s important to understand the differences between public and community health. 

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities.

Public health professionals promote healthy lifestyles; research disease and injury prevention; and detect, prevent, and respond to infectious diseases. They work to help particular populations, which can be as small as a single neighborhood or as large as an entire country. 

Community health has a similar goal, exploring how factors like socioeconomic and cultural standards affect overall health. Community health professionals often design health plans and education programs to reach communities and encourage healthy behaviors while helping to reduce health gaps caused by differences in race and ethnicity, location, social status, income, and other factors. 

Since public and community health share a similar goal, community health is often considered a branch or subset of public health. 

It’s important to note, however, the difference in focus between the two fields. While public health is focused on the scientific process of preventing infectious diseases, community health is more concentrated on the overall contributors to a population’s physical and mental health. 

Many public health professionals work in offices and laboratories with local or state health departments, hospitals, colleges, and universities. Depending on their role, community health professionals often work on a more localized scale, from state and county organizations to local hospitals.    

Community Health Education

Community health education enables students to understand and impact the social, political, and personal conditions that affect community-wide health. Professionals with years of experience in direct medical care may be well suited for pursuing community health education, as their knowledge and experience may provide context for any outreach and advocacy work. Students with graduate education or work experience in a field relevant to community health education might choose to apply to community health programs.  

Pursuing community health education may start with earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as public health, health science, or healthcare management. As with other fields of study, community health education degree programs typically require letters of recommendation, a mission and values statement or personal statement outlining your prior education and experience, a resume, and GRE scores (depending on the institution). 

Community Health Worker Jobs

Community health educators are on the front line, reducing health disparities and improving the quality of life for people all over the world. Graduates of community health education programs with healthcare experience and a desire to help others have numerous options for careers in the field. Students interested in community health can work for various health-related organizations in medical, education, government, corporate, or nonprofit settings. Potential community health jobs include the following:

  • Community health worker: assists communities and individuals in adopting healthy behaviors. They often serve as the bridge between community members and medical and social service providers. They may also be responsible for collecting information on socioeconomic conditions, health disparities, and community health resources’ effectiveness through data evaluation and direct interaction with residents. This helps them determine health issues and risks for specific geographic areas or populations.
  • Health coach: helps promote wellness and healthy living at either a private business or healthcare facility.
  • Public health worker: works to improve population health through research, outreach, education, and community advocacy. 
  • Health care analyst: evaluates medical data to better understand and improve local hospitals and other healthcare centers. 
  • Program director: takes overall responsibility for a community health program or organization’s goals by improving access to care in the community, identifying and filling gaps in care services and reducing emergency medical care through preventive measures. 

Public Health Education

With courses covering health behaviors, administration, assessment, planning and evaluation, research methods, and statistical methodologies, public health education involves the application of different disciplines, including education, mathematics, and public policy. Public health degree programs are carefully designed to take on a service-oriented approach to public health education. 

A bachelor’s degree in public health may qualify students for a variety of entry-level roles in their communities. If you plan on researching larger populations for government organizations or assuming a leadership role, you will likely need to complete an advanced degree program, such as a Master of Public Health (MPH). For full-time industry professionals or those who prefer the convenience of studying from any location, a public health degree online may be worthwhile. Depending on the MPH program, students can participate in public health internships/practicums to gain real-world experience and learn how to develop skills in data collection, analysis, and advocacy. 

You’ll likely need to submit a personal statement, resume, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation as part of your MPH application. Work experience requirements for applying to a program will vary depending on the school, but keep in mind that down the line, a number of employers may be looking for candidates that have experience working directly with the populations they plan to oversee. If you are hoping to research and work with a demographic that speaks a foreign language, then fluency in this language might also be a key consideration in the hiring process.

Public Health Jobs

As students, aspiring public health professionals will be trained to monitor the health status of a community to identify, diagnose, and investigate health problems and hazards within a community; mobilize community partnerships to identify and solve health problems; and provide other essential services. A public health degree enables you to potentially work around the world, address health problems of communities as a whole, and influence policies that affect the health of societies. 

Public health graduates can fill a variety of positions, as they are needed in government, public, private, academia, and nonprofit settings. Potential public health careers include the following:

  • Hospital administrator: healthcare center manager who works to coordinate healthcare programs at a facility. 
  • Health promotion program coordinator: manager who oversees the development of public health programs. 
  • Public health engineer: professional who ensures that healthcare infrastructure and equipment are properly designed. 
  • Medical writer: professional who creates documents like press releases and educational materials to promote health programs. 
  • Biostatistician: scientist who uses math and statistics to help plan public health initiatives.  

Interested in pursuing a career in this rewarding field?

Baylor University offers an MPH online with a specialization in community health.

Learn more about the program and whether it is right for you.  

Citation for this content: The MPH online program from Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences