Global & Public Health Sciences (GPHS) Major

Healthy communities through research and action

Public health is the prevention of illness and promotion of wellness in communities, both large and small. The Global & Public Health Sciences major teaches the tools of public health research and action, and their application to population health issues in the U.S. and around the world. Sustained improvement of the health of populations often requires a multidisciplinary approach involving the biomedical, social, behavioral, political and environmental sciences, and careful consideration of the importance of cultural and ethical contexts.

The Global & Public Health Sciences major is intended for students who are interested in the health problems of communities and the actions that will protect or improve the lives of large numbers of individuals within communities. Communities might be as small as a village, or as large as a country or even a continent, and successful actions can affect dozens or millions of persons. The work of public health professionals is distinct from the work of clinical professionals, who typically treat individuals after they have become sick or injured. Public health actions often involve educational and/or governmental approaches that influence many persons simultaneously, for example, in order to address issues such as obesity and diabetes, food security, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, quality of food, water and air, and access to health care. The major is especially appropriate for students who wish to pursue advanced study that would lead to leadership positions in governmental or non-governmental organizations that deal directly with current and emerging health concerns in the U.S. or internationally.



The major requires courses in introductory biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physiology. These courses collectively provide a foundation with which to understand the biomedical basis of public health issues.

All majors must take "Introduction to Public Health" and "Introduction to Global Health" in their first year . These courses introduce students to the principles of public health practice and research, domestically and internationally. Using case studies, students will learn about the achievements, challenges, and controversies in the field of public health, and the range of career opportunities.

Epidemiology is often referred to as the cornerstone of public health, and, together with biostatistics, these disciplines are the foundation for public health research and practice. Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of health and well-being in human populations. Biostatistics is the application of statistics to biology, in this case to biomedical problems, and includes the analysis, interpretation and inferences in health-related studies. One course in each of these two subjects is required, and should be completed within the first five semesters .

Given the interdisciplinary nature of population health problems, students are required to take one advanced course in each of the following three areas: Social & Behavioral Health, Biological Aspects of Public Health, Environmental Health, and Health Policy & Management. Students choose from a list of courses in each of these areas according to their interests and course schedule. Topics include public health microbiology, public health nutrition, nutrition and disease, nutrition and global health, social inequalities in physical and mental health, the U.S. healthcare system, reproductive health, and risk analysis and management.

Experiential Learning:

Public health focuses on identifying and solving problems. Therefore, all students in this major are required to complete a minimum of three credit hours of supervised experiential (active, engaged) learning in a laboratory or community setting. The experiential learning component will provide students in the major with the unique opportunity to connect theory and practice, to learn in unfamiliar contexts, to interact with others unlike themselves, and to practice using knowledge and skills in an applied public health setting. Through this requirement, students will be challenged to engage more effectively with the content of their courses while also learning about citizenship and about themselves as individuals. In addition, students will gain a deeper understanding of public health issues and problems and have the opportunity to enhance research, writing and critical thinking skills by applying knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to a public health community or laboratory setting. Students choose from a list of supervised experiences in the local community, on-campus laboratory, off-campus academic setting (e.g. Urban Semester in NYC, Cornell in Washington, Capital Semester in Albany), or international field setting in a resource-poor environment. Some settings, for example an international placement, may involve pre-departure preparation and/or additional expenses. All students take NS2060 Preparation for Engaged Learning in Global & Public Health Sciences, in the fall of their sophomore year.

Click here to learn more about the portfolio of Experiential Learning Opportunities


Upon completion of the experiential learning component, seniors enroll in Explorations in Global and Public Health, the capstone course in the major. This course involves, in part, a reflective document and presentation that connects the experiential component with the core principles of public health as presented in coursework taken over the previous three years.

Requirements in the Major

Core courses in GPHS

  • NS 1600: Introduction to Public Health
  • NS 2600: Introduction to Global Health
  • NS 2060: Preparation for Engaged Learning in Global & Public Health Sciences
  • NS 3600: Epidemiology
  • STSCI 2150: Introductory Statistics for Biology
  • Supervised experiential learning (minimum of three credits)
  • NS 4600: Explorations in Global and Public Health (capstone)
Advanced Specialized Selectives
(one course from each of the following areas)

  • Social and behavioral health
  • Biological aspects of public health
  • Environmental health
  • Health policy and management
Natural Sciences

  • Introductory Chemistry with lab
  • Introductory Biology (three courses)
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Principles of Biochemistry
  • Physiology

Click here for a sample 4-yr schedule


Special Opportunities

A variety of research opportunities are available to students to work with Cornell faculty on a broad range of topics. In some cases students can qualify for graduation with Honors by completing an honors thesis and presentation. Along with the experiential learning component required by the major, a research experience prepares students for advanced degree programs in schools of public health.

Students with interests in medicine who are intending to apply to medical school can complete a pre-medical program by adding two semesters of physics and at least one semester of calculus.

Students interested in nutrition practice can meet the requirements of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics by adding courses in foods, nutrition and disease, microbiology, food service management and counseling.


Opportunities in public health are numerous and growing. Students completing the major in Global & Public Health Sciences will be prepared to pursue careers in public health, public service, research, social entrepreneurship, medicine and other health careers both domestically and globally, following appropriate graduate or professional training. Public health fields include epidemiology, biostatistics, health education/behavior, international health, health policy and management, and environmental health. Depending on the position and the employer, some opportunities may require an advanced degree, such as a Masters in Public Health. While the Global & Public Health Sciences major offers the broad interdisciplinary perspective to prepare students for the complex setting, organizations and specialties encountered in advanced study, students are encouraged to meet with advisors and career counselors to insure appropriate undergraduate preparation, as specific requirements differ among the various fields.

Last Updated: July 2017