Careers in Public Service

Want a successful career that pays well and gives back to the community? Learn how careers in public service can help you make a living while making a difference.

Last Updated: 10/24/2019

There are few better feelings than making a difference. It could be a Saturday packing food for families in need, or a summer-long stint building houses for the homeless. Yet for some, helping others goes beyond a single weekend or season with a hammer and nails. It’s a 24/7 drive that starts with a passion and turns into a bachelor’s degree, that first job in a nearby town, and then climbing the ladder to a successful and long-term career. Could this be you?

The following guide looks at careers across education, criminal justice, healthcare, and other fields with a focus on helping others. It breaks down each profession, how it gives back, how to get started, and what to expect as you learn, earn, and grow. Read where you can work in public service and whom you can impact on a daily basis.

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Working in the Community

Serving the community at large can mean anything from enforcing law and maintaining order to managing a neighborhood rec center. It’s near impossible to list each and every career path with a concentration on community, but we’ve listed some of the most popular that are attracting both students and young professionals across the U.S. today. How can you make a difference across your community?

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice careers include everything from investigating crimes and tracking down suspects to apprehending felons and keeping them behind bars. For example, police officers and detectives respond to emergencies, perform traffic stops, obtain warrants, make arrests, and even testify in court. Correctional officers maintain order inside detention centers, search inmates for contraband, and transport inmates within and outside of facilities. Police officers, correctional officers, and other criminal justice professionals are tasked with making the entire community a safer place for everyone.

Popular criminal justice careers:

No. of JobsEst. Growth RateMedian Salary
Correctional officer453,900None$44,400
Police officer808,7005%$63,380
Security guard1,154,3004%$28,530

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Firefighting

Careers in firefighting range from inspecting buildings for potential or actual fire damage to leading a firehouse as a fire chief. In addition to putting out fires, firefighters respond to emergencies where people’s lives, possessions, or the environment is in danger. With EMT training, they can provide critical medical care at accidents and in other situations where injury occurs. Their fire suppression and medical training makes them vital components of the community and its health.

Popular careers in firefighting:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Firefighter 332,400 5% $49,620
Fire inspector 15,200 8% $60,200

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Forestry

Careers in forestry concentrate on developing and maintaining healthy woodlands and parks. This can range from overseeing safety and firefighting efforts to planting trees and distributing insecticides. Forestry professionals may also measure forest growth (or dissipation) using geographic information system (GIS) equipment and satellite imagery.

Woodland areas and parks are major components of communities, giving everyone a place to hike, picnic, and enjoy nature. Keeping these places healthy is key to fostering the health of the community, as well.

Popular careers in forestry:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Forester 8,410 2.2% $61,410
Forest & conservation worker13,900 None $27,460
Forest & conservation technician 30,220 0.8% $37,180
Conservation scientist32,900 3% $61.310

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Healthcare

Not too many career fields impact the community more than healthcare. Whether emergency or preventative in nature, healthcare professionals focus on maximizing the health of their patients while minimizing their risk of future care need. This responsibility ranges from nursing assistants who make routine rounds helping established patients to doctors who perform surgery in emergency situations. Although many healthcare facilities are private in nature, the services they perform contribute to the health and wellbeing of the public.

Popular careers in healthcare:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
CNA1,564,200 9%$29,530
Practical nurse728,900 11%$46,240
Registered nurse3,059,800 12% $71,730
Nurse practitioner240,700 26% $113,930

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Public Health

Broadly speaking, public health covers a wide range of medical, physical, and mental health needs. For example, epidemiologists study causes of disease and other ailments in populations of various sizes. Health educators teach both kids and adults how to establish and maintain healthy behaviors that promote physical and emotional wellness. And rehabilitation counselors help people with dependencies and disabilities live as successfully and as independently as possible.

Anyone who works in public health contributes daily to the overall wellbeing of the community. You can see their importance in how they impact both individuals and groups physically, emotionally, mentally, and more.

