Improving Public Health in Colorado: Helping shape the future with a Public Health degree in Colorado

Colorado has made strides in the past decade at assessing its health status and setting goals. The 2013 Public and Environmental Health Assessment was followed by Shaping a State of Health: Colorado’s Plan for Improving Public Health and the Environment 2015 – 2019.

Largely these accomplishments are the work of public health professionals. Some public health professionals are also clinicians; they may hold clinical licensing as registered nurses, social workers, or physicians. Other professionals, though, pursue their education in public health or in sub-disciplines such as epidemiology or health administration. Leaders often have degrees at the master’s or doctoral level.

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Colorado Public Health Goals

Colorado has set two flagship goals: obesity and substance abuse/ mental health. In selecting these, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) drew from a list of “winnable goals” that was created in 2011. Decision makers also considered various perspectives, ranging from local priorities to health indicator topics that had been identified at the national level.

Shaping a State of Health sets measurable goals and lists partnering organizations that will help accomplish particular objectives. One substance abuse goal, for example, is to reduce the number of deaths from overdose of prescription drugs. One strategy is to improve the prescription drug monitoring program. Among the objectives are having a database query performed for every prescription for controlled substances that is filled. This is to be accomplished by 2019 — with the help of a number of partners, to include the CDPHE, the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), the University of Colorado, and the Colorado Medical Society.

Other winnable goals include the following:

  • Healthier water
  • Clean air
  • Safe food
  • Infectious disease outbreak response infrastructure
  • Injury prevention
  • Oral health
  • Tobacco
  • Unintended pregnancy

Colorado’s local health departments also have assessments and plans in place ( These, too, are the work of many professionals. Denver’s Community Health Improvement Plan credits individuals from many organizations as steering committee or task force members. The following is a small sampling:

  • Center for African-American Health
  • Colorado Alliance for Health Equity and Practice
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
  • Colorado Health Foundation
  • Denver Environmental Health
  • Denver Public Health
  • LiveWell Colorado
  • Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center
  • Servicios de la Raza

Public Health Employment in Colorado

The Shaping a State of Health document credits professionals in a variety of public health positions. Many manage or supervise particular programs or units. Among them are the following:

  • Chronic Disease and Oral Health Epidemiologist
  • Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease Unit Supervisor
  • District Public Health Administrator
  • Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Unit Manager
  • Emerging Air Quality Issues Supervisor
  • Public Health Planner
  • Tobacco Program Manager

Many of those cited in CDPHE documents work for state government. Similar positions exist at other levels of government. Professionals with public health degrees and experience may also find employment with various nongovernmental organizations, from nonprofits to insurance carriers and large corporations.

A recent Colorado job search turned up the following:

Policy Analyst for the Colorado Health Institute: This position would involve carrying out qualitative research, conducting policy analysis, and creating written analysis and presentations.

Coordinator of a Public Health Program for Denver Public Health: This position would involve coordinating various activities related to scaling up usage of a pre-exposure HIV treatment as well as coordinating grant proposals and carrying out some management tasks.

Wellness Coordinator for Healthbreak Inc.: Duties include planning, implementing, and reporting on health programs (including health awareness screenings, health assessments, health challenges, and special events) for a company with more than 3,000 employees.

Public Health Degree Options

Public health is typically pursued at the graduate level. The program may award a Master of Public Health or another degree such as Master of Science. A public health student can expect an introduction to core public health areas such as environmental science, epidemiology, and policy and management. The program may be generalist or may have a concentration.

There are ample in-state and out-of-state options. The Colorado School of Public Health boasts doctoral and master’s programs in a number of concentrations. Many of the nation’s public health schools, online and traditional, use the Schools of Public Health Application Service, or SOPHAS (

A master’s student should expect practicum and capstone experiences. One SPH student recently created a fourth grade curriculum and carried out research in food security as part of her practicum with Friend of Happy Heart Farm (

Many schools and programs voluntarily seek accreditation through the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). CEPH sets standards for practical learning and culminating experience, among other things. Students who attend non-CEPH programs will want to inquire about real-world opportunities – and about the school’s track record.

It is possible to study public health at the undergraduate level. However, a person can enter an MPH program with a degree in any field. Students interested in pursuing environmental science concentrations at the graduate level may wish to consider undergraduate majors in biology or chemistry.

Additional Resources

Information is available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and from local health agencies. The Colorado Department of Health is accredited at the state level by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). Colorado also has two accredited local health departments: the El Paso County Health Department and the Mesa Health Department.

The Colorado Public Health Association is the state affiliate of the American Public Health Association ( CPHA offers a mentorship program for early public health career professionals and those interested in the field (