Which Department should I choose?

By: Ashley MeehanGlobal Health

Which Department Should I Choose?

When it comes time to start looking at different MPH/MSPH programs at different schools, the naming conventions of different departments can get pretty confusing because each school may categorize things differently. One of the most common questions I’ve heard at recruiting events this past year include students asking the difference between two (or more!) departments and which would be the best fit for them. To hopefully help ease some of this lingo-confusion, I’ll provide a general overview of the different departments at Rollins, and end with self-reflection questions for you to consider as you explore Masters programs!

At Rollins, we separate our MPH and MSPH degrees into 7 departments (PhD programs fall under Emory’s Laney Graduate School):

  1. Behavioral Sciences and Health Education (BSHE)
  2. Biostatistics and Bioinformatics (BIOS)
  3. Environmental Health (EH)
  4. Epidemiology (EPI)
  5. Executive MPH (EMPH)
  6. The Hubert Department of Global Health (GH)
  7. Health Policy and Management (HPM)

Each department has something different, unique, and wonderful to offer – in skills and methods most commonly utilized, types of jobs that graduates receive, and faculty expertise. While it can be intimidating to feel like you need to find the “perfect” department, there’s no single way to determine which department is the best fit for each person. Luckily, exploring the different things each department has to offer will hopefully help you decide which one you could see yourself succeeding in.

Overview of Departments

To start, I’ll provide a brief overview of each department and the skills, methods, and competencies commonly used, core courses for that department, and will then highlight some of the different faculty in each department. These overviews do not capture the full list of competencies or required course topics for each department, but rather, are intended to give you a snapshot of the department. Additionally, some departments offer both MPH and MSPH degrees, which are not all spelled out below. Please visit the linked websites for each department to learn more!

Behavioral Sciences & Health Education (BSHE)

Students in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education (BSHE) study the way community and societal factors influence public health solutions and policies, and they develop skills to educate others about healthy practices and attitudes. The MPH degree in the BSHE department is geared towards students with an interest in human behavior, health communication, and policy.

  • Skills, Methods, Competencies: Students in the BSHE department apply both quantitative and qualitative methods, evaluate public health interventions, apply the socio-ecological framework and theories from diverse fields to design public health research studies, and design evidence-based and culturally relevant health promotion interventions.
  • Employment Sectors: Most students in the BSHE department find employment in Government (Federal, State, Local), University or Research (Academia), and Non-Profit and Non-Governmental Organizations
  • BSHE Core Requirements: In addition to the RSPH MPH Core Requirements, the BSHE department has specific requirements for all students graduating with a MPH in BSHE. These classes focus on utilization of history, theory, and mixed-methods to plan, implement, and evaluate public health interventions.
  • BSHE Faculty: Faculty in the BSHE department have a wide array of interests and involvements at RSPH and at organizations and agencies around Atlanta. Here are a few of them:
    • Dr. Colleen McBride: Dr. McBride is the Chair of the BSHE department and focuses on public health interventions that utilize genetic information to motivate healthy behaviors.
    • Dr. Hannah Cooper: Dr. Cooper is the Vice Chair of the BSHE department and focuses on social determinants of drug use, drug users’ health, and health disparities.
    • Dr. Linelle Blais: Dr. Blais is involved in a number of capacities at Emory, but currently leads and Emory Center that provides services such as community coalition building and strategic planning, program development and evaluation, training institutes, leadership academies, curriculum development toolkits, and more.

Biostatistics & Bioinformatics (BIOS)

Rollins’ BIOS department is centered around methodological research, theory, collaborative research, and consulting. BIOS MPH and MSPH students take a wide range of courses including analysis methods, statistical computing, probability theory, and more, and are encouraged to take electives in other disciplines across Rollins. The MSPH degree is a research/academic-based degree that requires 48 credit hours and has a stronger emphasis on research. An MPH degree is a professional/practice-based degree that requires 42 credit hours and is more focused on the applied practice of public health.

The field of public health informatics integrates computer science, information science, and public health science. It applies to various areas of public health, including prevention, promotion, surveillance, and preparedness. Public health informatics requires expertise in such areas as information retrieval, expert systems, networking, public health science, and education.

