Workers with public health degrees are desperately needed. Depending on where you study, you might have an easier or harder time finding a job. Health Care is one of the most complex and indispensable components of American society and its economy. While other sectors are essential, no other area has so much impact on whether people live or die, and the ongoing quality of their lives.
Many distinct disciplines go into providing health care treatments, services, and other functions in the national and global economy. Health care professionals must be adequately educated, credentialed, and experienced to provide proper care to patients, clients, and anyone else they serve.
An incredibly vital part of health care in our country is public health. Public health is any work, study, outreach, education, and research that maintains the health of people, communities, and larger populations. Public health professionals fill many positions and have a vast breadth of duties. Whatever they do, they work to prevent disease, promote healthy lifestyles, proper hygiene. Public health efforts can be done through macro-level strategizing, localized advocacy, or providing services at a micro-level with impacted populations.
If you think you’re interested in working as a public health professional, want to know what that would entail and how you’d get there, check out the guide below!
- What is Public Health? What Do Public Health Professionals Do?
- What is a Public Health Degree? What are the Available Public Health Degrees?
- Ask Yourself and Consider the Following About Your Public Health Education and Career
- How Can We Help You In Your Health Care Education and Career?
- What Can You Expect to Earn as a Public Health Professional? What’s Public Health Employment Like?
What is Public Health? What Do Public Health Professionals Do?
Public health is any work that prevents adverse health outcomes and promotes positive ones. In the popular imagination, it’s often epitomized by disease prevention, but it can extend in many unexpected directions. For example, planning for and dealing with the consequences of natural disasters is an aspect of public health.
In 1920, the modern definition of public health was coined. It describes the field as: “the science and art of preventing disease…prolonging life and improving quality of life through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities, and individuals.”
That is still true today. Public health work isn’t a Western invention, although much of how we conceive it was formed in the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, the practice of public health goes back centuries and spans continents. In Southeast Asia, Ayurvedic and Buddhist teachings promoted dietary, sexual, and occupational practices that were aimed at keeping individuals and communities healthy. Mayans and Aztecs used herbal medicine to increase hygiene. Aboriginal Australians protected food and water sources, working to prevent contamination. They also worked to reduce pollution, minimized the risk of fires, and used screens to protect their population against insects.
Today there are several common areas that public health is subdivided into. These are both academic fields and areas that employ professionals. You might study one of these as a specialization in a public health degree program. These public health focuses include:
- Biostatistics: Biostatistics focuses on data organization and research methods. Biostatisticians design, enact and analyze experiments to identify health trends in living organisms. These methods can be used in pharmacology, agriculture, and more. Biostatisticians work to test the efficacies of medications, the health of livestock, and natural ecosystems, among other applications.
- Epidemiology: Epidemiology is related to biostatistics, but focuses on studying disease prevention, and how diseases spread. Epidemiologists analyze epidemic transmission and the factors that contribute to risks for a population. Epidemiologists use evidence to analyze and implement solutions to curb and prevent disease through data collection. They interpret what they find to promote and influence public policy action. Epidemiologists work in even more specific areas that include forensic, environmental, and occupational epidemiology.
- Social and Behavioral Science: Widespread health problems can disseminate through populations and cultures that aren’t educated about risk factors and dangerous health behavior habits. Social and behavioral public health workers strive to identify these behaviors and boost knowledge related to avoidable public health issues like tobacco use, diabetes, obesity, HIV/AIDS, and much more.
- Environmental Health: Scientists and public health officials in this discipline test water, air, soil, and plants for telltale signs of contaminants, pollution, and other damaging factors. They often deal with market forces that use natural resources for profit, despite the consequences.
- Public Health Services Administration: In this area, public health professionals handle the logistics of providing services and care for communities in need. In clinical settings, they can handle insurance, billing, insurance, and medical records. In larger facilities and agencies they handle and devise strategies for outreach, direct rescues and personal, and supervise any other health care initiatives their organization is responsible for.
- Disaster Management and Emergency Preparation: Public health officials in this field identify populations that will likely be impacted by emergencies, natural and unnatural disasters. They create plans to minimize the damage from these calamities, including the planned response for specific disasters and emergencies. They might be in charge of evacuation efforts, sheltering people, and proving food to sustain people during and in the direct aftermath of emergencies and disasters.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the field, let’s look at the degrees that qualify you to work as a public health professional:
What is a Public Health Degree? What are the Available Public Health Degrees?
These degree programs prepare you to work in the field. You’ll get the training and credentials required to begin a career in public health. The different levels of public health degrees are as follows:
ASSOCIATES IN PUBLIC HEALTH
In these two-year programs, you’ll take about 60 credit hours of coursework. They will prepare you to transfer into Bachelor’s programs in public health. Graduates of these programs likely won’t be qualified for most public health programs and will need to continue their education. These programs start with general education requirements. These will likely involve liberal arts courses, biology, algebra, before moving on to public health-specific courses. You’ll probably study areas like:
- Intro to Public Health
- Global Health
- Medical Terminology
- Personal and Community Health Behavior
- Health Education Promotion
- Biomedical Ethics
- Emerging Issues in Public Health
- And more
You might also be asked to do community service or a public health practicum.
