Core Course 1: Understanding Public Health Issues

Credit Hours: 2

Course Overview

This course is part of the new 12-credit, two-semester integrated core public health training program completed by all MPH students in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Public health practitioners work to improve population-wide health outcomes and reduce health disparities. To succeed at this, they must first be able to understand health issues in depth, within a specific context. This course is designed to provide you with the skills to do this, and the opportunity to apply those skills to contemporary health issues. Read more about this course.

Specifically, we will explore:

  1. What constitutes a public health issue and why.
  2. What factors determine population health patterns and inequities.
  3. Strategies for communicating with diverse audiences about public health issues.

Over the course of the semester, you will work in teams on an assigned health topic, integrating what you learn in this course with the methodological and analytical skills developed in other courses this semester. You will refine the focus of your project, describe how the health issue is patterned within a given population in a particular place, advocate for why that health issue deserves public attention, conduct a literature review and build a systems map to describe the likely determinants of the health issue in that context, and reflect on further information that would be needed to permit deeper understanding of the issue. Throughout the course, we will also focus on developing a shared public health vocabulary that spans our individual disciplines and examining the ethical dimensions of public health practice. You will leave this course with in-depth knowledge of a particular health topic, which will serve as the basis for the spring semester, when training focuses on identifying and implementing public health solutions.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain public health history, philosophy and values.  
  • Identify the core functions of public health and the 10 Essential Services.  
  • Discuss the science of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention in population health, including health promotion, screening, etc.  
  • Explain effects of environmental factors on a population’s health.
  • Explain biological and genetic factors that affect a population’s health.  
  • Explain behavioral and psychological factors that affect a population’s health.  
  • Explain the social, political and economic determinants of health and how they contribute to population health and health inequities.  
  • Explain how globalization affects global burdens of disease.  
  • Explain an ecological perspective on the connections among human health, animal health and ecosystem health. 


  • Discuss the means by which structural bias, social inequities and racism undermine health and create challenges to achieving health equity at organizational, community and societal levels.
  • Describe the importance of cultural competence in communicating public health content.  
  • Apply systems thinking tools to a public health issue.  
  • Perform effectively on interprofessional teams.

To learn more about MPH@UNC, request information and an admissions counselor will contact you.

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