Working in Public Health
Professionals working within the public health vertical have a variety of responsibilities, dependent on their education level. From working within small communities or towns to advancing global public health and wellness to teaching public health courses at a college, the opportunities are vast.
Our guide walks through the top public health degrees and which careers in public health coincide with each degree program. Keep in mind the following: in many cases (not all), the MPH degree is quickly becoming the most popular degree in public health companies are looking for.
There are online MPH programs available for those with a Bachelors degree in Public Health or a related field that might be employed currently - this is an excellent option. Be sure to be on the looking for accredited programs and specifically CEPH accredited MPH programs.
Options for a Public Health Degree
The Bachelors in Public Health, or BPH, is the most basic degree level for new college students and returning professionals. This option requires students to enroll in and complete courses that cater to the need for general education such as English, Mathematics, and History, as well as specific courses related to public health, including:
- Environmental Health
- Human Disease
- Healthcare Delivery
- Principles of Public Health
Different universities provide varying requirements in terms of credit hours, but you can expect to see general education requirements of around 45 credit hours, core courses totaling 80 credit hours on average, and 50 credit hours of elective courses. Some universities, especially those online, allow students to choose from one of the specializations listed in the next section.
Another profound degree option - and perhaps the most common for public health professionals - for public health prospects is the Masters in Public Health. This program is best complemented by a BPH degree, but can accompany other social science degrees as a specialization. Some other bachelor's level degree programs that can precede the MPH include those focusing on:
- Social Work
At this higher graduate degree level, the curriculum can include topics that are relevant to the chosen specialization, but may also include some of the generalized courses in public health.
The MPH degree program was designed to include elements of management as part of the curriculum, so courses that touch on the different aspects of management in a healthcare setting may also be present. Most MPH programs also include a capstone or final project that students must complete in order to receive their degree. This may include a personal project that includes working in the field, research into a chosen topic, or a proposal for new research in the field of public health. Most Master's in Public Health programs require between 35 and 55 credit hours for completion. Colleges that offer courses quarterly sometimes show a higher quarter-credit requirement of up to 90 credits.
The Doctor of Public Health degree (DPH) can prepare you to find careers working as a leader in fields that are relevant to public health. The goal of the DPH program is to train students to become effective decision makers, interdisciplinary experts, and knowledgeable advocates for general public health. For students that have already completed the Masters in Public Health, the degree program can include 45 credit hours on average. Since leadership is a core component of DPH programs, students within these programs may focus on some of the indirect aspects of public health, such as:
- Advanced Leadership
- Community Relations
- Evidence-Based Practice
Most DPH programs also include a practical requirement, which can include working for a public health agency under the supervision of a trained public health professional. Students that have completed this degree program must also complete an examination that will test their knowledge in the field of public health and verify their qualification as a Doctor of Public Health.
The Top Public Health Concentrations and Summaries
Community Health combines aspects of Communication, Health Assessment, and Program Development in an effort to create effective public health professionals that focus on the needs of small communities. The importance of creating provider networks and partnering public health agencies is a main component of this concentration.
Global Health looks beyond the scope of intranational problems and seeks to understand and provide insight into international public health epidemics. Some topics found within this concentration include Chronic Illness and Disease, Environmental Health, Policy and Administration, and Management. The purpose of this program is to create leaders that can assist with researching, developing, and implementing helpful global health initiatives that can play a large role in the improvement of public health for countries all over the world.
This concentration connects the biological, chemical, and physical characteristics of the environment when demonstrating the need for environmental health awareness. Social factors and workplace studies may also be a leading component within this specialization. Students in this discipline can learn how to evaluate the current environment in an effort to make public health assumptions in regards to environmental health.
The Biostatistics concentration engages students in learning about the data collection process, analysis, and translation of large-scale data collections. This can be achieved through the use of computer software, public interviews, and review of public health data. This field within public health can prepare students to work alongside others in the field of epidemiology, research, or even policy development.
Epidemiology is the core science associated with public health. This concentration seeks to understand why people become sick, what groups of people are more prone to illness, and what can be done to reduce the likelihood of widespread illness and disease. This is achieved through learning more about specific diseases, illnesses, and injuries in an attempt to better understand how they are contracted and spread.
A concentration in Nutrition can provide students with knowledge in diet research related to the acquisition of health-related issues. This can be achieved through research into biostatistics surrounding diet and health, providing detailed assumptions regarding social, economic, and environmental factors that are associated with health problems, and the evaluation of public health programs for improvement in nutrition-related areas.
Policy and Management
The Policy and Management concentration consists of training into both the public health curriculum as well as the techniques and ethics for management. Students may learn how to properly assess public health programs for weaknesses and provide insight into the strengthening of programs for public health agencies. Some topics involved in this specialization may include Law and Ethics in public health, Leadership Practices, Organizational Science, and Policy Development.