  • Skills, Methods, Competencies: Students in the BIOS department contribute to public health research study design and analysis by estimating sample sizes, identifying data sources, using analytic methods to address specific research questions, use standard statistical software for data management and analysis, and communicate the results of statistical analyses to broad audiences.
  • Employment Sectors: Most students in the BIOS department find employment in University or Research (Academia), Government (Federal, State, Local), and Proprietary Organizations
  • BIOS Courses: Available courses in the BIOS department can be found here, and are often focused on qualitative methods and statistical softwares.
  • BIOS Faculty: Faculty in the BIOS department have a wide array of interests and involvements at RSPH and at organizations and agencies around Atlanta. Here are a few of them:
    • Dr. John Hanfelt: Dr. Hanfelt is the Interim BIOS department Chair whose research interests include robust methods for sparse cluster-correlated studies, the theory of estimating functions and artificial likelihood,  and the application of high-dimensional latent class methods in Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Dr. Howard Chang: Dr. Chang’s research areas include the development and application of statistical methods for analyzing complex spatial-temporal exposure and health data, specifically on exposure assessments of air quality and extreme weather events and health effect estimation and impact assessment using large databases.
    • Dr. Lance Waller: Dr. Waller’s research involves the development and application of statistical methods for spatially referenced data including applications in environmental justice, neurology, epidemiology, disease surveillance, conservation biology, and disease ecology.

Environmental Health (EH)

Environmental health (EH) explores how human health is influenced by our interactions with the environment. This includes everything from chemical and microbial contamination of air, water, and other media to urban sprawl and climate change. Students interested in studying the complex relationships between environmental factors and human health will find a fit in the master of public health (MPH) degree program in environmental health.

  • Skills, Methods, Competencies: Students in the EH department apply principles of exposure science, toxicology, and epidemiology to characterize and quantify and assess health effects of environmental exposures, evaluate environmental policy and risks posed by environmental hazards.
  • Employment Sectors: Most students in the EH department find employment in Government (Federal, State, Local), University or Research (Academia), and Proprietary Organizations
  • EH Core Requirements: In addition to the RSPH MPH Core Requirements, the EH department has specific requirements for all students graduating with a MPH in EH. These classes focus on exposure science, toxicology, risk assessment, environmental and occupational health, and environmental and occupational health policy.
  • EH Faculty: Faculty in the EH department have a wide array of interests and involvements at RSPH and at organizations and agencies around Atlanta. Here are a few of them:
    • Dr. Paige Tolbert: Dr. Tolbert is the Chair of the EH department, and has focused her training and research around environmental epidemiology, from intensive molecular lab-based studies to large cohort studies, as well as carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, water pollution, and air pollution.
    • Dr. Jeremy Sarnat: Dr. Sarnat focuses on characterizing human exposure to urban air pollution and is motivated by the many epidemiologic and toxicologic findings linking air pollution to a range of adverse health endpoints.
    • Dr. Karen Levy: Dr. Levy leads a research group that uses environmental microbiology and environmental epidemiology methods to study water quality, food safety, and the impact of climate and land use change on the transmission of diarrheal diseases.

Epidemiology (EPI)

The field of epidemiology deals with the study of distributions, causes, prevention, and the control of acute and chronic diseases in populations. Disease is not randomly distributed. Instead, it occurs more often among people and groups with certain shared characteristics.

Epidemiologists seek to learn why, how, and when some people contract diseases when others do not. The answers to these questions are necessary for monitoring the health status of a population, for developing new medical treatments and disease prevention efforts, and for providing an evidence base to health care and policy leaders. For these reasons, epidemiology is considered a cornerstone of public health practice.

