I have been fortunate for the public health major at Johns Hopkins. In high school I thought that picking a major would be one of the biggest challenges that I would face in college. I knew I wanted a smaller school and an interdisciplinary major. However, I found that those two “wants” were sometimes hard to find within a school. Johns Hopkins has given me that combination. In the United States, there is a recent shift in demand by students for a more interdisciplinary education. And a shift for majors that are more “relevant” to the real world. As a result there has been a national shift in curriculum to an interdisciplinary approach. I am definitely one of those students who needed an interdisciplinary major.
I would like to think that Johns Hopkins is at the forefront of this shift and that it shows. The three most popular majors on the Homewood campus are all interdisciplinary: public health, international studies, and neuroscience. And another interdisciplinary major was just introduced that I think will jump in popularity in the coming years: global environmental change and sustainability.
For the case of simplicity, I’ve broken up this blog into answers to two sections…
What does the public health major give its students?
Well the easiest way to answer this question is to check out the public health major checklist (click here: http://www.jhu.edu/advising/checklists.html), since by far the greatest thing the major gives is a great range of courses. You’ll notice that the public health major is divided into two tracks natural sciences and social sciences. About two-thirds of public health majors are natural sciences majors. Most natural science public health majors attend on applying to medical school (or at one point thought they wanted to go to medical school…). However, there are other natural sciences major that do not attend to go to medical school and just have more of a science-mind. For me, I’m a social sciences public health major.
All public health majors are united by four public health classes: The Environment and Your Health, Fundamentals of Health Policy and Management, Biostatistics in Public Health, and Fundamental of Epidemiology. These courses give a general understanding of four key areas of public health. They’re also a great place to meet other public health majors and to just get a general understanding of what public health is and what it entails. Other requirements that both majors take are Biology and Calculus. The other thing that unites public health majors is the requirement that at least 15 units of courses (equal to 10 Homewood credits) must be taken at the Bloomberg School of Public Health during your senior year. Most older public health majors I have talked to LOVE these courses and say that despite the shuttle ride to the other campus, that these courses are often their favorite classes. This is because you can take classes that are less general and more particular to your interest in public health, you can a feel for what graduate school is like, and you are surrounded by other students in your courses who are usually much older with tons of experience. Seriously, I’m psyched for my next semester when I get to take classes there. Public health majors—both natural and social sciences—are also united with the opportunity to do a rather long honors thesis if they have a GPA of 3.3 within their major. The public health major also gives its students the opportunity to apply to a one-year accelerated MHS (Masters in Health Sciences) in Epidemiology (just added this year), Environmental Health, and Mental Health. Students can apply for these masters at the end of their junior year.
So what sets natural sciences apart from social sciences? You’ll see on the checklist that social sciences majors pick two disciplines. Three courses from one department in Group A (Anthropology, History, Psychology, Sociology, or Africana Studies. And three courses from one department in Group B (Economics, History of Sci/Med/Tech, Political Science, and Geography & Environmental Engineering). Along with these social sciences courses you take three social sciences electives.
Personally, my two emphases are Sociology and Geography & Environmental Engineering. I picked these two simply because the classes I was most interested in happened to be within these two areas. You begin to realize through taking these classes that health can be tied into so many departments within the Homewood campus and begin to develop a better perspective of health. Sociology in particular has made me question how we think of health within a society.
Public health academic advising is also great. We have three full-time academic advisers located in the Greenhouse who are all very wiling to help you (and calm you down) about thinking about the scary future. You’ll have to meet with them every semester to figure out the schedule, but they are always willing to meet throughout the semester whether its to discuss recommendations or a class that you may be struggling in. I’ve had a great experience with my adviser. The public health studies program also sends us weekly newsletters of public health opportunities and announcements to keep all the majors in the loop. And recently they created a LinkedIn group to keep us connected with alumni.
I hope by now you can tell that the social sciences public health major is truly interdisciplinary. There is no public health department simply because the professors I take classes from are coming from all different areas of the campus. I’ve really never hated a required class that I’ve had to taken. And with so few required classes and so many options within emphases, I actually have had a harder time deciding limiting my choices each semester.
What the public health major has done for me?
Opportunities. (Is the easy one word answer.)
But seriously…when I visited colleges I kept telling my mom that I did not want a school to define who I was. I don’t know why I was so hesitant about this since now I realize that every school will shape you in someway. I have a hunch that public health will follow me into my career; even though by no means does everyone end up going into the field they majored in during their undergraduate years. Taking these courses has made me question how countries develop, the best “paths” for countries to develop in, and why some people are more unhealthy than others and what social forces may be at work to have done this, etc.
I’ve been amazed by where the public health major has taken me.
I spent my freshman year taking public health classes and figuring out whether or not that the major was right for me. Over that summer I tried to get my foot in the door of public health by interning at my local health department working on the CHIP project and also interning at a maternal health consortium. During the fall of my sophomore year I started working at the Center for a Livable Future as a research assistant on work study. It was here that I started learning about food systems in the United States. I absolutely love my job at the Center for a Livable Future and love being surrounded people that are so committed to fixing modern agriculture. During my summer before junior year I decided to get more involved with epidemiology and went on a grant-sponsored trip that I got through the public health studies program in Vitoria, Brazil. I worked on an HIV/TB co-infection study that a Hopkins professor was working on there. Into the fall I decided to do for-credit research on TB research with the same professor on a literary review of TB/smoking articles. And where am I now? Studying abroad in Geneva, Switzerland on a Boston University program where I not only get to take some public health classes (and French), but I also get to intern at the Worl Health Organization and work on the Global Health Burden report from March until the end of the May. And I’m not even done with my major!!!! Who knows what’s next…
Additionally I’ve gotten involved in extra-curriculars. There are a lot of public health groups on campus like Public Health Student Forum, Project Health, and Epidemic Proportions. Check out the link to the public health program below to read about these groups. I was co-president of Public Health Student Forum in the fall and hopefully will continue next fall—currently our group runs a Public Health Awareness Week and is now planning for Johns Hopkins’ first undergraduate conference in public health that’s debuting in April.
My advice is just to explore. Especially explore the opportunities that the Bloomberg School of Public Health has to offer. So many professors are looking for undergraduate help and love to share their passion for public health with others.
Lastly, the public health major has given me some of my best friends. Although I definitely still have friends in other majors, I’ve realized that some of my best friends are public health majors. Many of us just “click” because we have similar interests.
So you ask me what I plan to do in the future? Well I still don’t really know. My opportunities have helped me narrow things down, but all I really know is international public health is my love.
I should also mention that public health has a newly updated spiffy website: http://krieger.jhu.edu/publichealth/