What is Public Health?
The CDC Foundation defines public health as the “science of protecting and improving the health of families and communities through promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention, and detection and control of infectious diseases.”
With such an all-encompassing scope, it’s easy to see why public health is a field that features a variety of careers at all levels that focus on healthcare. And because public health is concerned with neighborhoods and entire nations your goal will be to educate and implement policy and research on a wider scale than on the welfare of the individual. So whether you want to track down the causes of disease as an epidemiologist or teach the public how to avoid getting sick as a health educator, there is a public health career that will fit your unique skill set.
What You Can Do with a Public Health Degree
Because public health is such a broad field it’s likely you’ll find an area that fits your interests. Whether you want to further medical advances by doing research, or creating public policy for your city, here are the major areas you can enter once you earn a degree in public health.
- Biostatistics and Health Informatics
- Community Health
- Environmental Health
- Global Health
- Policy and Health Management
- Health Communications and Public Relations
- Pediatric Health
- Social and Behavioral Health
- Minority Health
- Nutritional Health
The job you’ll do in these fields is generally informed by where you’ll work. There are four common settings for those who desire to enter into a public health career:
- Public facing careers include government jobs such as health administration and public nursing.
- Non-profit careers focus on a particular population or health concern.
- Academic focused public health careers include research and teaching.
- Private settings mean careers in the private sector, such as insurance companies, pharmaceuticals or healthcare institutions such as hospitals or nursing care homes.
History of Public Health
Basically public health has evolved as people and society have evolved. If there is no pollution for example, pollution-related disease would not be an issue. But as humans evolve both for good and not, and industry and technology inform the issues that affect them, their environment and their quality of life, change and develop too.
In the early 1900s health threats were driven by poor hygiene, sanitation and nutrition as well as limited healthcare for infants and a preponderance of workplace related injury where no regulations were in place. Early progress in public health consisted of making vaccines and antibiotics available to the masses, as well as identifying the risk factors that drove mortality rates. These advances laid the stepping stones to epidemiology studies and created changes in public health training and programs.
As federal, state and local public health expanded in the early part of the century, the government’s input increased and it assumed more and more responsibility for health research and programs. Private sector organizations also expanded their efforts in public health awareness, with projects focusing on specific diseases, such as hookworm and tuberculosis.
State health departments and associations began to develop and lobby for safer foods and drugs. The American Dental Association endorsed water fluoridation and labor unions pushed for workplace laws to keep workers safe.
In 1930, Congress established the NIH and the Food and Drug Administration, while the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was established in 1946. Today the public health infrastructure is a combination of government, academic and private and non-profit efforts to keep the nation—and world—safer.
EDUCATION AND CAREER
What You’ll Study
The majority of students who pursue a career in public health earn an advanced degree. The most common is the Master of Public Health (MPH), however there are undergraduate programs in the field that are available. Here is a cross-section sampling of the types of classes you’ll take when you decide public health is the career field for you.
Some coursework may be required before entering a public health track, and some of the most common classes include biology, American history and institutions, American cultures, reading and composition and quantitative reasoning.
Other coursework may include classes related to the following topics:
- Social Sciences such as psychology, economics, sociology or political science
- Introduction to Epidemiology
- Introduction to Environmental Health
- Health Policy and Management
- Community Health and Human Development
- Infectious Diseases
Examples of Public Health Careers
Because it’s a huge field, you’ll find plenty of opportunity in public health. Here are some examples of the most common and well-known careers you can pursue:
- Healthcare Administrator: As an administrator of healthcare facilities or agencies, you’ll work in office management, health services and patient care, or information management. No matter where you choose to focus, your goal will be the same: to provide health services and quality care to the public.
- Health Educator: You’ll be a critical part of your community as you educate families and the public on how to maintain and enact healthy lifestyles, and collect the data that can plan and implement programs to create positive change within them.
- Social Worker: As a social worker you’ll facilitate and advocate for the welfare of communities, individuals, families and groups and help institute development, change and empowerment in them.
- Public Health Officer: You’ll enforce applicable health laws and serve as a liaison between the community and state and local officials concerning environmental and public health issues in your area.
- Public Health Nurse: You’ll provide healthcare to those in your community who may not currently have access to these services. Public health nurses generally work in state departments of health, correctional facilities, occupational health facilities and businesses and schools.
What makes a public health job worth doing? What’s the difference between a biostatistician and an environmental public health worker? Read this article to learn about some of the many variations in public health jobs.
Salaries for Public Health Careers
Annual Median Salary
Health Services Administrator
Public health salaries range from $42,500 to over $100,000 annually depending upon your job title. For example, a biostatistician earns a median annual salary of $84,060 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a Health Services Administrator earns $98,350 or more. Find out what to expect from the career you’ve chosen in the public health field. You’ll find information about compensation for many public health careers.
Employment for public health workers generally grows faster than average for most careers under the umbrella, primarily because they are concerned with the population and the healthcare industry. Healthcare administrator careers, as an example, are expected to grow 20 percent through 2026, which is much faster than average for all other career types, and statisticians can expect a huge 33 percent increase in job growth through 2026.
Public Health Personality Traits and Skills
No matter the type of public health job you choose, you’ll always be striving toward improving communities and helping individuals. Disease prevention and health promotion will be the backbone of your career and you’ll focus on the physical, mental and environmental health of all types of populations.
- A great listener
- A clear communicator
- Socially aware
- Excellent problem solver
- High stress tolerance
- Conflict management skills
- Attention to detail
- Cooperative nature
- Ability to be flexible and adapt
- Critical thinking skills
How to Get Started in a Public Health Career
A bachelor’s degree may suffice for some public health careers but others—especially if you want to move into academic or government and administrative roles—may require you to earn your MPH.
But, if you have some experience in more entry- and mid-level healthcare roles such as medical billing and coding or medical records, you may be at an advantage. Places such as insurance companies and other healthcare facilities look for people with basic knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid, the ICD-11, medical records management, medical billing and coding, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and Current Procedural Terminology to help keep their systems running smoothly and efficiently and your on-the-job skills may be a boon to your seeking employment in the field.
If you want to pursue your degree, we can help you get started by providing the tools that can lead the way to the right school for you. Whether you want to attend traditional classes or need an online program in public health, we can help.