What is Public Health?

Public Health professionals engage in epidemiological analysis, assess population and community needs for health interventions; plan, implement and administer health education strategies, interventions and programs; conduct evaluation and research; serve as a health education resource; and communicate and advocate for the general health of the public. Effective Public Health is ecological in its approach. When planning the focus of interventions, public health professionals consider all factors that contribute to health and disease: individual behavior; group dynamics; environmental conditions; economics; politics, laws and policies; culture, ethnicity, and gender; and the availability, accessibility, and quality of health services.

Public Health Degree(s)

Public Health, BS

The Public Health major is appropriate for students who want to work in community, public, and global health; health communication; governmental and non-profit agencies and organizations; medical care settings; worksite wellness programs; and college and university student service health education programs.


Jen Leita, General Information and Advising
Jen.Leita@wwu.edu | 360-650-4377

Public Health at Western

Housed in the Department of Health and Human Development, Western's Public Health Program is nationally, regionally, and locally recognized, and lives up to its mission: To provide students with a rigorous and dynamic hands-on educational experience that prepares them to effectively and compassionately improve the public’s health and advocate for social justice through community involvement and collaboration.

The Public Health curriculum teaches students the effect of health promotion and education on individuals and their relationships with their environment. Students learn to approach public health using a social ecological perspective, which considers health outcomes as they relate to factors of individual, social, and environmental influence.

Students take public health-focused coursework and classes from interdisciplinary fields including social sciences (e.g., anthropology, psychology, political science, and sociology), and biological and physical sciences (e.g., anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, and chemistry). Faculty have experience in a wide array of public health topics including but not limited to nutrition, global health, reproductive health, college health, and environmental health.

Western's Public Health Program is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health as a stand-alone baccalaureate program with two concentrations: Behavioral & Community Health (BCH) or Global & Population Health (GPH). Most of the students’ coursework for two concentrations will be completed as an entire cohort. However, during the last two-quarter of coursework, Public Health students will split into two classes based on their declared concentrations. GPH students focus on the understanding of the emergence and distribution of disease in populations. BCH students focus on health intervention and education, community engagement, and health promotion programming and implementation. BCH students are prepared to succeed on the Certified Health Education Specialist qualifying exam. In fact, Western’s public health students have a CHES examination pass rate higher than that of the national average. Students’ preparation for success on the exam includes knowledge acquisition of public health theory and practice, and extensive participation in individual and team projects that require community engagement and collaboration.

Western’s Health and Human Development Department is part of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Explore Courses

HLED 345 – Health Promotion/Disease Prevention

KIN 413 – Physiology of Exercise

PSY 230 – Lifespan Developmental Psychology

SOC 332 – The Sociology of Human Relationships

HLED 401 - Foundations of Public Health

Hands-on-Experience and Internships


When students complete their coursework, they engage in a 10-week, full-time, community based internship. The internship program is highly regarded by community partners across Washington state and beyond. Public health students have completed internships with Swedish Medical Center, Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Sea Mar Community Health Clinics, Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood, Whatcom County Health Department, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., and have served abroad in Guatemala, Uganda, Egypt, Australia, and Nepal and additional locations throughout the world.


Students interested in participating in research are invited to join public health faculty research projects. Past students have published peer-reviewed articles, presented at national conferences including, for instance, the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) and the American Public Health Association’s annual conferences. Students have also successfully competed in and applied for national public health competitions and scholarships.

Community Service

Over the last decade, public health students have contributed more than 100,000 hours of work within communities. This work allows our students to practice the skills they have learned in the classroom while assisting communities in the process. In the last eight years, Public Health students have contributed more than 90,000 hours of service through course work, internships, and on their own.

What can you do with Public Health?

The public health major functions as a gateway for students who want to work in any public or global health venue including, but not limited to:

  • Governmental and Non-Profit Agencies
  • Medical Care Settings
  • Worksite Wellness Programs
  • University Health Programs.

The public health major also serves as a preparatory program for graduate or post-baccalaureate training in health promotion/education, public health, and related areas. For instance, some of the program’s alumni go on to earn their Masters in Public Health.

The following is a list of employers of and graduate programs attended by recent Western public health graduates:

  • Bastyr University: Masters in Public Health
  • Doctor of Nursing Family Practice Nurse Practitioner, Oregon Health & Science University
  • MPH, University of Sydney, Australia
  • MS, Nursing, University of Rochester
  • Access Living, Inc.: Direct Support Professional
  • Brigid Collins: Prevention Initiative Coordinator
  • Denver Health-Westside Clinic: Patient Navigator
  • Highgate Senior Living: Certified Nursing Assistant and Medication Aide
  • New Beginnings: Women’s and Children’s Advocate Relief Worker
  • Pancreatic Cancer Action Network: Community Engagement Coordinator
  • Seattle Cancer Care Alliance: Program Assistant for Staff Education and Nutrition
  • Seattle Children’s Hospital: Family Service Coordinator
  • United General Hospital: Health Educator
  • Whatcom Council on Aging: Community Outreach Coordinator
  • WithinReach: Family Engagement Specialist

Student internships are more than a supplemental classroom experience, they often inspire careers. Public Health alumni, Kristen Pettet, completed her internship in Uganda and started her own nonprofit agency while she was there. She currently works for the Washington State Department of Health. 

Public Health careers

  • Community Health Educator 
  • Tobacco Control Specialist 
  • Sexuality Education Coordinator 
  • HIV/AIDS Educator 
  • Hospital-based Wellness Program Director 
  • Public Health Educator 
  • Substance Abuse Educator 
  • College Health Educator 
  • Injury Prevention Specialist 
  • Curriculum Development Specialist 
  • Health Consultant 
  • Health Information Specialist 
  • Nutrition and Physical Activity Coordinator