Getting Started with Public Health Research

Whether you are in an administrative, finance, or research role, a time will likely come when you need to find information about population health in your future work. When that time rolls around you’ll want to be organized and knowledgeable about how to quickly uncover what you are looking for. Here’s a couple of helpful strategies for answering your public health research questions:


Academic journals can provide you with the most up-to-date research in your field. One of the most useful steps you can take as a student of public health is to do academic research on your field of interest, using the journal access that your school provides. It might be much harder to access these journals once you’re on the job, unless your future institution subscribes to some of them.

Some useful journals to get started with research in public health include PubMed, MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PAIS databases. Each of these offer a broad array of research findings from healthcare and preventative health efforts.

Think Tanks and Nonprofits

If you don’t have journal access or you can’t seem to find what you need in the vast world of academic research, you might want to turn to the work that think tanks and nonprofit organizations are doing to help make health research more accessible.

For instance, Public Health Institute has reports and resources on a broad array of public health topics, including aging, chronic disease, electronic health records, and health finance. Another example is the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has a plethora of articles and fact sheets on the most current health policy issues.


Sometimes the fastest way to answer your question is less about searching through the Internet and more about human-to-human contact. If the information you’re looking for isn’t readily available, try searching for experts at other hospitals or academic institutions who can help you. Often you can even identify someone who specializes in your exact question.

When reaching out to individuals for research it’s helpful to be as flexible as possible in scheduling a phone call or in-person meeting, as the other person is usually going out of their way to talk to you. A quick thank-you note after the conversation can also go a long way toward building goodwill for the long run.

Original Research

A final option to answer your public health question is of course to do the research yourself! Make an appointment with the research director of your institution and talk about the feasibility of designing a survey or study that would answer the question you need help with. Of course in order to be successful you’ll have to demonstrate the usefulness of the research to your institution, and you’ll have to have a long enough timeline that you can wait the months (or years) that it will take to investigate your question. If you have ideas for where funding for the study can come from you’re even more likely to get approval. Public health students in particular might find the option of doing original research the most appealing.

With these simple approaches, you should be well on your way to excelling at basic public health research. Your institution and your colleagues will all appreciate your facility in finding important information on the job.