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  • Open Access

Public Health Education in the United States: Then and Now

Public Health Reviews201133:BF03391620

  • Published:


It was against a background of no formal career path for public health officers that, in 1915, the seminal Welch-Rose Report1 outlined a system of public health education for the United States. The first schools of public health soon followed, but growth was slow, with only 12 schools by 1960. With organization and growing numbers, accreditation became an expectation. As the mission of public health has grown and achieved new urgency, schools have grown in number, depth and breadth. By mid-2011, there were 46 accredited schools of public health, with more in the pipeline. While each has a unique character, they also must possess certain core characteristics to be accredited. Over time, as schools developed, and concepts of public health expanded, so too did curricula and missions as well as types of people who were trained. In this review, we provide a brief summary of US public health education, with primary emphasis on professional public health schools. We also examine public health workforce needs and evaluate how education is evolving in the context of a growing maturity of the public health profession. We have not focused on programs (not schools) that offer public health degrees or on preventive medicine programs in schools of medicine, since schools of public health confer the majority of master’s and doctoral degrees. In the future, there likely will be even more inter-professional education, new disciplinary perspectives and changes in teaching and learning to meet the needs of millennial students.

Key Words

  • Public health practice
  • education
  • public health professional methods
  • public health professional standards
  • financing
  • government
  • public health manpower