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 28.3% by 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As a comparison, the BLS predicts an average overall national job growth rate of 5%.
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 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.
Job Duties:Health educators are on the front line of community and patient health education. They can find work in hospitals teaching patients about their conditions, or in the community implementing and overseeing programs to promote health knowledge. No matter the setting, health educators are bridges between clinical professionals and the community. They help the public understand important health topics and advocate for the patients and community members they work with.
Skills Required: Organization, compassion, excellent communication, time management, teamwork
Workplaces: Social service agencies, human services agencies, community outreach departments, hospitals, government agencies
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for health educators in 2022 was $59,990, according to the BLS, and roles are projected to grow 7.6% in the next decade.
Career Advancement: A health educator career could be a great foundation for a career as a health policy advisor. Many health policy jobs might require a higher degree, but some will look for experience. Whether you decide to earn a higher-level degree or not, your background as a health educator will make you a strong candidate.
Emergency Response Planner
Job Duties:Emergency response planners take on the challenging task of creating plans that prepare communities for natural disasters. They ensure that safety measures, environmental precautions, and emergency services and shelters are in place. They coordinate the plans with local social service, government, and emergency response agencies. When there is an emergency, they ensure that everything is working as planned and oversee the overall response.
Skills Required:Organization, strategy, teamwork, compassion, excellent communication, the ability to work well under extreme stress
Workplaces: Government agencies, nonprofit agencies, hospitals, academic facilities
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for emergency response managers in 2022 was $79,180, according to the BLS, and roles are projected to grow 2.5% in the next decade.
Career Advancement: An emergency response planner career could lead you in several directions. You could use your experience to work in other administrative and leadership roles. If you choose to go back to school, you could translate your experience into a career as a public health consultant.
Disease Prevention Specialist
Job Duties: Disease prevention specialists collect, study, and analyze health data to track the spread of diseases. They look for what might be promoting transmission and what can help prevent or slow it down. They use data to determine people at high risk of contracting a disease and what steps might reduce the risk.
Skills Required:Research, attention to detail, organization, data analysis, critical thinking
Workplaces: Research labs, government agencies, hospitals
Salary and Job Outlook: According to the BLS, the median salary for disease prevention specialists in 2022 was $78,570, and roles are projected to grow 4.5% in the next decade.
Career Advancement: Experience in analyzing healthcare data as a disease prevention specialist paired with additional education could prepare you for a role as an epidemiologist or biostatistician.
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 in public health is the right place to start.
Job Duties:Healthcare administrators take on the responsibility of managing healthcare delivery. This can be on a small scale such as a medical practice or hospital unit, or a large scale such as a skilled nursing facility or hospital. In all settings, healthcare administrators oversee and implement new policies to improve care. They ensure that their facility and clinical staff members are following all policies, local laws, and any regulations. They meet regularly with department heads and other clinical leaders to keep updated on the day-to-day care given in their unit or facility.
Skills Required:Leadership, organization, excellent communication, time management, conflict resolution
Workplaces: Hospitals, nursing facilities, rehabilitation facilities, human service agencies, medical practices
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for healthcare administrators in 2022 was $104,830, according to the BLS, and roles are projected to grow 28.3% over the next decade.
Career Advancement: A healthcare administrator role could prepare you to earn a doctoral degree and work on an even larger scale as a public health consultant.
Job Duties:Epidemiologists study disease and infection. They monitor and track how diseases are spread. They use data and research to analyze diseases to determine their potential severity. They monitor for changes and evolution in bacteria and viruses, such as new flu strains or antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They compile and present their research to help governments and healthcare providers manage diseases and control the spread.
Skills Required:Data analysis, research, organization, critical thinking, written communication
Workplaces: Research labs, academic facilities, hospitals, government agencies
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for epidemiologists in 2022 was $78,520, according to the BLS, and roles are projected to grow 25.8% over the next decade.
Career Advancement: You can use your experience as an epidemiologist as a foundation to lead test studies and help develop new medications as a biostatistician.
Social Services Manager
Job Duties:Social service managers oversee the work of social and human services agencies. They might also work as leaders in social work departments in hospitals or government facilities. They create policies to ensure best practice when helping the community. They design, implement, and oversee outreach programs and monitor the results. They work to make sure appropriate resources are available to the people in need and train other social services staff on the access and delivery of these resources.
Workplaces: Social service agencies, human services agencies, nonprofit facilities, government facilities, hospitals
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for social service managers in 2022 was $74,240, according to the BLS, and roles are projected to grow 11.7% over the next decade.
Career Advancement: A social services management career can give you experience creating and implementing programs that, along with additional education, could translate into a broader career like health policy advising.
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.
Job Duties: Biostaticians collect and analyze medical data. Unlike disease prevention specialists or epidemiologists, their work isn’t solely focused on disease and infection spread. They also work to help develop new medications and treatments. They create, implement, and oversee clinical trials of new medications and analyze the results. They help determine whether a new medication is safe and effective for public use. They also track how the new medication is lowering cases or improving the survival rate for infected patients. Roles in biostatistics are also available with a master’s degree, but a doctoral degree is often preferred, especially for leadership roles.
Skills Required: Data analysis, mathematics, research
Workplaces: Pharmaceutical companies, public health agencies, hospitals
Salary and Job Outlook: The median salary for biostatisticians in 2022 was $98,920, according to the BLS, and roles are predicted to grow by 32.7% over the next decade.
Health Policy Advisor
Job Duties: Health policy advisors are responsible for helping shape the laws and policies that define wellness around the country. They conduct research and gather community feedback to help develop proposals and new policies. For example, in 2019 the legal smoking age was raised from 18 to 21 as a result of numerous studies about the dangers of tobacco and nicotine. These studies were analyzed by health policy advisors and new laws were put in place.
Skills Required: Written communication, oral communication, organization, leadership, data analysis
Workplaces: Government agencies, human services agencies, healthcare systems
Job Outlook: According to the BLS roles are projected to grow 6.2% over the next decade.
Public Health Consultant
Job Duties: Public health consultants work with government, nonprofit, or medical agencies to develop, implement and oversee policies and programming that promote wellness and health. They create courses, educational materials, outreach programs, and more. They also work to develop training sessions for medical and social service employers to help them stay on top of the most pressing concerns in public health.
Workplaces: Government agencies, social service agencies, human services agencies, healthcare facilities
Salary and Job Outlook: According to the BLS, the median salary for public health consultants in 2022 was $76,480, and roles are projected to grow 4.7% over the next decade.
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.