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What Can I Do with a Public Health Degree?

Do you want to help improve the wellbeing of entire communities? Then a public health degree might be for you. Read our guide to find out what you can do with this important degree. We’ll cover popular career pathways, industries you can serve, and salaries you can expect once you’ve earned your degree.

Author: STEPS Staff
Editor: STEPS Staff

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What Careers Can You Get with a Public Health Degree?

Public health graduates have numerous career options depending on their educational attainment, experience, and specialty. They take careers with the government, state and community public health agencies, consulting firms, research organizations, universities, hospitals, and nonprofits. They may work for international or overseas health organizations, counseling centers, nutritional education organizations, or large industrial firms. There are also opportunities to coordinate services with law enforcement officers or first-responders to facilitate emergency or disaster planning and policies. Check out some of today’s most popular and most lucrative careers in public health.

Fields & Careers Avg. Growth Rate (%) Avg. Salary Min. Education
Biostatistics & Informatics 16.5 $76,838
Biostatistician 33 $88,190 Master's
Database Administrator 11 $90,070 Bachelor's
Health Information Technician 13 $40,350 Certificate
Systems Analyst 9 $88,740 Bachelor's
Communications 4 $58,447
Public Health Journalist -9 $43,490 Bachelor's
Public Relations Specialist 9 $60,000 Bachelor's
Technical Medical Writer 11 $71,850 Bachelor's
Community Health 16 $87,077
Community Services Manager 18 $65,320 Bachelor's
Healthcare Administrator 10 $96,180 Bachelor's
Medical and Health Services Manager 20 $99,730 Bachelor's
Emergency Management 8 $74,420
Emergency Management Director 8 $74,420 Bachelor's
Environmental Health 10 $73,513
Environmental Engineer 8 $87,620 Bachelor's
Environmental Health & Science Technician 12 $46,170 Associate
Environmental Scientist 11 $71,130 Bachelor's
Public Health Engineer 9 $89,130 Bachelor's
Epidemiology & Research 9 $69,660
Epidemiologist 9 $69,660 Master's
HIV/AIDS Researcher Varies
Global Health 18 $98,950
Global Infectious Disease Analyst $186,529
HIV/AIDS Educator $45,000 Bachelor's
NGO Aid Worker 18 $65,320 Bachelor's
Refugee Coordinator Varies
Maternity and Child Health 31 $98,424
Lactation Consultant $82,917 Varies
Nurse Midwife 31 $113,930 Master's
Medical Practice $57,227
Public Health Nurse $57,227 Bachelor's
Mental Health 23 $46,464
Behavioral Research Scientist $48,297 Bachelor's
Health Program Coordinator Varies
Mental Health Counselor 23 $44,630 Bachelor's
Public Health Education 15 $61,640
Health Educator 16 $46,080 Bachelor's
Nutritionist 15 $60,370 Bachelor's
Professor 15 $78,470 Doctorate
Public Policy & Administration $61,443
Health Services Manager $63,720 Bachelor's
Healthcare Policy Analyst $61,608 Bachelor's
Public Health Researcher $59,000 Bachelor's
Social and Behavioral Health 16 $41,610
Internvention Researcher Varies
Social Services Assistant 16 $33,750 Diploma
Social Worker 16 $49,470 Bachelor's
Public Health Averages 13.83 $70,821

What Is a Public Health Degree Really? Industry Breakdown

Public health includes a wide range of career fields, from epidemiology and HIV/AIDS prevention to emergency management and statistics. In addition to the

Biostatistics and informatics professionals work in research at colleges and universities, medical research organizations, and as contractors to public health organizations. The work may include creating study designs, performing program analysis, gathering community metrics, and computing advanced mathematical predictions. Skills may include the ability to perform longitudinal analysis, logistic regression analyses, and mixed-effect modeling. These positions require applicants to hold at least a Master’s Degree in Public Health. To prepare for master’s training, students should earn a baccalaureate in mathematics or statistics.

Health communications specialists can enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, although some organizations may require a MPH. Specific job titles include Communications Specialist, Media Relations Specialist, Public Information Officer, Public Information Specialist, Public Relations Specialist, and Staff Editor.

Duties include delivering oral, written, or multimedia materials to be sent to the organization, board members, governmental or funding agencies, to clients, news media, and public interest groups.

You may be tasked with creating and executing the organization’s media strategy, training materials, newsletters, or annual reports.

In the wide-ranging community health professions, job titles include health worker, counselor, nutrition and wellness specialist, outreach worker, program coordinator, and community health educator. Entry-level positions typically require a bachelor’s degree, although many require completion of an MPH for advanced study or leadership positions. Skills required to succeed in a community health position include communication, social awareness, problem solving, organization, and the ability to help both individuals and groups with basic healthcare services. Some community health workers may also maintain client records, advise clients/patients on health issues, and visit patients at their home.