Social and Behavioral Science
Social and Behavioral Science seeks to understand how a person's behavior can affect his or her overall health. Through deep research into behavior, cognitive ability, social interactions, and community studies, this field can provide insight into the creation of helpful programs that are designed to reach people from all walks of life. Identifying risk factors, determining strategies, and implementation of programs can also be a large portion of this field.
In instances that include natural disaster, nuclear or biological threats, or other damaging factors in relationship to human safety, public health experts in disaster management are needed to provide assistance. Disaster Management includes a look into topics including Meterology, Federal Recovery Process, Infrastructure Protection, Homeland Security, Risk Assessment, Humanitarian Assistance, and Food and Water Safety.
Public Health Education
One of the major components of public health includes educating the public on ways to improve their own personal health and that of those around them. In this specialty, students can take courses that involve Teaching Methods, Curriculum Developments, History and Change in Public Health, Public Health Programs, and Educational Theory. Through this concentration, upcoming professionals can contribute to the field of public health by educating the people within their community about the different ways to protect themselves from illness, disease, or injury.
Health Services Administration
As a specialization, Health Services Administration may be one of the more popular for students within this degree major. This specialty includes many different components associated with public health and the health care field. Students may be involved in courses that include Health Care Finance, Policy Development, Management, Law and Ethics in Health Care, Business, and Public Health Planning.
Maternal and Child Health
As one of the leading sectors of the health care field, Maternal and Child Health has a large placement within Public Health. Students that choose this specialization can learn about the special care and consideration that patients within this sector require, as well as the numerous programs and treatments available to them. Coursework for this concentration includes a look into Public Health Programs, Family Planning, Preventative Health Care for Families, and Policy and Development.
What Can You Do With a Bachelors in Public Health?
Community Health Specialist
In this career field, specialists are needed to manage different specified illnesses and their exposure. These specialists work closely with epidemiologists and disease specialists to conduct investigations and provide site management in the case of exposures.
Quality Improvement Coordinator
These professionals work in coordination with public health education programs to assist with the improvement in the efficiency of the programs. As part of the job responsibilities, professionals may conduct site reviews, track data and manage input, respond to questions or concerns surrounding public health programs, generate documents and site reports, and coordinate public health programs entirely.
Public Health Administrator
As a Public Health Administrator, professionals may be responsible for the planning and implementation of disease prevention programs and public services. They may also ensure that the quality of these programs is up to par in accordance to national recommendations and make changes or improvements if necessary. As a primary component of this career field, professionals may work as a connecting source between local prevention agencies and policies regarding public health programming.
Research Assistants in public health can work for laboratories, colleges, or research agencies to help find answers to huge health-related questions. Typically, research specialists will work within a specific domain of public health, such as testing for specific diseases or illnesses. Recruiting research participants, conducting part of the research study, and the analysis of data may be some responsibilities of professionals in this field.
Prevention Specialists may focus primarily on preventative services for the community or another designated section of society. The responsibilities within this field include the planning of preventative services and programs, communication with the public regarding these programs, and the evaluation of program efficiency on a regular basis.
What Can You Do With a Masters in Public Health?
Public Health Educator
Educators in the realm of public health may be responsible for focusing on different aspects of public health, such as nutrition, exercise, drug-use, and chronic disease. Educators may also promote their programs through advertising, public outreach, and through schools within the community.
Public Health Epidemiologist
In this position, professionals may assist with collecting and analyzing data associated with disease, illness, and injury within designated areas. Epidemiologists may also be expected to create and maintain reports on their findings and deliver them to the appropriate source for data reporting. One of the primary goals of this field is to better understand the statistics surrounding public health in order to create effective treatment and prevention services for the public.
Public Health Consultant
As a Public Health Consultant, you can work to ensure that public health programs are providing the right level of services to the community. This can be achieved through evaluating an organization's public health programs, treatment process, medicinal storage, and handling of materials. Consultants typically provide an analysis of their evaluation to the agency in which they are employed in order to recommend changes and improvements.
Health Promotion Specialist
Health Promotion Specialists are similar to Public Health Educators in that they focus on providing educational information to the public in an effort to better their overall health and wellness. However, the primary focus in this career path is the development and improvement of public health education programs over the course of their existence. This can involve deep research into effective public health education programs, review of current biostatistical data concerning the specified area, and the review of current health education programs in need of change.
Clinical Research Coordinator
Research is a huge part of what makes public health a useful tool for society. If you choose to work in a position such as this one, you could be a primary player in collecting volunteers for studies, receiving all necessary consent paperwork prior to studies, assisting during the research process, and the analysis and delivery of results to proper agencies.