  • Skills, Methods, Competencies: Students in the EPI department describe public health problems in terms of magnitude, time, place, person, and their associated risk factors, critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different study designs with respect to a given research question, calculate basic epidemiologic measures, implement methods of data cleaning and documentation for epidemiologic datasets, conduct basic epidemiologic analyses, fit epidemiologic models, and utilize information technology tools and statistical programming packages to present and communicate epidemiologic information in reports and publications.
  • Employment Sectors: Most students in the EPI department find employment in Government (Federal, State, Local), University or Research (Academia), and Proprietary Organizations
  • EPI Core Requirements: In addition to the RSPH MPH Core Requirements, the EPI department has specific requirements for all students graduating with a MPH in EPI. These classes focus on epidemiologic methods, statistical methods, epidemiologic modeling, and statistical software courses.
  • EPI Faculty: Faculty in the EPI department have a wide array of interests and involvements at RSPH and at organizations and agencies around Atlanta. Here are a few of them:
    • Dr. Timothy Lash: Dr. Lash focuses on predictors of cancer recurrence, including molecular predictors of treatment effectiveness and late recurrence, in addition to the use of cardiovascular drugs as adjuvant cancer therapies in low resource settings.
    • Dr. Alvaro Alonso: Dr. Alonso’s research interests lie in the epidemiology of cardiovascular and neurological diseases, such as the epidemiology of atrial fibrillation and other cardiac arrhythmias, and cardiovascular determinants of cognitive decline and dementia.
    • Dr. Jodie Guest: Dr. Guest is the co-founder of the HIV Atlanta VA Cohort Study (HAVACS) and has led more than 40 HIV-related studies while serving on Faculty at the Rollins School of Public Health and at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Executive MPH (EMPH)

The Rollins School of Public Health’s distance learning Executive Master of Public Health program (EMPH) offers a master’s-level public health degree for busy working professionals in various professional backgrounds. EMPH participants—from both the public and private sectors—earn the same MPH degree as traditional students, but in a blended format that combines two on-campus sessions each semester with interactive online coursework. Students are admitted only in the fall semester, and are required to have a minimum of three years of relevant professional experience.

  • Concentration Areas/Tracks: Applied Epidemiology, Applied Public Health Informatics, and Prevention Science.
  • Core Curriculum: Core courses for the EMPH program cover topics and principles across all departments at RSPH, as well as EMPH-specific courses like Surveillance, Applied Public Health Informatics, and Strategies and Resources for Online Learning.
  • EMPH Faculty: Faculty members from each department are represented in the EMPH community, but the EMPH program is led by Dr. Melissa (Moose) Alperin. Dr. Alperin is the Director and PI for the Region IV Public Health Training Center and she also holds a Research Assistant Professor faculty appointment in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education at Rollins.

Global Health (GH)

The Hubert Department of Global Health seeks to understand and reduce global inequities in health and well-being. Inquiry-driven and ethically engaged, we seek to improve health status and delivery systems around the world through teaching, multidisciplinary research, program design and evaluation, service, and inspiring public-private and civic sector engagement in social action. Students in the GH department can choose between 4 concentration areas: Community Health Development, Infectious Diseases, Public Health Nutrition, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Population Studies.

  • Skills, Methods, Competencies: Students in the GH department assess the major forces that influence health of populations around the world, critique major global priorities and their reasons for prioritization, and the evidence for improving health delivery systems and health status of individuals, communities and populations around the world, design programs, policies, and/or interventions intended to improve health services and health status of individuals, communities, and populations, and conduct research, including formulation of specific research aim, conducting a literature review and formulating a hypothesis and selecting appropriate methodologies related to the research emphasis.
  • Employment Sectors: Most students in the GH department find employment in Government (Federal, State, Local), Non-Profit and Non Governmental Organizations, and University or Research (Academia)
  • GH Core Requirements: In addition to the RSPH MPH Core Requirements, the GH department has specific requirements for all students graduating with a MPH in GH. Each concentration also has specific requirements for students completing that concentration, which can be found here.
  • GH Faculty: Faculty in the GH department have a wide array of interests and involvements at RSPH and at organizations and agencies around Atlanta. Here are a few of them:
    • Dr. Carlos del Rio: Dr. del Rio’s research focuses on the early diagnosis, access to care, engagement in care, compliance with antiretrovirals and the prevention of HIV infection, and has focused on translating research into practice and policy.
    • Dr. Karen Andes: Most of Dr. Andes’ work focuses on using qualitative methods to explore reproductive health in adolescents and young adults in the US and Latin America, specifically in Paraguay.
    • Dr. Shivani Patel: Dr. Patel’s research is guided by an overarching interest in describing and understanding disparities in cardio-metabolic disease morbidity and mortality globally, with particular focus on South Asia and the role of ethnic background and contextual factors.

Health Policy & Management (HPM)

While enrolled at Rollins’ Department of Health Policy & Management (HPM), students learn how to positively impact public health through public health policy decisions and health management. We provide a multidisciplinary course of study that prepares students to meet the changing demands of health care, public health, and health policy environments. Students in the HPM department choose between the Health Management and the Health Policy tracks, which may result in different learning outcomes and competences.