Depending on position and experience, emergency management involves overseeing preparation, training, and response programs in crisis management, which includes both natural and man-made disasters. Typical job titles include emergency management director, consultant, public safety director, and emergency planner. More than 50 percent of emergency management positions only require a bachelor’s degree, although a master’s degree in public health (MPH) may be desired for more advanced positions. Many emergency management professionals are knowledgeable in public safety and security, public policy, and communications, and have excellent problem solving and deductive reasoning skills.

Environmental health professionals work with public health organizations to identify hazardous materials in the air, the food, soils, and water supply factors that negatively impact their communities. In addition to skill with communication and analytical software, environmental health scientists must have experience collecting, analyzing, and interpreting complex datasets. Many professionals in the field have either backgrounds or successful coursework in mathematics, biology, and environmental law. Some 70% of environmental health professionals hold a bachelor’s degree. The BLS reports that jobs for Environmental Health and Safety Specialists will grow from 10% to 14%, 2016-2026.

Epidemiologists research the origins and population distributions of diseases and disabilities. Responsibilities may include overseeing large-scale public health programs, healthcare planning, directing treatment initiatives, monitoring incidents, and researching and investigating specific parasites responsible for outbreaks. Nearly all epidemiologists need to be skills with analytical software, databases, and spreadsheets. Critical thinking, problem solving, organization, and communication are must-haves to be successful. Specific job titles related to epidemiologists include Communicable Disease Specialist, Infection Control Practitioner, and Chronic Disease Epidemiologist.

These professionals in investigate the major worldwide threats to global health. These include air pollution, climate change, noncommunicable disease, influenza pandemics, fragile and vulnerable settings, antimicrobial resistance, high-threat pathogens, weak primary health care, vaccine hesitancy, dengue, and HIV. They may also work with local and global organizations to plan and execute on plans dedicated to eradicate a specific disease or maximize health standards in a specific area. Data analysis and communication are must-have in the field. Specialists must complete a bachelor’s of master’s degree in international/global health. Projected job growth is 18%, 2016-2026.

Maternity and child health specialists investigate and create agency responses to address issues with women and children, including infant mortality. They conduct research, plan, and implement family-planning programs and reproductive counseling/health services. They may work with local hospitals, non-profit organizations, or a government agency. Professionals can enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, although some employers prefer a master’s degree. The BLS forecasts a growth of 31%, 2016-2026.

Medical practice specializations include public health nursing, physician clinical services, and health science. Education requirements vary by practice, from undergraduate degrees (nursing) to master’s and doctorates. Four-year degrees are common among community health workers, with advanced degrees required for physicians and research scientists. A common practice area is in public health nursing. Medical health service managers must complete at least a bachelor’s degree. Job openings for medical service managers are predicted to rise by 20%, 2016 to 2026. The median annual wage for this specialty is $99,730.

Public health educators carry the message about their organizations, including their available services, information on the biological and behavioral factors affecting wellness, and prevention options. They also create and manage community health education programs to ensure that children, individuals, and families adopt or maintain healthy lifestyles. Public health education can be more general in nature, or specific with job titles such as certified diabetes educator, child development specialist, community health consultant, or health promotion specialist. A bachelor’s degree is generally the minimum educational requirement for many these positions. National employment for health educators is predicted to increase 15%, 2016 to 2026.

This field includes job titles such as social service manager, community service manager, and public health policy analyst. Many professionals in this sector hold bachelor’s degrees in pubic health and go on to earn master’s degrees related to their specialty. These managers and analysts may research existing programs for effectiveness and create proposals for revising institutional policies and practices at public non-profits. They may create strategic plans to change policy, increase funding, and facilitate cooperation with governmental agencies or partners. Employment is this industry is expected to increase by 18% from 2016 to 2026.

Social and behavioral health is a fundamental component of the public health sector. The field includes social workers, family and individual therapists, and substance abuse/behavioral counselors, among many others. Education varies by specialty. Typically, substance abuse counselors and social workers need at least a bachelor’s degree to be competitive in the job market. Therapists of all kinds usually need a master’s or even a doctorate degree to work with patients. Many social and behavioral health professionals start with a bachelor’s degree in public health, social work, or psychology, and build their educations and careers with more specific advanced degrees.

Where Can You Earn a Degree in Public Health?

Most of today’s colleges and universities offer some sort of public health degree. At community and junior colleges, students can earn an associate degree in public health, which includes a number of introductory courses in sociology, psychology, health, and communications. Many of these two-year options prepare students for entry-level positions in the field or to transfer to a four-year program.

