Public and Community Health

Help people discover how best to eat, live, work, and exercise, or help communities pursue ethical, fair, and cost-effective public health policies.

A student in a white shirt and blue pants is standing next to a ladder in front of an entire wall of herbs in jars.

Margaret Heilshorn (‘19) Public & Community Health major interning at Bramble: Community Herbalism in Ithaca. Photo credit: Julie Boles

Concerned about the prevalence of diabetes, lack of safe water supplies, emerging infectious diseases, cancer, or the widespread use of prescription drugs? Inspired by the debates over health care legislation? Want to take a role in confronting the monumental health challenges facing undeveloped nations? With a degree in public and community health, you’ll be ready to help people make sense of conflicting societal messages about how best to eat, live, work, and exercise. You can also be a leader in government, nonprofit organizations, and communities to guide them in adopting more ethical, fair, and cost-effective public health policies.

Public health focuses on health promotion and disease/injury prevention rather than on diagnosing and treating illnesses and conditions after they occur. Public health professionals often adopt a "big picture" perspective. Public health is an extremely broad field and, as such, can be an attractive option if you are looking for an undergraduate major that focuses on health but are not quite ready to specialize yet.

Most public health professionals eventually specialize in an area in graduate school, in interests such as:

  • Behavioral science/health education
  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health sciences
  • Epidemiology
  • Global health
  • Health administration and management
  • Maternal and child health
  • Public health policy

Customize Your Studies

Depending on your career and intellectual interests, you will work with your faculty advisor to customize your studies with one of two curricular directions:

  • Restricted health electives, which permits you to select from a list of health-related courses. These courses focus on various policy issues like food, international health, human sexuality, or economics topics.

 - or -

  • Planned interdisciplinary combination (PIC), where you complete nine health-designated credits and then nine of your choosing in a topic of interest. For example, if you are interested in specializing in environmental studies, older populations, or women's health.

Hands-On Practice

A student is standing with a poster that says "swaps that are good for you and the planet"

Samantha Goldstein (‘19) Public & Community Health major interning with Ithaca Dining Services. Photo credit: Julie Boles

You are required to complement your classroom experience with a professional practicum. Our students typically complete these requirements during their junior or senior years as part of their coursework in the fall or spring semester. You may complete this on campus, although many of our students opt to complete this requirement with a variety of organizations in the Ithaca community. Six credits of fieldwork, internship, or supervised research (at most 3 credits can count from research) are required for graduation. You may break these credits up into distinct experiences - the majority of our students complete two, three-credit internships - one in each semester. It is also possible to complete fieldwork, internship, or research requirements during the summer months, however summer tuition does apply. All experiences must be approved in advance, we do not provide retroactive credit

An important component of this experience is reflection and evaluation. You will be asked to make connections in writing between your classroom learning and your observations while immersed in one of these experiences.

Help prepare for a public health emergency

Learn more about the opportunity to participate in an emergency preparedness exercise conducted in conjunction with staff from our local Tompkins County Health Department. This exercise, referred to as Point of Dispensing or POD, uses the distribution of the annual flu vaccine to the entire College campus to simulate distributing vaccinations if there were ever an emergency event necessitating rapid vaccination.

Our Graduates

As a public and community health graduate, you will be well-prepared to continue on to graduate school or to enter the workforce. Courses taken in this major prepare you well for graduate training in public health but also satisfy many of the prerequisites for professional study as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. 

There is a growing need for public health professionals.  COVID-19 brought to the forefront the important contribution public health professionals make to the nation and communities. Recent articles on CNN and in the Washington Post highlight the growing interest in public health by prospective college students as well as efforts to support the growth of public health by the government.  This interest and significant need bodes well for those interested in pursuing a career in this area.

Recent Graduate Pathways

Graduate Schools

  • Boston University
  • Columbia University
  • Drexel University
  • New York University
  • SUNY University of Albany
  • Tufts University

Job Titles

  • Care Coordinator
  • Health Inspector
  • Health Promotion Coordinator
  • Marketing Assistant
  • Nutrition Specialist
  • Patient Relationship Coordinator
  • Public Health Preparedness Assistant


HPPE Department Office
Michelle Lang, Administrative Assistant
G40 Hill Center
Ithaca College
953 Danby Road
Ithaca, NY 14850

Follow us on social media:

Facebook: IC Department of HPPE

Instagram: IC Department of HPPE