Continuing Education and Professional Development in Public Health

If you’re familiar with public health, then you’ve probably heard of the term: disease prevention, or health equity. Combining data, policy and a one-of-a-kind expertise, public health professionals not only work to reduce the risk and occurrence of infectious diseases among populations of varying sizes, but they also provide the same populations with education to help improve overall quality of life.

No matter what public health specialty you choose or role you end up in, it’s important to be aware of any opportunities for advancement. Taking advantage of continuing education and other professional development resources may help you negotiate a higher salary and transition into a more desirable position in the saturated field that is healthcare.  

What is Continuing Education (CE)?

Simply put, continuing education (CE) refers to post-secondary learning. CE within the public health industry ensures that employees remain current with industry practices and new knowledge and research. Some forms of CE include degree credit courses, workforce training, conferences, experiential learning, or self-directed learning.

What is Continuing Professional Development (CPD)?

Continuing professional development (CPD) refers to the process of developing and enhancing one’s skillset. While CE focuses on education and remaining current, CPD focuses on honing and developing current skills to better serve within a position. Within the public health industry, CPD can enable employees to pursue a path to greater success within their current role or expand into future positions.

Importance of Continuing Education and Professional Development

There are many benefits of continuing education and continuing professional development. Not only are you actively investing in yourself to improve your skills, but continuing education and professional development is a great way to stay ahead of competition and advance your career. Some of the highest-paid public health jobs require advanced degrees, and CE is required for maintaining many public health certifications. Some key factors to remember when it comes to continuing education and professional development are:

  • CE keeps your mind sharp and actively learning. 
  • CE will keep you at the forefront of your field.  
  • CE can qualify you for a broader range of positions. 
  • CPD can make you a better candidate for leadership and managerial roles. 
  • CE and CPD networking events can open additional professional doors.
  • CE and CPD provide additional specializations and experience, which can help you reach a higher-paid position.

College Credit and Degree Programs in Public Health 

While a bachelor’s degree may be the minimum requirement for some positions in the public health field, many public health employees opt to continue their education with additional opportunities, such as a master’s degree or a graduate certificate program. Advanced studies may help them gain a competitive advantage within their chosen field. Programs are available both online and on campus. Depending on the current education level of the students, they can choose the right one for them Some post-secondary degree and program options in public health include:

Master of Public Health (MPH): An MPH is an in-depth skills-based degree program tailored to effectively train students to educate and improve health outcomes of populations worldwide. There are many online MPH programs available providing candidates flexibility and the option to work at their own pace. Some schools offer an online MPH without GRE requirements for admission

Master’s in Healthcare Administration (MHA): An MHA offers a curriculum that instructs students on how to collect, maintain, and analyze data to improve patient outcomes and support healthcare organizations. Students can opt for an online MHA program, which allows them to continue to work while studying to earn their advanced degree. Up to 3 years working experience might be required.  

Certificate Programs: Offered by schools with Master’s in Public Health (MPH) programs and focusing on a range of specialties, graduate certificate programs can be completed in as little as 12 months. These programs are generally geared toward professionals with prior experience. Some certificate programs might be mandatory for a position, or can help to propel you in the field. Some require GRE scores.

Before you settle on a specific public health certificate, make sure that you research your top choices extensively to find out how much time it’ll take to complete, as well as what kind of financial investment you’ll be making. You should also be aware of admissions requirements.

Professional Certifications and Licensure  

Both public health certifications and licensure can offer a potential employee a distinct advantage from their peers. Professional certification is when you earn a document that serves as proof that you have achieved a certain level of knowledge and successfully met requirements that qualify you for your line of work. There are a wide range of public health certifications, with offerings for health education specialists, physical activity specialists and more. 

If you’re interested in earning reputable public health certifications, look into organizations that are dedicated to upholding high professional competency standards. If you are pursuing a career in health education, the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) offers the popular Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) certification. Healthcare administrators  can also consider earning the Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional (cHAP) from the Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHAP).

Some degrees or specialities might be required for earning certain certifications. Remember to spend time conducting research on certification requirements.

Licensure is different from certification. Licensure is proof that you have earned a legal designation that has a clear set of requirements for your particular vocation. Some healthcare positions like nursing and dentistry require licensure to practice. Licensure for public health workers may be required depending on state requirements and practice setting. For example, registered environmental health specialists and health officers with New Jersey Department of Health must have a license administered by the state

Short-term Courses and Trainings for Public Health Professionals

For people who want to update their resumes or renew CE credits for certain public health positions, there are a variety of short-term courses and training options available. Short-term courses can be a suitable option for students looking to learn more about a particular subject but who may not have the time or funds for a full degree program.

A short course in public health is usually offered by universities or organizations and can be completed online or within a traditional learning environment. Each short course may take several hours to several weeks to complete. Some of them may require weekly readings or assignments. Students receive a certificate of completion once they pass.

Before enrolling in any one of the many public health classes available, it is important to make sure that the course or training you intend to take aligns with your professional goals. 

Personal Development

While there are many public health-specific programs and certifications available to improve your experience, skills, and resume, that shouldn’t stop you from taking other non-health-related classes. Additional degrees or experience in other areas, such as communication, foreign languages or finance, could ultimately improve your performance. 

For example, the ability to speak in a second language may help when communicating with varieties of demographics within your workplace and community, while a finance background could assist if you were to ever transition to a managerial or administrative role. 

As we have discussed, careers in public health are numerous. Your public health degree may help to land you a job as an epidemiologist, a registered dietitian or a health services manager. You could focus on foodborne illnesses, immunizations or environmental health. No matter your area of interest or the job title that appeals to you, having additional professional or educational experiences that align with your current role can help boost your standing and increase your desirability.

Information last updated May 2020

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