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A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree will provide the tools you need to start a promising public health career that can make a difference in your community.
Public health careers don’t focus on one patient at a time. Instead, they look at broader issues that affect the health of people in their local area, their state, their county, or even around the world. It’s an expansive field with a lot of exciting options for compassionate and driven people.
Whether you’re considering working as an epidemiologist studying new diseases to slow down their spread, or as a social service manager designing outreach programs to serve your neighborhood, your public health career will help you create positive change. Your education will prepare you to make those changes.
While there are roles in this broad field that you can take on with a bachelor’s degree, the MPH degree is often a better career bet. It can allow you to jump into higher-level roles, take on advanced responsibilities, and tackle complex problems. You’ll be ready to be on the front lines to make decisions with a broad impact.
An MPH can allow you to jump into higher-level roles, take on advanced responsibilities, and tackle complex problems.
“The MPH is what (delivers) the necessary, advanced-level, specialized skills,” explains Laura Rasar King, EdD, MPH, executive director of the Council on Education for Public Health. “MPH training includes foundational knowledge and skills in which all degree holders are trained, as well as a specialization, which can range from the quantitative sciences to the policy area and the social and behavioral sciences.”
Additionally, MPH programs teach leadership skills that will help graduates further their careers.
“Master’s-level public health programs also offer training in leadership and management, since graduates often manage programs and people,” King says.
Jobs You Can Get with a Master of Public Health
The MPH can unlock a wide variety of careers in public health. It’s a great way to prepare for some of the most common public health careers and for some unique ones you might find throughout your career.
Data shows that employment is high among MPH graduates because they are able to find employment in so many sectors.
Plus, public health is a highly responsive field. As the health needs of the world grow and change, careers in public health will grow and change to meet them. That means the fastest-growing public health career in 20 years’ time may be a career that doesn’t exist today.
An MPH degree can’t help you predict the future, but it can help you prepare for whatever it brings. It can help you meet new challenges as they arise and be part of changes as they happen. It’s one of the best ways to start your career right and keep your options open.
“All accredited MPH programs must collect post-graduation outcomes data, and we find that employment rates are very high because MPH graduates find employment in so many sectors,” King says. Graduates often find work at:
Some popular jobs available to those with an MPH include:
Job Description: Healthcare administrators oversee how healthcare is delivered on a large scale. They are leaders who are responsible for ensuring that daily operations are safe and comply with policies, laws, and regulations. They change policies as needed and create new ones to improve care. They meet with department heads and clinical leadership to stay updated and informed and give directives to other staff to meet goals and accomplish needed tasks. They resolve large-scale issues and handle complex situations.
Useful Traits or Skills: You’ll need to be highly organized and a great communicator with stellar time management. This is a leadership role, so you’ll also need to be able to resolve conflicts and keep calm in a crisis.
Typical Workplaces: You can find roles in hospitals, medical practices, rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and human service agencies.
Available Certifications: You can find roles in hospitals, medical practices, rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and human service agencies.
Opportunities for Advancement: There’s plenty of room for advancement as a healthcare administrator. You could make the move from a role as a healthcare administrator at a small community hospital to taking on an administrative role with a large healthcare network. Another path? You could take your skills and affect political change as a public health consultant.
Salary: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare administrators earn a median salary of $101,340.
Job Outlook: Roles are sharply on the rise with 28.3% growth projected through 2031.
A Day in the Life of a Healthcare Administrator
As a healthcare administrator, you’ll generally start your day meeting with other facility leadership team members such as nurse managers, social service managers, and other department managers. You’ll then work to address any issues or concerns. This might include adjusting policies, going over recent reports, preparing for upcoming facility inspections, and more. It’s likely that you’ll have meetings and calls to juggle throughout your day as new issues arise and need to be addressed.
Social Services Manager
Job Description: A social services manager is responsible for the care and services delivered by social and human services agencies. These managers monitor how their agency interacts with the community they serve and create policies that are informed by those interactions. They design outreach programs to address specific community members or needs, implement and oversee those programs, and use the results to help create additional programs. They pay attention to what resources are needed in their community and work to create ways for people to access them. Social services managers train their staff on needs specific to the community they serve.
