Multiple recent events have made the importance and impact of public health roles clear, and public health careers on the rise. Public health degree programs at universities throughout the country have seen a substantial increase in applicants, and job openings are growing to match the increased interest. In fact, two public health roles, biostatisticians and healthcare administrators, are projected to see astonishing job growth of more than 30% by 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For comparison, the BLS predicts an average overall job growth rate of 4%.
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A career in public health could involve studying the spread of diseases, helping create new healthcare laws and policies, preparing your community for natural disasters, and more.
The field of public health is broad and encompasses a variety of roles.
“The field of public health is one that allows professionals to positively impact the health of people around the world in many different ways. It can be overwhelming to figure out how we all fit in,” says Eyal Oren, Ph.D., MS, associate public health professor at the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, San Diego State University, who also teaches infectious disease and social epidemiology, “but because of that, and because there is no one career trajectory, there are also a multitude of different career opportunities.”
The one thing public health roles have in common is their focus on helping people live healthier and safer lives. A career in public health is a great fit for people who are passionate about making changes in their community, city, state, or country. With a degree in this field, you’ll have the knowledge you need to secure a great career where you can make a difference.
Bachelor’s Degree-Level Careers
A bachelor’s degree is the minimum degree required for many jobs in the public health field. Bachelor’s degree programs in public health can be found at universities throughout the country, and online programs are available. With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll gain the educational foundation you need to get your start in public health. There are many well-paying and fulfilling careers available at this level.
Master’s Degree-Level Careers
The master’s degree in public health is one of the most popular degree options in public health. In fact, according to a recent study by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, applications to public health master’s degree programs rose 40% between March of 2020 and March of 2021. A master’s degree can help you prepare for leadership roles in public education and will give you the skills you need to make a difference in your community.
The field of public health encompasses many careers, and new careers continue to emerge as societal health needs change. Some of these jobs, such as social services manager, always require at least a master’s degree. Other roles, such as healthcare administrator, are most commonly held by those with a master’s, but are possible to obtain with a bachelor’s degree and significant experience. If you’re looking to jump into any of these roles as soon as you earn a degree, however, a master’s degree is the right place to start.
Doctoral Degree-Level Careers
Doctoral degrees can give you the education and skills you need to have an impactful and high-level public services career. Doctoral degree programs will help you gain an in-depth and advanced knowledge of public health topics. There are many roles available for students who’ve completed a doctoral degree in public health, including teaching public health at the university level and helping to prepare a new public health workforce.
A doctoral degree isn’t a requirement for many public health roles, but it is preferred by many employers. Earning your PhD can help you stand out among applicants. Plus, your doctoral education will prepare you to work on a wide scope of issues that impact entire populations and countries.
Emerging Career Paths
Public health careers go beyond the ones highlighted here. Public health is a field that responds to the demand created by the health and wellness issues that impact society. Recent events such as the passing of the Affordable Care Act or the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed new public health challenges, and public health professionals are an important part of solving these complex issues.
“There’s an increasing amount of public health work in hospitals and health systems,” explains Jeff Oxidine, MPH, MBA, director of health workplace diversity at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. “You can work in health centers and at the intersection of primary care and public health.”
One emerging public health career that operates at this intersection is community-oriented primary care. This master’s degree level career path focuses on creating and delivering primary care that fits a community. Public health professionals in this specialty conduct research and outreach to ensure that the needs of specific communities are being met by primary care providers.
Other emerging areas include:
Environmental Health Science and Policy:
- Environmental and health science professionals study how environmental factors, such as pollution, affect the health of a community. These master’s degree-level public health professionals work to create programs and policies that address environmental issues and reduce health risks to community members.
Public Health Nutrition:
- Many Americans lack the knowledge, time, and funds necessary to make healthy meal choices. Public health nutrition is a master’s degree-level job that works to address these issues by promoting policies that improve access to healthy food and education. They’re also tasked with creating programs that help educate community members about the importance of nutrition.
- The master’s degree level path of humanitarian health responds to health crises and urgent issues. Professionals in these roles develop action plans for situations as they unfold and work to solve or improve the problems that lead to the crisis. They also implement plans to provide aid and support to the people affected.
Does Certification Give You an Edge?
There are no state or federal certification requirements for any public health career, but certification is required by many employers. Even when it’s not required, certification can make your application stand out. It’s a great way to show employers that you’ve mastered the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in a public health role.
The National Board of Public Health Examiners offers the Certified in Public Health (CHP) certification. The CHP is the primary certification in public health, and it’s the one employers are most likely to look for. Students who’ve completed a master’s or doctoral-level public health degree at a Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accredited university can take the exam and earn certification right after graduation.
If your master’s degree isn’t from a CEPH accredited school, or if you have a bachelor’s or certificate in public health, you’ll need work experience before you can take the certification exam. Students with a certificate or master’s degree from a non-CEPH school need three years of public health work experience. Students who’ve earned a bachelor’s need five years of public health work experience.