What Can You Do With a Doctor of Public Health / DPH?
Since the Ph.D. is a highly research-oriented degree program, graduates can make great additions to the field of education. Professionals at this level can work for colleges or universities that offer programs in Public Health, such as Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Policy Development, Community Health Education, and Public Health Law and Ethics. As an Assistant Professor, you can deliver your knowledge to students that are seeking careers within the same field. Job duties may include curriculum planning, implementation, grading, and mentoring.
This research-oriented career path involves the use of expertise in the creation and implementation of helpful prevention programs. Communities that have a high number of disease or illness cases may call upon the expertise of prevention specialists to provide insight into helpful prevention programs. These professionals may be employed by local public health organizations or work in consultation. They may analyze the community's biostatistical data in an effort to understand the prominence of the ailment and provide information on how to connect citizens with the right services.
Program Managers may have job duties including the planning and implementation of public health programs in specific areas, the hiring and training of staff, and financial management of relevant programs under their supervision. Some Program Managers ensure that their programs are functioning in accordance to public health regulations, and promote improvement when needed. If you choose to work in this field, you may be expected to take on a primary leadership role within your organization in an effort to provide high quality public health services.
Clinical Services Coordinator
The primary role of the Clinical Services Coordinator is providing oversight during the delivery of administrative services in public health organizations. These professionals may also be responsible for developing and implementing helpful community public health programs and prevention services that are easily accessible by citizens. Management-related duties may also be a large component within this career field.
Higher up on the tier of expertise in research, Research Directors may be responsible for overseeing research studies, data collection, and the delivery of reports. Directors typically report their findings to higher tier professionals within their research organizations, such as chief financial officers. These professionals may oversee a staff of researchers through standard recruiting requirements, study processes, and information delivery.
What Public Health Degrees Are Companies Looking For?
Organizations that focus on public health seek out graduates at all degree levels for different reasons. As you have seen in the last section, there are plenty of jobs that can be found at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level. At the bachelor's level, students are likely to have a solid understanding of public health from a broad perspective. Their understanding of the theories and principles surrounding public health can make them a great addition to community public health organizations that work directly with the public.
At the master's level, students typically choose a specialty to go alongside their public health degree. This specialization can provide more expertise, which is needed by employers for positions which a specific purpose, such as Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Policy Development, or Management. At the optimum degree level, the Ph.D., students can have the best knowledge of the research associated with the delivery of public health programs. Employers that have careers in research and development, education, or management will usually seek out graduates at this level to ensure that their positions are filled by professionals with experience in both research and public health education.
Being a good candidate for a public health job
Having the required educational background is not the only requirement for obtaining a great job in public health. There are certain qualities and traits that employers look for in candidates for their positions. Our team of experts looked at job openings in public health to break down some of the non-educational requirements sought out by employers. Take a look at some of these requirements below.
- Be a Team Player. In Public Health, most career fields will be a part of a larger team. Data is communicated among different areas in order to properly develop and maintain public health programs. Being a team players means completing your tasks on time and delivering them to the right people before assigned deadlines. Being a helpful source of information and supporting your team is also required.
- Organizational Skills. Dealing with large sums of data can be overwhelming for some people, but in the field of public health you must have the ability to organize and maintain data on a regular basis. Keeping track of what you have collected, what is due, and what you are responsible for can set you on track for success while working for public health agencies.
- Complex Problem Solving Skills. One interesting thing about working in public health is the complexity of the work involved. The entire purpose of the field of public health is to provide answers to questions about illness and disease and develop programs to help people protect themselves from them. Problem solving skills can help you find answers and continuously seek conclusions that are needed to be a success in this field.
- Light Physical Work. While not all positions include this requirement, it is commonly seen when searching for jobs in public health. Most requirements state that applicants should be able to lift at least 20 pounds, mostly to ensure that every day duties can be handled without difficulty.
- Computer Skills. The use of technology in public health is showing a constant rise. In order to work in public health data systems and enter important research findings into a large database, applicants need to have some experience in working with computers. Most companies require that applicants have knowledge of Microsoft Word or Excel, while others in Biostatistics or Epidemiology may require a more advanced knowledge.
- Communication Skills. In order to effectively reach people within the community, you may need to have strong communication skills. It can sometimes be a daunting task to convince the public to involve themselves in helpful prevention and treatment programs. Since a lot of public health positions involve teaching or working directly with members of the community, it is important to have a great communication ability in order to properly reach those in need.
- Responsible Work Ethic. Public health is an extremely important component in overall community health. Members of this career field should be dedicated, hard working, and passionate about their cause. Having a strong work ethic can help you to truly enjoy the work that you do and contribute to the success of the company in which you work. Showing a history of hard work and a strong work ethic can help you obtain the career of your dreams.