Popular careers in public health:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Epidemiologist 7,600 5% $69,660
Health educator 123,800 11% $46,080
Rehabilitation counselor 119,700 10% $35,630
Social service assistant 413,700 13% $33,750
Social worker 707,400 11% $49,470

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Working with the Elderly

An estimated 50 million Americans are 65 and older, according to the Administration for Community Living, a number expected to reach nearly 100 million by 2060. This means an increasing need for professionals to help our senior citizens work through medical- and health-related issues. For example, the number of home health aides is slated to grow 36% from 2018 to 2028. If you’re looking to make a difference within the elderly community directly, here’s how you can do it.

Home Care

For some senior citizens, especially those 80 and older, traveling to a medical or healthcare facility may not be easy. This is often the case for those who have a physical challenge yet still live at home with a spouse or alone. In these cases, healthcare professionals who provide care inside the home are invaluable. Home health aides help elderly clients with tasks such as bathing, dressing, housekeeping, and laundry. In-home nurses administer medical care such as injections, difficult medications, and help with hygiene.

Popular careers in elderly home care:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Home health aide 3,253,000 36% $24,060
Registered nurse (geriatric or in-home) 3,059,800 12% $71,730

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Therapy

Therapy for the elderly can be physical, mental, occupational, or recreational in nature. For example, physical therapists help senior citizens recover from muscle and joint injuries or work to minimize degeneration of the effected area. Occupational therapists work with patients of all kinds, including the elderly, to create treatment plans to improve their ability to perform daily tasks. This could mean developing in-home modifications to help someone with arthritis cook, clean, and perform other routine tasks.

Popular careers in elderly therapy:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Occupational therapist 133,000 18% $84,270
Occupational therapy assistant 51,700 31% $57,620
Physical therapist 247,700 22% $87,930
Physical therapist assistant 148,200 26% $48,090
Recreational therapist 19,800 7% $47,860

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Audio-Visual Assistance

Today’s aging Americans have unique needs when it comes to vision and hearing. Unfortunately, with time, our vision can fade and hearing can go from healthy to impaired to legally deaf. Although optometrists and audiologists work with people of all ages, some specialize in elder care. These professionals focus on helping our senior citizens with cataracts, bifocals, hearing aids, and other items to that can make their vision and hearing as healthy as it can be.

Popular careers in elderly vision and hearing:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Audiologist 13,600 16% $75,920
Hearing aide specialist 7,680 7% $52,770
Optometrist 42,100 10% $111,790

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Retirement Planning

Senior citizens may have social security and retirement funds to pull from already, but some may not. And even with pensions and retirement incomes, there’s still a need to manage everything. Financial planners who specialize in retirement often help senior citizens keep everything in line and running smoothly, from watching investments and managing portfolios to making sure the money that goes out doesn’t wildly exceed the money that’s coming in. Here’s a look at the professionals who help the elderly stay financially stable.

Popular careers in elderly vision and Planning:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Retirement planner271, 700 7% $88,890

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

These are just a few of the many ways to help the elderly community. If you’d like more info on elderly-focused careers, or on the degrees that can help you move into one of these careers, read our full guide on Careers Working with the Elderly.

Working with the Impoverished

More than 40 million people lived in poverty in the U.S. in 2016. Poverty impacts individuals, families, and communities through challenges such as hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and crime. The good news is, there’s plenty of opportunity out there to help those who fall below the poverty line. Career counselors help the under- and unemployed find new or better jobs. Social workers may also help with unemployment, but extend their services to locating temporary or permanent housing and/or finding sources of food in a pinch. Every community has people in need, and professionals who work with the impoverished often go the extra mile to fill those needs.

Food Security

In 2018, more than 37 million people lived in households considered “food insecure”, including six million children. According to the USDA, food insecure means being uncertain of having enough food to feed oneself or one’s family due to a lack of money or food resources. In addition to donating and volunteering, certain career paths aim to help the hungry find stable sources of nourishment via coupons, stamps, or pantries. For example, community service managers plan and oversee food-based programs and charity events. And they may team with event coordinators or grant writers to organize the event or seek funding.

Popular careers helping the hungry:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Community service manager 168,800 13% $65,320
Event planner 134,100 7% $49,370
Grant writer 55,700 8% $71,850
Social worker 707,400 11% $49,470

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Housing

The Department of Housing & Urban Development estimates that more than 500,000 Americans don’t have a stable residence. While the number of homeless may be hard to measure accurately, it’s clear that too many people in the U.S. need help finding a place to live. For some, the issue may be financial, either a lack of income, poor credit, or a history of evictions that turns off landlords. For others, it could be a medical issue or the result of a family setback. Although social workers help homeless youth and adults in a variety of ways, a number of other career paths do so, as well.

