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Health Studies Subject Guide

Are you the first-aider in your group of friends - the one who always has plasters and antiseptic cream and nags people to go to the doctor when that cough just won’t go away? Do you dream of saving lives with the NHS, patching up scraped knees in a school or even advising charities and governments on international health policies?

Whether you’d prefer to work in the public or private sector, in a hands-on medical role or an administrative or advisory position, if you’re passionate about forging a career in healthcare, a postgraduate health studies degree could open the door to your dreams.




What Sort of Person Would It Suit?

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You’ll likely be a naturally caring person with more than a passing interest in healthcare - the majority of postgraduate health studies courses are aimed at graduates of related bachelor’s degree courses or healthcare professionals with considerable workplace experience. Health studies is a broad church though, so whether your interest is in physical or mental health, nutrition or disease control, you’ll be able to find your niche.

There’ll often be a focus on both practical and academic skills in a lot of postgraduate health studies qualifications, so you’ll probably be the sort of person who’s happy to get their hands dirty, but many courses will also appeal to those looking to eventually land an office based role too.


What Types of Health Studies Qualifications Can You Do?

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A master’s degree is one of the most popular types of postgraduate health studies qualification. Due to the practical nature of a lot of health studies master’s degrees, most MScs (Master of Sciences) in this field are taught courses with plenty of seminars, contact hours and time spent on placements, making them perfect for those who enjoyed the similar structure of an undergraduate health degree.

Although an MA (Master of Arts) is also a master’s degree, a health studies MA will usually be a research course with a larger element of self-motivated study, often with a focus on helping you build the skills necessary to move onto a PhD or research based role. Similarly, a Master’s by Research, or MRes, will offer you the chance to study independently while also working on a supervised research project.


If you’d like to study a postgraduate qualification that’s quicker to complete or a little less intensive than a master’s, you might want to look into a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip).

Both are equivalent, academically, to a master’s degree, but need fewer credits to pass – 60 for a PGCert and 120 for a PGDip, as opposed to 180 for an MA, MSc or MRes. These types of qualifications are perfect for students wishing to learn some key skills ahead of a move into work or a career change, or for those who’d like to eventually complete a master’s degree but whose undergraduate degree doesn’t meet the requirements for their preferred course.


If you’ve always been more of a thinker than a doer, a PhD could be the course for you. One of the most advanced academic qualifications you can pursue, a PhD is an intensive research degree that generally takes three – four years to complete full time but can take a lot longer if you choose to study part time.

You’ll be expected to hand in a 10,000-word thesis in order to pass, so it’s a heavy workload, but you’ll earn the title ‘Dr’ at the end of it. A PhD would particularly suit if you’d like to move into a full time academic career, or work in an advisory or consultancy capacity.


Health Studies Courses

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‘Health studies’ covers a wide range of subjects focussing on different areas of health and fitness from mental to physical wellbeing and everything in between, so whatever your interest you’ll find a course for you!

Some centre on building practical skills with medical applications for nurses and other hospital workers while others are more rooted in theory and the study of health worldwide – perfect if you dream of working for a charity or want to help think up solutions to global health crises.

Here's just a few options you might find interesting…


Health Studies

The most generalised course in the field, a health studies degree will help you build on your existing professional skills and expertise as well as improve your strategic thinking in order to better tackle contemporary issues arising in healthcare today.

You’ll often have the option to focus on specific areas on interest, improving your career prospects in a number of fields such as nursing, education and healthcare management.

Public Health

Mostly aimed at current healthcare professionals , public health courses move away from one-on-one patient care to look at health and healthcare among communities and wider populations. You’ll hone your analytical and leadership skills, setting yourself up for a career in research, disease control or public health policy.

Shakoor Hajat is a course director for the public health MSc at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). He says:

"An MSc in public health aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills to enable them to address public health challenges through research and/or practice. The course covers the whole breadth of public health, which focuses on high, middle and low-income countries. At LSHTM, students can follow a general public health course or concentrate on one of five more specific streams."



Nutrition, sometimes known as ‘human nutrition’, looks at the impact food has on health, examining the links between diet and disease. You’ll learn the core principles of nutrition and its importance in fields such as public health and sports, and be well on your way to becoming an accredited nutritionist working in individual or community nutrition, food advocacy or education.


Global Public Health Nutrition

This course combines some of the core principles of public health nutrition degrees and applies them on an international scale, looking at global problems such as food scarcity and nutrition related diseases in poorer countries.

Regina Keith, a senior lecturer and course leader in MSc Global Public Health Nutrition at the University of Westminster says,

"In the UK most postgraduate public health and nutrition degrees focus on the concepts underpinning nutrition, and its links with diet and diseases such as obesity and heart disease. Most will include modules on qualitative and quantitative research followed by the completion of a research project. Some Global Public Health Nutrition will include a focus on under nutrition in low and middle income settings as well as a focus on the nutrition transition in countries in transition. 

Many include some modules on effective interventions to improve nutrition outcomes and a few include a focus on food security and the challenges the poor face to have access to enough food each day."