BACHELORS IN PUBLIC HEALTH
These programs generally take four years to complete and require 120 credits. You’ll study environmental health issues, health policy, behavior change, health communication, and much more. Students will work on designing and evaluating public health plans, do research and work with public health statistics, and much more. Many students will complete an internship and a capstone experience showcasing what they’ve learned in the program. Your courses might include:
- Health Promotion
- Health Education
- Environmental Health Sciences
- Global Health
- Occupational and Environmental Health
Graduates will be prepared to work as health educators. Students in these programs can also often opt for a bridge program that combines a Bachelor’s degree in public health with a Master’s degree. Speaking of which:
MASTER’S IN PUBLIC HEALTH
A Master’s in Public Health is the gold standard in the field. Many positions in public health require it. These programs require between 42 and 48 credit hours and can be completed in approximately two years, depending on your needs and the plan you select. If you want to continue your education at the doctoral level, you might opt for a Master of Science in Public Health degree, which will prepare you to do research for government agencies, or in health industries. This track will also prepare you to work at the highest levels of education. In MPH (Master’s of Public Health) programs, you’ll be ready to do practical work at a health care organization or public health agency. Your coursework will cover environmental health, statistics, epidemiology, and much more. Many people in these programs choose a specialization, like:
- Global Epidemiology
- Public Health Informatics
- Community Health Sciences
- Health Policy and Management Research
These programs will also likely require you to take a comprehensive exam, and either a Master’s thesis or a Capstone Project. You’ll also probably do practical work outside of the classroom in these programs.
DOCTORATES IN PUBLIC HEALTH
In these three to five-year programs, you’ll take public health courses, do significant research, and take electives tailored towards your interests. Doctoral students will take and pass comprehensive exams, write and defend a dissertation, and teach undergraduate or lower-level graduate courses in the field. You’ll also likely specialize in an area like:
- Public Health Genetics
- Social and Behavioral Sciences
- Chronic Disease Epidemiology
- Environmental Toxicology
- Occupational and Environmental Health
- Health Policy and Management
- Among others
There are also public health certification and associate programs offered by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You’ll likely need a Bachelor’s degree to qualify for these supplementary programs.
There are online options for public health degrees, but many of them require some in-person attendance, so plan accordingly.
Speaking of which, let’s look at deciding between public health programs:
Ask Yourself and Consider the Following About Your Public Health Education and Career
Choosing a public health degree program involves a lot of factors. Here are a few to weigh:
- What is your current health care education and work experience? How has it prepared you for specific positions in public health?
- Consider the education level you’ve reached so far, what jobs you’ve done, and assess the specific requirements of individual public health programs. Make sure your qualifications are up to their demands.
- Public Health careers often demand a graduate degree and, in some cases, additional certifications and work experiences. If you know what role you want to be in, pay close attention to what most people currently working in it have done to get there.
- What are your short and longterm public health career goals? How will a particular public health degree program prepare and qualify you to achieve them?
- Public Health has many distinct applications. By choosing a career path in public health, you can pick degree programs that are specifically tailored towards positions you want to fill.
- If you don’t know exactly what you want to do in public health, or are starting undergraduate programs, don’t fret. You’ll have time to learn and grow within these programs before choosing a specific job or focus area in the field.
- How much can you pay in tuition and other costs for a public health degree? How much would you need to borrow to afford one?
- Always avoid private, high-interest student loans whenever possible. Borrow from public sources. Depending on what you do in public health, you may qualify for loan forgiveness.
- Will you be working full or part-time while you attend a public health n program?
- Many different public health learning schedules were designed to work with professional adults.
- Do you want a public health degree that’s conveyed full-time, part-time, online, traditionally (on-campus) or in a mixture of online and in-person learning.
- The format you choose will influence the time, and how you earn your public health degree daily, weekly, and in total, before you graduate.
- Where do you want to live and work while you earn your public health degree, and after you finish it?
- Public health degrees often require residencies, internships, or other practicums that must be attended close to where you live. These can also lead to employment after you finish your program.
- Qualified public health workers are desperately needed. Depending on where you study, you might have an easier or harder time finding a job. We’ll discuss employment opportunities at the end of the guide.
Remember, these are just some of the things you should look out for as a prospective public health student. Do yourself a favor and write down answers to these questions for specific programs you’re considering.
Now let’s look at what we’ve done to help you in your health education and career:
How Can We Help You In Your Health Care Education and Career?
Here at Best Health Degrees, we’ve worked hard to give you the content and guidance you need to forge a path for yourself in health care. Our work has taken on many forms and is frequently updated. If you like what you see, please come back soon to find new resources.
