The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Public Health

Molly Totman against a brick wallMolly Totman '11, Project Coordinator at Caring Health Center

Upon graduation from UMass with a degree in anthropology, Molly became a Community Partner Facilitator with MACC Americorp VISTA. One year later, Molly returned to UMass to pursue her Master’s in Public Health. She graduated with this degree in 2014, after which she began working in her current position. Molly is a project coordinator with the Research and Wellness Department at Caring Health Center. There, she coordinates several projects including an NIH- funded research grant where she supervises a research team and manages all data collection for their research project. In addition, she manages the chronic disease prevention and management group programs at Caring Health Center.

During her time at UMass, Molly had an internship with the youth program at Nuestras Raices. She helped the youth conduct interviews, perform ethnographies, and collect oral histories. After her internship, Molly continued working with the organization as a research assistant. Through this work, she gained valuable research experience that helped her in her post-grad life. Molly also had a second internship with the Massachusetts Farm to School. There, she helped with survey collection and gathered data on which schools buy locally grown foods. 

Read more about Molly and her advice to current students.

About the Industry

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention and detection and control of infectious diseases.  Public health professionals try to prevent problems from happening or recurring through implementing educational programs, recommending policies, administering services and conducting research – in contrast to clinical professionals like doctors and nurses, who focus primarily on treating individuals after they become sick or injured. Public health also works to limit health disparities. A large part of public health is promoting healthcare equity, quality and accessibility.

Sample Classes

Below are a few examples, but we urge you to talk to your major/departmental advisor and explore available courses in SPIRE. Remember not to constrain yourself to classes within your major.


POLISCI 394: The Body Politic: An interdisciplinary exploration of how American political and legal power is exercised upon and through the human body. While a range of topics and movements fall within this general description, we will examine most closely the politics of AIDS and reproductive health in the United States


SOCIOL 353: Sociology of Medicine: Literature on health and illness from three sociological perspectives: 1) epidemiological: focus on social and psychological factors as causes of disease; 2) illness-behavior perspectives: focus on variation between persons and groups in their evaluation and response to pain and symptoms; and 3) organizational: emphasis on problems in organization and delivery of medical services.


SOCIOL  397: Special Topics - Social Forces,Health & Lifecourse: An introduction to how social forces shape health throughout the life-course, with special focus on human development. Topics include social origins of disease, health disparities, the influence of peer and family relationships, how social forces interact with genetic background, neighborhood effects, and social status.


COMM 319 - Health Communication: The course will introduce, investigate and explore the nature of communication processes that influence and/are influenced by health and health care contexts. Communication theories and practices will be applied to a variety of health issues including the physician-patient relationship, the design of health media campaigns, the influence of health promotion on human behavior, health literacy, Western and cultural expressions of health and the use of interactive technology.


ECON 397WP-ST - Wellbeing, Inequality, & Poverty: Tools for analyzing and understanding poverty, inequality and well-being. Theoretical and methodological foundations of the main approaches to poverty, inequality and well-being will be critically presented and discussed: from the conventional monetary view to multidimensional approaches. 


ANTHRO 312 - Medical Anthropology: Concepts, approaches, methods, and goals of medical anthropology. An examination of the interplay between biology and culture and how health, illness, medicine and therapy exist in different cultures. Central to this concern is the idea that culture plays a central role in definitions of health and illness. 


Depending on your main area of interest, your academic pathway will shift. To explore this field, you can take courses that will provide you with knowledge and skills in:

  • Research methods
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
Co-Curricular Activities

Being involved in on and off campus activities and organizations will give you experience and help you hone in on what you really love doing. Consider joining organizations that will provide you with a deeper understanding of the professional areas you’re considering. You’ll learn more about the field, meet people who share your interests, and have something to include on your resume to show your dedication. Below are some examples, but we encourage you to go to the RSO webpage and start searching!


  • Pride Alliance
  • International Relations Club
  • Student Government Association
  • UMass Democrats
  • Everywoman’s Center
  • Mass PIRG
  • Peer Advisor
Internships and Experience

Explore the different aspects of this industry through internships, co-ops, job shadowing, and other experiential opportunities. This will help you hone in on your interests while building an impressive knowledge base and resume for when you enter the job market. SBS students and alumni have completed internships in this industry at places like:


  • Safe Passage
  • Northampton Health Department
  • Nuestras Raices
  • The Center for Research on Families
  • Society for Public Health Education
  • National Cancer Institute - Health Communications & Informatics Research Branch
  • UMass Residence Life - Resident Assistant
  • Center for Women & Community
  • Family Outreach of Amherst
  • Massachusetts Farm to School


Find an internship or co-op that suits you by using these search and application tips and by searching the Career Connect database.

Sample Job Titles
  • Reproductive Health Counselor
  • HIV/AIDS Case Manager
  • Public Health Planner
  • Community Projects Coordinator
  • Director of Wellness
  • Health Educator
  • Global Health Writer