Public Health and Medicine

Distinctions Between Public Health and Medicine

Public Health

  • Primary focus on populations
  • Public service ethic, as an extension of concerns for the individual
  • Emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion for the whole community
  • Public health paradigm employs a spectrum of interventions aimed at the environment, human behavior and lifestyle, and medical care
  • Variable certification of specialists beyond professional public health degree
  • Lines of specialization organized, for example, by:
    • analytical method (epidemiology, toxicology)
    • setting and population (occupational health, global health)
    • substantive health problem (environmental health, nutrition)
  • Life sciences central, with a prime focus on major threats to the health of populations; research moves between laboratory and field
  • Population sciences and quantitative disciplines essential features of analysis and training
  • Social and public policy disciplines an integral part of public health education


  • Primary focus on individual
  • Personal service ethic, in the context of social responsibilities
  • Emphasis on disease diagnosis, treatment, and care for the individual patient
  • Medical paradigm places predominant emphasis on medical care
  • Uniform system for certifying specialists beyond professional medical degree
  • Lines of specialization organized, for example, by:
    • organ system (cardiology, neurology)
    • patient group (obstetrics, pediatrics)
    • etiology and pathophysiology (infectious disease, oncology)
    • technical skill (radiology, surgery)
  • Biological sciences central, stimulated by needs of patients; research moves between laboratory and bedside
  • Numerical sciences increasing in prominence, though still a relatively minor part of training
  • Social sciences tend to be an elective part of medical education