We’ve created many varied forms of content. These include guides like this one, answering frequently asked questions, ranking degrees, schools, and jobs, among other resources. Some of the work we’ve done that applies to public health can be found below:
- 15 Best Online Master’s in Public Health
- 25 Best Master’s in Healthcare Administration
- 15 Best Online Master’s in Healthcare Administration
- 15 Best Online MSN Degree Programs
- 25 Online Master’s in Nursing and Healthcare Informatics
- 15 Best Master’s in Nursing and Healthcare Informatics
- 15 Best Online BSN Degree Programs
- 25 Best Traditional BSN Degree Programs
- 25 Best Master’s in Public Health
- What Can I Do with a Master’s in Public Health?
- What Can I Do with a Master’s in Health Informatics?
- What Can I Do with a Master’s in Healthcare Administration?
- What is a Master of Public Health Degree?
- What is Health Informatics?
- What is Socio-behavioral Studies in Healthcare?
- What Jobs are Available in Health Informatics?
- How Do You Become a Health Policy Nurse?
- Is An Associate’s Degree in Healthcare Worth It?
- What Are The Best Healthcare Careers To Get Into In 2014?
- What Careers are in Biomedical Engineering?
- What Does A Healthcare Administrator Do?
- What Is a Bachelors in Healthcare Administration Degree?
If you find any program through our content that you’re interested in, please reach out to its support staff directly. You can get helpful tips, find out what’s needed to qualify, get answers to any questions you may have, and find ways to improve your chances of acceptance and continued success.
Now before we end the guide, let’s look at employment in some common public health positions:
What Can You Expect to Earn as a Public Health Professional? What’s Public Health Employment Like?
Working in public health is extremely rewarding, and demanding. There are so many different roles in the field, but one thing you can expect is a growing demand for public health professionals, as with all health care positions.
An aging population, shifts in health care policy, plus new techniques and trends in the field have all contributed to this increased demand for qualified health workers. Strains on the system itself and a dearth of credentialed workers, along with new public health crises like the Coronavirus (in the short term), along with future pandemics and a tide of natural disasters will also power the need for a new generation of public health workers.
The following employment information was gathered from The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. It covers three of the most common roles people in public health fill, focusing on where most of the workers with a Master’s degree will work. Having a graduate degree is essential to a longterm career in public health.
- Epidemiologists: these public health workers study and analyze causes and patterns of injury and disease in humans.
- Epidemiologists earned a median pay of $66,660 annually in 2018, or $33.49 per hour. A Master’s degree is the typical entry-level education needed for these roles.
- There were 7,600 of these workers in 2018. This was expected to increase by 5% between 2018-28, creating 400 new jobs.
- In May 2018 the highest 10% of people in these roles earned over $112,600, and the lowest 10% earned less than $42,240.
- Health Educators and Community Health Workers: these educators promote wellness through educating people about behaviors. Community health employees gather data and handle health concerns of communities and specific populations.
- Health Educators and Community Workers had a median pay of $46,080 in 2018, or $22.15 per hour.
- There were 123,800 of these workers in 2018. This was predicted to jump by 11% between 2018-28, leading to 14,100 new roles.
- In May 2018 the top 10% of people in these positions made over $65,890, and the lowest 10% earned less than $26,070.
Many public health workers and officials could be called managers, so we’ve concentrated information about people who fall under this umbrella:
- In 2018 Medical Health Service Managers had a median annual pay of $99,730, or $47.95 per hour.
- Workers in these roles are managers who “plan, direct, and coordinate” the activities of health care providers and agencies.
- In 2018 there were 406,100 medical health service managers.
- This was expected to rise by 18% between 2018-28. This would lead to 71,600 new jobs.
- The top 10% of people in these positions earned more than $182,600 in May 2018, and the lowest 10% made less than $58,680.
- Areas associated with higher pay than the median include people working in hospitals, and for the government.
The states with the most employment of Medical Health Service Managers are:
- California, 34,510 roles, annual mean wage of $125,770
- Texas, 30,010 positions, annual mean wage of $105,450
- New York, 25,830, annual mean wage of $143,030
- Pennsylvania, 16,410 jobs, annual mean wage of $97,310
- Massachusetts, 15,380 roles, annual mean wage of $133,900
States (and cities) with the highest pay for Medical Health Service Managers are:
- Washington D.C., 1,580 roles, annual mean wage of $145,760
- New York, 25,830 roles, annual mean wage of $143,030
- Massachusetts, 15,380 jobs, annual mean wage of $133,900
- Delaware, 1,040 positions, annual mean wage of $131,260
- Connecticut, 5,510 roles, annual mean wage of $129,480
We hope you’ve found this guide useful and informative. Please check back with us for more cutting edge information about public health, and health care overall. Best of luck!