Useful Traits or Skills: You’ll need to be compassionate with excellent critical thinking skills, be able to organize, and possess a high level of creativity. This leadership role will also require strong communication skills and ample patience.
Typical Workplaces: You can find work at human service agencies, social service agencies, nonprofits, government agencies, senior communities, and hospitals.
Available Certifications: The Certified in Public Health credential is available to those seeing a role as a social services manager.
Opportunities for Advancement: A social services management career can take you in several directions. You could delve further into social work and human services by striving to earn social work licensure in your state. If you’d rather take on an advocacy role, you could look into a role such as health policy advisor.
Salary: According to the BLS, social services managers earn a median salary of $74,000.
Job Outlook: There’s a growing need for social service managers, and roles are projected to grow 11.7% over the next decade.
A Day in the Life of a Social Services Manager
As a social services manager, you might begin by going over any programming that your agency is doing that day. You’ll ensure you have the staff you need to safely implement the programming and adjust if needed. In this role, you’ll oversee meetings and programming throughout your day and make sure clients’ needs are being met. If you have time, you might work on larger projects and goals.
Job Description: An epidemiologist is a data expert who monitors diseases and infection. They track diseases to determine how likely they are to spread through a community. They look at infection patterns to determine how severe infections are likely to be and which populations are most likely to be vulnerable. The data that epidemiologists compile and the conclusions they draw are then used to drive healthcare policies and regulations. For example, the work of epidemiologists is used to advise on standards and policies during pandemics.
Useful Traits or Skills: You’ll need to be an expert at data analysis and research to work as an epidemiologist. Critical thinking and written communication skills can help you put your research and analysis to good use.
Typical Workplaces: You can find work in academic facilities, research labs, hospitals, and government agencies.
Available Certifications: You can consider the CHP or the Certified in Infection Control certification from the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology.
Opportunities for Advancement: An epidemiologist’s role is a great foundation for additional careers that help manage disease. You could look into working as a biostatistician or taking on a role as a disease control manager.
Salary: The BLS reports that epidemiologists earn a median annual salary of $78,830.
Job Outlook: Roles are projected to see a massive growth of 25.8% over the next decade.
A Day in the Life of an Epidemiologist
As an epidemiologist, you’ll spend your day collecting and analyzing data. You’ll likely be focused on specific diseases and their progression. You’ll look at new data that’s arrived on cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and any demographic information you might be tracking. You’ll use tools and critical thinking to analyze this data to look for patterns. You might present daily reports of your findings.
What Does an MPH Program Look Like?
There are Master of Public Health degrees offered at universities around the country. The specifics of your program will depend on the school you choose. However, there are a few things you can expect from just about any MPH program.
- Undergraduate GPA:
- Usually at least 3.0
- Required Undergraduate Credits:
- A solid undergraduate background in basic statistics; math, through algebra II at least; and the biological sciences, including biology I and II, and anatomy and physiology, according to King.
- Helpful Undergraduate Credits:
- “I would also recommend some basic coursework in psychology and sociology as well as exposure to human cultures around the world,” King says. While these classes aren’t required, they can be a big help for aspiring public health students, she says.
MPH Program Basics
- Time to Complete:
- Most programs can be completed in two years.
- Online Options:
- Degrees are offered online. However, some programs might require in-person fieldwork.
- Specializations Available:
- The specializations available depend on the program but will generally include epidemiology, public health policy, environmental health, biostatistics, public health management, and disaster management.
- Required Courses:
- “All MPH programs are going to require some form of master’s-level biostatistics and epidemiology courses,” says King. Beyond that, your courses will vary depending on your program and specialization. Common courses taken by all MPH students include healthcare communication, data management, data analysis, public policy, and behavioral science.
- Required Fieldwork:
- A fieldwork or internship requirement will depend on your MPH program and your specialization.
Beyond Your MPH
- CHP Certification:
- There are no required certifications in public health. However, many employers look for candidates who have earned optional CHP certification. You’re eligible to take the CHP certification exam once you’ve completed an MPH from a university that is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEHP).
- Additional Certifications:
- Your state or employer might prefer you hold additional certifications. An MPH will provide the educational background you need for most certifications. Some certifications might require a year or two of experience in addition to your education.
With professional insight from:
Laura Rasar King, EdD, MPH
Executive Director, Council on Education for Public Health
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