Which MPH Track Is Right for You? Distinguishing Between EOH’s Two Programs

January 1, 2020

The Milken Institute School of Public Health’s location in our nation’s capital provides students in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health with a wide variety of options for working in the many federal agencies, international organizations, industries, and health-oriented nonprofits that have headquarters or important offices in Washington, D.C.  In addition to completing a practicum project to obtain hands-on work experience, many students also capitalize on the bountiful opportunities they learn about through the Department for their culminating experiences, as well as for part-time work.  Not infrequently, these practica, jobs and culminating experiences can lead to permanent positions.  

There are many areas of intersection between the EOH Department’s two programs, Global Environmental Health (GEH) and Environmental Health Science and Policy (EHSP).  A key difference is that GEH students are committed to working with issues that occur in resource-poor settings, often outside the U.S. EHSP students tackle issues that may have a global reach from our country.  This obviously has an impact on where students in each track do their practicum projects.  

Our students and alumni have completed an impressive array of practica and internships. In addition to the image below, which lists some of the places where students in each track most frequently complete practica, there is a map showing both where students have completed practica and found jobs locally, within the U.S., and internationally.

Students with a wide variety of academic backgrounds come to both programs, and they graduate with a deep understanding of the science underlying the environmental issues they study and the quantitative and qualitative skills to analyze the implications of policies that address these issues.  There are differences in the kinds of culminating experiences that students in each track take on to demonstrate their knowledge and abilities. 

Global climate change is an example of a topic that students in both tracks may address and work on in different ways.  Students in the EHSP program are most likely to tackle the problem itself or ways to mitigate it by interning or doing a practicum at an organization such as the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the USDA’s Climate Change Program Office, or the Hospital Preparedness Programs in Climate Change organization, says Assistant Professor Kate Applebaum, who directs the program.  According to the GEH program’s director, Assistant Professor Jay Graham, students in GEH are more likely to be interested in projects related to the effects of climate change in resource-poor settings, such as flooding in Bangladesh, food security in sub-Saharan Africa, and water scarcity. 

Research projects recently completed by GEH students include investigations into handwashing and other sanitation practices and their impacts on disease; emissions from cookstoves; health-promoting uses of carbon credits; and how community-lead health and environmental interventions may promote peace.  Other recent topics relate to nutrition, the time and energy invested in collecting water and fuel for household use, and the use of cell phones for health behavior change.  Students in this program may work in remote parts of Africa, Asia, and South America, and many don’t shy away from topics such as defecation, diarrhea, or latrine use.

The wide array of topics tackled by EHSP students include the impacts of environmental exposures to pesticides, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and contaminants such as PCBs, PBDEs, manganese, lead, and drinking water disinfection byproducts on health endpoints ranging from semen quality to telomere length to asthma incidence.  Other students focus on the impacts of occupations as diverse as sheet metal workers, agricultural workers, building construction laborers, coal and metal miners, firefighters, EMS workers, meatpacking workers, and taxi drivers.   Perceptions of climate change in U.S. cities, how heat deaths related to climate change are reported, greenhouse gas emissions from hydraulic fracturing and federal workers’ commuting choices, the environmental impacts of confined animal feeding operations, and why green building certification can be a tool to promote healthy places are other recent topics.

Whichever track you choose, you are certain to interact with faculty from both programs during your studies and learn about the public health implications of environmental issues in both the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.