Public and private universities give students the chance to earn bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates in public health. Not all of these larger institutions have the full spectrum of degrees available, but more and more have added to their bachelor’s offering to include the master’s (MPH) and doctorate (DrPH).

Many students sitting at desks face away from the camera, listening to a teacher who tells them what you can do with a public health degree.

Can You Earn a Degree in Public Health Online?

Absolutely. Both hybrid and online public health degree programs are great for students who need a flexible education, whether they’re balancing family commitments or working full-time while in school. There are online programs for undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as those that offer public health certificates. Accredited online degree programs typically feature the identical curriculum and field training as their campus-based counterparts. Distance students do much of their didactic training online, but may be required to complete internships or field work at a community organization. Admissions requirements may also include the completion of practical experience. Schools may have partnerships with local public health organizations that offer internships. The bachelor’s curriculum generally requires a total of 120 credits for graduation. Students completing community college degrees may be allowed to transfer up to 60 credits of coursework to their four-year programs.

For more details on your learning options and to see the top schools, visit our page dedicated to hybrid and online public health degree programs.

Top Skills Learned with a Public Health Degree

Even if you’re not sure which public health career you want to pursue, it’s important to understand the core skills and professional qualities you stand to learn in a public health degree program. According to The Public Health Foundation, core competencies were developed over 20 years by representatives of public health organizations and the schools that offer degrees. These competencies ensure that each public health professional has the knowledge and skills needed to make an immediate and lasting impact in their field. Here’s a rundown of these competencies, with a few additional skills that colleges often teach and employers often ask for.

Virtually all public health professionals across the wide range of careers depend on effective written and verbal communications to succeed. For example, health educators depend on communicating clearly with their students. Health program designers and evaluators must present their proposals in straightforward, comprehensible terms.

Health informatics professionals may have to translate data and jargon-heavy findings for their target audience.

Planners work for public health organizations, governmental agencies, private research firms, and nonprofits. They must tailor their research findings, data analysis, and policy recommendations that are tailored for their specific organizations, including program reach, service needs, and available funding.

According to the American Public Health Association, planners must establish realistic, but effective goals, review ongoing policies, and create guidelines for attaining community objectives.

I Depending on the role and agency, you may be required to measure public health conditions and existing program resource or to recognize data integrity or gaps in quantitative and qualitative findings.

Analysts measure the characteristics of a population-based problem in public health and support the development of programs that address the issues.

Whether you earn an undergraduate or graduate degree in public health, employers are on the lookout for professionals with the ability to advance into leadership roles. It means professionals will be tasked to learn the organizational priorities and policies and to encourage coworkers to meet ongoing goals.

As you rise within an organization, you may choose to undertake additional education to learn the appropriate skill sets to lead teams or entire organizations. Be sure to participate in meetings and collaborative sessions to demonstrate that you’re ready.

All roles in a public health setting depend on your ability to find answers to ongoing or future challenges. That may mean learning staff and community consensus on needs and interventions. It requires critical thinking acumen. The staff needs informed researchers to formulate evidence-based solutions.

The work may require you to meet with experts in fields such as mental health, environmental health, education, and indigent care to formulate a coordinated policy.

Many components of desirable skill sets overlap in function. The common denominator is the need for well-groomed interpersonal skills across the communities and organizations you serve.

You must be able to communicate clearly as well as be open to collaboration and feedback. It can be effective to be assertive based on evidence, ready to negotiate, be an excellent listener, to monitor your body language, and be accountable for your participation (or lack of it).

Financial planners and managers assume a range of key responsibilities that are critical for organizational success. These skills include the creation of a programmatic budget, and the evaluation of program priorities and performance.

Planners and financial managers forge partnerships with federal, local, and state resources for policy formulations and funding.

Because of the diversity of the communities or populations you serve, cultural competency skills are essential. You can build some of these by visiting diverse groups in your area, listening to their communication styles, and taking courses in multiculturalism and diversity.

Guiding principles include trust, fairness, and a respect for diversity cultural differences.

You may hold a dedicated data analysis role, or simply need to understand research methodology as it applies to policy and programming decisions. Analysts build and deploy research models and must have strong skills in mathematics and critical thinking.

They need the skills to summarize their findings for decision-makers or other community agencies in the form of presentations, reports, news releases, posters, and brochures.

It’s key for public health professionals to have computer literacy along with knowledge of tools specific to their field. Employees may be required to know software such as those used in research modeling and statistics.

You may need proficiency in word processing, spreadsheets, social media acumen (mass mailings, Facebook posts, or newsletter production), and a basic knowledge of biostatistics.