Mental Health Studies

Some mental health studies courses are aimed at students already working in the mental health field, others at graduates of related degrees, so check before you apply!

Course content varies between institutions, but there’s often a focus on the causes and treatment of mental health problems, with an aim to improve assessment of mental health problems and explore new approaches to psychological therapies in healthcare, as well as promoting mental wellbeing. A qualification of this kind should give you an edge pursuing a career in clinical psychology or research.


Health Data Science

If you take a technical interest in healthcare provision and are a bit of a whizz with numbers, this relatively new and increasingly popular course could be for you. You’ll learn the ins and outs of how medical data is collected and analysed, and how what we learn from the results can be used to improve healthcare delivery and treatment outcomes. This course opens a doorway to a career as a health data scientist, working for the NHS, in the private healthcare industry or in academia.


Why Study Health?

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Sadly, diseases and health problems aren’t going to go away any time soon – that’s why we need a top notch team of healthcare professionals working on better ways of assessing, treating and ultimately preventing illnesses, as well as ensuring our vital services are run smoothly.

You won’t be short of career options (and hopefully job offers) with a postgraduate qualification in health, as your skills will be valued in the NHS, the private healthcare sector, charities and voluntary organisations, education and academia and many other areas.

Plus, even if you ultimately decide to go another way in your career, you’ll have picked up some impressive transferrable skills, such as research and data analysis, management and leadership and strategic thinking, planning and problem solving, which could set you on a path to any number of different jobs.


What Careers Can I Do?

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You’ll be spoiled for choice with a postgraduate health studies degree! Depending on your specific course and area of expertise, you could use a health studies qualification to further your career in nursing, become a nutritionist or mental health specialist.

If you’re not looking for a hands on role you could be crunching numbers in the lab, working to improve the efficiency of healthcare provision and outcomes, or working with governments and charities to tackle global health crises and prevent diseases.

Still not your thing? There’s plenty of research still to be done in this ever expanding field, so a career in academia could beckon. Plus, there’s a constant need for teachers to train the next generation of health workers.

"Careers in Public Health are as diverse as the background of our students", Shakoor told us. Depending on the focus of their course, "graduates could enter careers in epidemiology, health risk assessment and policy development”, as well as “practice, management and research in health promotion, and management positions in ministries of health around the world, the UK National Health Service, non-governmental organisation and management consultancies, alongside roles in academia and research."


How to Fund It

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Don’t be put off by the price of a postgraduate degree – although costs can be high, there are plenty of ways to fund your course, from loans to grants and even employer funding.


Government Loans

We’re sure by now you’ve heard the news – the government are offering loans of up to £10,000 for postgraduate students to help cover the cost of any master’s degree from this year onwards. Yippee! Of course, you’ll have to pay it back; the current rules state you’ll enter repayment on your loan once you’re earning £22,000 a year. You’ll have to pay it back at the same time as any money you still owe on your undergraduate degree, too.


Career Development Loans

Not associated with the government, you can apply for a career development loan through your bank or building society. They’re not available for all courses – you’ll have to be able to demonstrate that the qualification you want to study is essential for you to find a job or progress in your career. You’ll have the best luck if you’re applying to fund an MSc or other course you need in order to apply for a managerial or specialist role in your current career.


University Scholarships, Bursaries and Grants

If you’re struggling to meet any of the costs associated with completing your postgraduate degree, get in touch with your university to check assistance they offer. For example, King’s College offers a Commonwealth Shared Scholarships Scheme for students hailing from commonwealth countries studying certain health related topics and the University of Exeter has a Global Excellence Scholarship of up to £5,000 available for students with proven top flight academic ability.

If you can’t see any help listed on your university’s website, don’t be afraid to give them a call and see if there’s anything they can do.


Employer Sponsorship

If you’ve already got a job, check if your employer runs any schemes for employees wishing to pursue further qualifications in their field – you’ll be surprised to see how many companies offer part of full payment of fees for a course that will help you move on in your career (usually under the stipulation that you continue working for your employer for a set amount of time after finishing the course). Even if you can’t find anything advertised, ask! The worst they can say is no.



Whether you choose to work full time for a few years in order to finance full time postgraduate study or keep your job and study and work part time, with determination and good budgeting we have total faith you’ll be able pull of funding your course yourself.


Case Study

Postgraduate Search chatted to Annie Bateman, who studied MSc Public Health at the University of Surrey


Why did you choose to study Public Health at Postgraduate level?

I wanted to do an MSc, had an interest in public health and how health care provisions are established at local levels and how these are tailored to the health needs of communities. Also, I was interested in demographics and how they affect healthcare needs/uptake of provision and health beliefs in general.

What was your favourite aspect of the course?

Having time to access and become more confident in finding stats on Office National Statistics and learning to interpret the data and apply it to health needs.

How has the qualification helped with your career?                                    
I'm qualified to work in public health now, so although I’m currently still working in nursing I could one day move away from it and work with health care commissioners or for Public Health England, which is really exciting!

What's your advice for anyone thinking of studying public health?

If you're interested in health inequalities, and the impact of demographics on health, then go for it! It's fascinating.


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