Popular careers helping the homeless:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Mental health counselor 304,500 22% $44,630
Social service manager 168,800 13% $65,320

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Employment

Employment can be hard to find and keep. Millions of Americans are either unemployed or underemployed, making it difficult to make ends meet. For those looking for part-time or full-time work to improve their financial position, there are a wide range of services available, many of which have career-minded professionals making a difference. Career counselors, for example, evaluate an individual’s background, aptitude, education, and skillset to determine their best path to a stable job and/or a long-term career. And social service managers and social workers help people and families establish a social safety net that allows them to look for work without worrying about losing a residence or missing a meal.

Popular careers helping the underemployed:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Adult literacy & GED instructor 67,200 None $53,630
Human resources specialist 625,700 5% $60,880
Social service manager 168,800 13% $65,320

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Working with Children

Children are the future, and they deserve the very best we have. Careers helping youth cross a wide range of fields and cover infancy through the age of 17. Pediatric nurse practitioners, pediatricians, daycare specialists, teachers, school counselors, social workers, and many more help children grow, learn, and succeed until their early adult years. Here’s a more detailed look at some of the most popular fields working with today’s youth, as well as links to resources to further your research.

Counseling

Children of all ages receive counseling, whether to solve a minor challenge at school or a major condition related to mental health and wellness. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 10% of all children ages 3 -17 have received treatment from a counselor within the last 12 months. Because children are in their formative years and mental and emotional wellness is delicate, it’s important to have well trained and highly educated professionals in place.

Popular careers in child counseling:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Child psychologist 181,700 14% $79,010
School counselor 324,500 8% $56,310
Social worker 707,400 11% $49,470

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Education

Education is a cornerstone of child development. Although a majority of today’s students progress from grade to grade successfully, many struggle to learn the necessary skills along the way. It’s this struggle that calls for effective and dedicated educators to make sure kids transition from preschool through high school and beyond. Here’s a look at some of today’s most popular careers in youth education.

Popular careers in education:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Preschool teacher 523,600 7% $29,780
Elementary school teacher 1,569,000 3% $57,980
Middle school teacher 615,700 3% $58,600
High school teacher 1,072,500 4% $60,320
Special education teacher 437,200 3% $59,780
School principal 275,400 4% $95,310
Teacher assistant 1,380,300 4% $26,970

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Healthcare

Between ages 5 and 10, children who are well should visit the doctor at least once a year to make sure they’re healthy and developing normally. And when they’re not, pediatricians, pediatric nurses, and other medical specialists make sure children get inoculated at the right time, broken bones get set and heal, and other diseases and disorders are handled swiftly. Here are some of the most popular careers in healthcare that help kids:

Popular careers in children’s healthcare:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Pediatrician 28,490 4% $170,560
Pediatric nurse practitioner 240,700 26% $113,930
Childcare worker 1,160,000 2% $23,240

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

Working with Veterans

Transitioning from active service member to veteran can be difficult in more ways than one. There’s moving yourself and your family, finding employment, and adjusting to living and working outside of the military in general. And for some veterans, a disability can make the challenge even more of an uphill battle.

In addition to the VA, numerous private companies, nonprofit organizations, and other public programs specialize in helping veterans with some or all of their transition. For example, career counseling can help veterans translate their military occupation to a civilian career. Financial planning can make sure veterans get their military retirement and benefits set in time to integrate their civilian ones.

Popular careers working with veterans:

Career No. of Jobs Est. Growth Rate Median Salary
Career counselor324,500 8%$56,310
Financial planner271,700 7% $88,890
Human resource specialist 625,700
5%
$60,880
Mental health counselor139,820 1.4%$42,840
VA nurseNA 12%$71,730

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

The guide is not exhaustive. It barely scratches the surface on the ways you (or anyone) can turn a passion for helping into a long-term career in giving back. Whether working with children or veterans, the elderly or the homeless, helping people in need goes a long way toward building healthier, safer, and stronger communities.