  • Skills, Methods, Competencies: Students in the HPM department describe how the organization and financing of health services influence access, quality and cost, apply management principles to planning, organizing, leading and controlling health care enterprises, apply principles of health economics in analyzing the behavior of healthcare market stakeholders, prepare health policy briefings suitable for the range of policy stakeholders involved with the formulation and implementation of a health policy under consideration by decision makers, design an advocacy strategy for the development and implementation of a health policy, utilize public finance theory to assess the impact of proposals to reform the financing and delivery of health services, and incorporate legal principles in the administration of health services.
  • Employment Sectors: Most students in the HPM department find employment in Proprietary Organizations, Government (Federal, State, Local), and Hospital and Healthcare Facilities
  • HPM Courses: In addition to the RSPH MPH Core Requirements, the HPM department has specific requirements for all students graduating with a MPH in Health Policy and in Health Management. To review descriptions of HPM courses, click here!
  • HPM Faculty: Faculty in the HPM department have a wide array of interests and involvements at RSPH and at organizations and agencies around Atlanta. Here are a few of them:
    • Dr. Kenneth Thorpe: Dr. Thorpe is the Chair of the HPM department and has authored and co-authored over 120 articles, book chapters and books and is a frequent national presenter on issues of health care financing, insurance and health care reform at health care conferences, television and the media.
    • Dr. Janet Cummings: Dr. Cummings’ research focuses on issues concerning access to and quality of behavioral health services, with a particular emphasis on racial/ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic disparities among the child and adolescent population, and is currently exploring mental health service use among Medicaid-enrolled children.
    • Dr. Kathleen Adams: In Dr. Adams’ work with the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, she has analyzed prenatal smoking/risk behaviors, costs of adverse maternal/infant outcomes and pediatric health care costs related to secondhand smoke. She and colleagues have completed extensive analysis on national policies such as welfare reform, Medicaid family planning waivers and at the state level, on the implementation of primary care case management among S-CHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) and Medicaid children.

If You’re Between Two – or a few! – Departments

As you can see, each department has something different to offer to its students. For many students (and faculty!), they find themselves wanting to blend skills, competencies, and methods in their work. Rollins offers a handful of MPH and MSPH dual-department degrees. These include: Environmental Health Epidemiology (EH-EPI), Global Environmental Health (GEH), and Global Epidemiology (GLEPI). If you’re stuck between two departments that don’t offer a dual-department option, here are some tips to help discern which department might be a good fit for you:

  • Look through the required and common classes for the department. Do they sound like classes you’re interested in?
  • Look through the required curriculum timeline for each department. Does it have the level of flexibility or structure that you’re looking for? At Rollins, you’ll have the opportunity to enroll in classes outside of your department (and across the University more largely). If you feel confident in one department but want to complement your required curriculum with courses from another department, that’s possible! However, some departments and concentrations may have more or less requirements than others, so being aware of what you want out of your degree will help you decide how much flexibility and structure to look for.
  • Read through faculty profiles for each department. Are they focusing on skills and methods that you want to grow in? Do you find yourself wanting to connect with faculty in a consistent department? Many faculty are jointly appointed in different departments, which means you can access them in a number of ways! This database allows you to easily sort faculty by departments and interest areas, so be sure to take advantage of it!
  • Look through potential jobs you think you may be interested in. What skills, methods, and training does it require? How do these requirements align with skills and methods taught in the department you’re thinking about?

Departments as methods, Certificates as topics

Some students try to narrow down their departmental interest by topic area that they’re interested in. While this isn’t a bad idea, I would encourage those students to think about the skills, methods, and competencies they’d like to focus on to help narrow in on a department. Topic areas can be explored through a variety of different methods, so you can still focus on your topic area of interest no matter which department you’re in!

At Rollins, there’s also an option to complete a Certificate. Certificates often focus on more in-depth explorations of topical areas such as mental health, maternal and child health (MCH), religion and health, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). My fellow ambassador Jacob wrote a whole blog post about certificates here! These allow you to focus on your skills and methods in your department as well as your topical interest areas.

Choosing a department can seem daunting and may require a lot of research for each school you’re looking at. Just know that the faculty and staff at Rollins work tirelessly to support students through their academic and professional careers. At the end of the day, you’re going to get a great education and build a supportive web of networks no matter what department you’re in!