The environmental health concentration in public health encompasses a wide variety of fields and specialties. Disease prevention, the study of zoonotic diseases, occupational hazards, air quality and living conditions are just a few of the topics that can be studied or chosen as a career path with a degree in environmental health. Environmental health professionals work on human health and the health of the environment as it affects the general well being of the population. They may be dealing with long or short term problems, and it is imperative to be able to balance both immediate and future concerns. Environmental health will also study how societies, occupations and geographical settings affect the health of populations.
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What it Takes to Work in Environmental Health?
Individuals who work in environmental health may have diverse interests, but they often share a common thread. Work in environmental health often involves answering questions to problems that are evolving or are difficult to solve, and being an investigative and critical thinker could be essential to success in the field. However, being realistic is also very important as many problems may not be "solvable" or will be too complex to solve in a straightforward manner. Being realistic will help in adjusting to problems and determining what can feasibly be done to solve them. Lastly, a keen attention to detail is very important as many careers in environmental health involve extensive research.
Environmental Health Degrees
For individuals seeking a degree in environmental health, a major, concentration, or specialization within the program will be highly influential on available career paths. Once you have decided to pursue a degree in environmental health, choosing coursework specifically tailored to your interests within the field is the best way to develop professionally..
Bachelor's in Environmental Health
Bachelor's degrees (often Bachelor's of Science) are offered in environmental health, health science and/or occupational health. These degrees are science-based with the first years consisting of classes in biology, chemistry, physics, math and microbiology. Other classes may include American political systems, computer technology and communication. As many aspects of environmental health deal with political policy and proper communication methods, coursework in these fields is essential.
After the foundational course work is completed, introductory classes to environmental health will begin followed by specific environmental health and public health topics. These are courses covering (but not limited to):
- Epidemiology and biostatistics
- Air pollution and control
- Hazardous waste management
- Insect and vector control
Admissions to environmental health programs may require official transcripts, a specified GPA minimum, letters of recommendation and an interview.
Programs accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) are highly recommended. Many career options will require a degree from one of these programs. Few online degree options are also available for a bachelor's in environmental health.
Master's in Environmental Health
Receiving a masters degree in environmental health can happen through a few different degree options. A Master's of Health Science (MHS) in Environmental Health, a Master of Science in Public Health (MSHP) with a focus in environmental health, and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) with a focus in environmental health are all viable options.. Degree track options in occupational health, toxicology or environmental hygiene are also available.
Admissions requirements for many master's programs require a GRE, MCAT or previous graduate degree, a minimum GPA of 3.0 or better, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and background coursework in biology, chemistry, physics or calculus. The length of the degree will vary between schools and programs. Some offer one year degrees, while others offer the option to take classes part-time and extend the process. Some programs, including online options, are set up with the professional in mind, making classes available to those with work or personal commitments.
The coursework taken will no longer cover multiple topics as the bachelor's degree did, but instead will be focused on specialties and include practical work.Introductory classes will be taught that will tackle the basics of public health, environmental health, biology, and epidemiology. After these classes, the curriculum will focus on the focus or specialty chosen. A few examples of these specialties are:
- Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
- Population Environmental Health
- Sustainability and Global Environmental Health
These schools may be accredited by EHAC or the Council on Education for Public Health. This accreditation of the program may be very important for individuals anticipating a career in industries that specifically look for graduates from accredited programs.. Online programs in environmental health are also widely available, many of which may be accredited as well.
Doctorate in Environmental Health
The requirements for admission into a PhD. program often include a master's degree in a related field and significant work experience. The coursework will further focus the individual's career path through courses taken and original research. For almost all PhD. programs, research is a primary requirement for completion of the degree program.
This research will include intensive training on research methodologies and seminars with current professionals. Many universities encourage and support research conducted by PhD. students by offering full funding of tuition and a stipend for living expenses. Students may also be required to teach undergraduate or graduate classes while working towards their PhD.
Environmental Health Careers and Industries
The career options for an individual just starting their degree in environmental health are expansive - many jobs in the environmental health area are considered "green occupations".
Green occupations are jobs that have a high likelihood of becoming more in demand as the economy moves toward more sustainable, environmentally friendly ideals. For some career options in environmental health, a bachelor's degree is enough to start a career. A master's level degree may be required for those who wish to work in government, with international organizations, or in leadership/management positions. A Ph.D. may be required for those interested in academia and research. A Ph.D. can also be helpful for those interested in leadership positions in international health organizations (i.e. the World Health Organization).
Environmental Health Career Highlight
Occupational Health and Safety Specialists are utilized in many different industries from the government to hospitals to private companies. They will review, analyze, and evaluate the work environment to control, eliminate and prevent disease and/or injury. This may occur through procedural change, program design or various other measures.
Occupational Health Specialists will also investigate accidents to identify the cause and establish future prevention, recommend protection measures, and programs to address hygiene problems such as noise and ventilation. The degree required by most employers is a bachelor's. Individuals working as an occupational health and safety specialist might expect a median wage of $69,000 annually, but the position has a slow projected job growth of only 21,000 jobs added between 2012-2022.
Compliance managers have a much better job outlook with 250,000 projected job openings between 2012-2022. Similar to occupational health specialists, compliance managers work in multiple industries, but can also be self-employed or employed by the government.. Compliance managers will plan, direct, and coordinate activities of an organization to ensure compliance to regulations. This may be through reporting, documentation, maintenance, filing, or investigations. Work experience is a highly sought after skill for those in compliance as a bachelor's degree in occupational health is the minimum degree required.
Environmental Health Associations to Know
The National Environmental Health Association offers credentialing, networking, research opportunities and community for upcoming and established environmental health professionals. The mission “to advance the environmental health and protection professional for the purpose of providing a healthful environment for all" is as relevant today as it was when the organization was founded.