Are you passionate about advancing equality by making healthcare more accessible to underserved communities? Do you love collaborating with others and working on teams? Is it important to you to be a part of an exciting, dynamic industry with strong employment prospects and a bright economic outlook? Can you envision yourself directing a medical organization, helping to carry out clinical trials, or advising policymakers on disease prevention strategy? If you answered yes to those questions, you may be interested in exploring a career in public health.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, public health professionals play an incredibly important role in our healthcare infrastructure, conducting cutting-edge research while working with business leaders and legislators to help shape public policy. As the CDC Foundation explains, “This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases” in communities around the globe. From making sure water supplies are clean for drinking, to investigating causes of health issues in residential communities, public health workers dedicate their careers to building a safer world.
With such a complex and critically important range of responsibilities, public health workers need certain abilities and qualifications in order to be successful. So what types of skills and experience are needed for a career in the public health field? What about educational and degree requirements? And what sorts of jobs could a public health degree lead to? In short: is a health career right for you? This guide will help you answer that question.
Is a Career in Public Health Right for Me?
Instead of asking whether public health is a good career, you should ask whether it’s a good career for you. As we discussed in more detail in our article on the importance of public health in a post-COVID world, the field is expanding rapidly, with 13 percent projected job growth for community health workers from 2019 to 2029 (compared to a national rate of just 4 percent).
Based on recent data, the healthcare sector looks poised for a strong recovery — and a bright future. However, before you decide to enter this field, you should consider the types of skills and educational requirements you will need to meet, which will help you to determine whether you might make a good fit for a public health program. Let’s review some examples to help you get started.
Essential Skills for Public Health Careers
Public health programs, such as the Master of Public Health (MPH) at National University, tend to attract students from a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds. A career in public health may provide a natural transition for students who are experienced with or interested in disciplines like nursing, civic service, policymaking, or other areas of healthcare, such as mental health services or healthcare promotion and marketing. It’s important to note that public health officials work with groups and communities, such as cities or counties, making public health roles distinct from those of a physician, who focuses on providing individual care.
Since public health officials deal with large, diverse groups and organizations — sometimes, during periods of chaos, tragedy, or crisis — it’s important to possess both empathy and leadership skills, understanding the unique or unmet needs of the population you are serving while providing efficient, research-driven guidance. You will also need exceptional communication and organizational skills as you will be collaborating with vast networks of people, potentially from cultures around the globe. A strong sense of integrity and adherence to ethics is equally vital, as with any medical profession.
Degree and Education Requirements
If you want to get hired by a public health employer, you’ll need more than just the ability to solve complex problems, coordinate teams, empathize with diverse populations, think critically, or remain calm under pressure. You’ll also need to meet certain educational requirements, which vary depending on the type of job or position you wish to pursue.
For example, a starting job or entry-level position may require you only to have a bachelor’s degree, while a more specialized or senior role may require (or strongly recommend) a master’s degree, depending on the employer. You may be required to hold a degree specifically in public health, or, depending on the job description, in another relevant field. For instance, if you wish to pursue a public health career as a health services administrator, you will likely need both a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration and a master’s degree in public health. Even for positions where a master’s degree is not necessarily required, the extra education and training will help you to stand out from other prospective hires, making your resume more appealing to employers.
Examples of Public Health Jobs and Careers
Public health is a broad, multidisciplinary field that spans a wide and diverse range of career types, allowing you to explore a variety of specialties, niches, and concentrations depending on your goals and interests. Whether you’re chiefly interested in mathematics, politics, marketing, education, or other areas, there’s likely a career path for you in public health. Keep reading for a few examples.
What Health Profession is Right for Me?
The answer to this question depends on your interests and passions, along with pragmatic considerations like location, demand, flexibility, and earning potential. For example, the national average salary for a public health nurse is approximately $67,500 per year, compared to the national average salary of around $87,700 per year for epidemiologists. Here are a few more examples of public health careers and professions, keeping in mind that a master’s degree may be required or preferred for job applicants:
- Director of programs and services
- Environmental health officer
- Healthcare specialist
- Medical director
- Medical writer
- Occupational health and safety manager
- Public health management analyst
- Public health nurse (four-year RN program required)
- Radiation safety officer
- Regulatory specialist
Starting Jobs in Public Health
It is difficult to qualify for public health jobs without a degree. A certificate may help you qualify for some starting positions, but most require you to hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum, either in public health or another relevant field. For instance, a bachelor’s degree in areas like healthcare administration or microbiology may help you qualify for a starting job as a clinical research coordinator. Here are a few more examples of starting jobs that are ideal for someone who is at the beginning of their career journey in public health:
- Clinical trial administrator
- Community health worker
- Disease prevention specialist
- Emergency response planner
- Health promotion specialist
- Healthcare administrator (health services manager)
- Public health educator
- Public health planner
- Research assistant
How to Get Experience in Public Health
The best way to gain experience in public health is to immerse yourself in the center of the action via an internship, entry-level job, or volunteer position. You can help your application stand out by showing that you either hold or are working toward a relevant degree, such as an MPH.
At National University, not only is our MPH program fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health on 35 out of 35 criteria, it’s also designed to help position you for professional success. In addition to your academic studies and research, you’ll also build opportunities for professional growth and job placement through carefully planned internships, along with a comprehensive capstone experience.
Explore Careers in Public Health by Earning Your Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree at National University
Learn more about becoming a public health worker and developing your healthcare career. Contact the admissions office at National University to request information about our MPH and related programs, or begin your application process today.