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Public Health Education, Schools and Career Overview

Professionals who discovered the West Nile Virus and worked to prevent the spread of this disease. Individuals who lobby for money to develop campaigns for educating on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Those who find health trends and publish statistics to prevent the spread of injury and disease among a certain population. A lactation consultant who teaches a teen mom how to breastfeed her baby. These are just a few examples of jobs within the exciting and rewarding field of public health. Learn more about public health certification. The following information was gathered from a variety of sources including the www.whatispublichealth.org website, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and interviewing professionals in the field of public health.

Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention. Public health professionals analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.

Public health focuses on protecting entire communities or populations, rather than the individual. These communities can be small or large. This science field has a focus on improving the health of populations through education or sharing information, researching disease and injury prevention, and through encouraging healthy lifestyles. Developing methods to prevent the reoccurrence of health issues through implementing policies and educational programs is a main focus of the public health field. This is different than the traditional field of medicine that typically addresses patients after they become injured or sick.

Public Health Specializations

Because of its breadth, public health encapsulates several primary paths of career focuses, such as health communication, research, occupational safety, laboratory practices, preventative services and more. Below is a list of 11 common public health careers:

  • Biochemist. Biochemists are scientists that coordinate and conduct research into living organisms, focusing on areas including genetic mutations, diseases and more.
  • Clinical social worker. Clinical social workers provide substantive care to individuals, families and the community dealing with issues stretching from substance abuse to serious illnesses.
  • Dietitians/Nutritionist. nutritionists work with individuals to establish healthy eating and lifestyle behaviors.
  • Environmental science technician. Environmental science technicians work under the supervision of environmental scientists, assisting with both laboratory- and field-based research in areas such as pollution or water safety.
  • Environmental scientist. Environmental scientists study the impact of the environment on human beings, including climate change, water pollution, chemicals and more.
  • Epidemiologist. Epidemiologists are public health researchers that collect and analyze data to investigate the causes and risks of diseases in human beings.
  • Health educator. Health educators are responsible for creating, implementing and maintaining healthy living strategies to improve the general well-being of their neighborhoods, communities or state.
  • Public health administrator. Public health administrators may work in a range of health care settings and are typically responsible for coordinating patient care, managing policy issues, and ensuring proper delivery of health services.
  • Registered nurse. Registered nurses provide and manage patient care in a variety of health care settings, from hospitals to schools.
  • Substance abuse counselor. Substance abuse counselors work with individuals (and their families) dealing with drug, alcohol or other behavioral-focused behaviors.

Educational Requirements for Public Health Jobs

Professionals in the public health field can work for both private and public organizations. Within the public sector, there are federal, state and local organizations. Examples of federal or government organizations include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institute for Health. Examples of local health groups include any non-profit organizations, colleges, research and development institutes, and even hospitals. Examples of non-profit organizations would include the American Cancer Society or the Red Cross. In the private sector there are positions available such as working in control trials for health insurance or pharmaceutical companies. 

Public health degree programs

Since public health is so broad there are a variety of bachelor’s degrees one can obtain to pursue this field. Some chose to earn their bachelor’s in public health and others may chose a degree that relates to the specific area of public health they’re interested in. For example, for a person who wants to pursue a job in biostatistics or epidemiology, a degree in math or biology may be appropriate. A nutrition or dietetics degree is suitable for those who want to pursue the nutrition field within public health. For those interested in health services administration, a marketing or business degree is an excellent fit. A psychology, sociology, or anthropology degree would fit well for someone interested in a behavioral science or global health career. For those who want to be involved in health education, an educational degree would be an appropriate match.

The Bachelor of Science and the Master of Public Health degree incorporates the complexities of the health care system, health care law, information systems, financial management, and human resources management. Recurrent changes within the health care system, such as with the HIPAA privacy laws and new regulations regarding the adoption of electronic health record systems, have not only made the public health care arena an interesting place in which to work, but also a complex one that requires professionals who are knowledgeable in all areas of health care.

Training for public health jobs

Most programs require internships so students are able to gain hands on experience in this field. The types of internships vary based on the program and the area of emphasis in public health an individual is pursuing. Internship experiences usually vary from six to nine months in duration. Oftentimes several shorter (perhaps two to three month) internships are required so students can get experience working in a variety of settings. Settings may include local or state health departments as well as hospitals.

Public health certification

There are a variety of certifications depending on the specialty one pursues in public health. Examples of these are Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), and Licensed Social Worker (LSW). 

Career advancement in public health jobs

Typically to advance in the field of public health a master’s degree is needed. Even for those who are uncertain if they want to obtain leadership positions in this field, a graduate degree can provide a competitive edge and increased marketability. Following a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree can be earned that focuses on a variety of areas of public health. Graduate degrees are typically available in the following specialties within public health: biostatistics, behavioral science/health education, environmental health, epidemiology, health services administration/management, international/global health maternal and child health, nutrition, public health laboratory practice, public health policy, and public health practice. 

In addition to having a graduate degree, it provides a competitive edge to be bilingual or know another language. Since bilingual public health employees are scarce and very much needed, it is a great skill to have. 

Salary and Career Outlook for Public Health Workers

Health care jobs in the coming years are typically expected to be in demand, as an aging population lives longer, as people look to live healthier lives, as medical conditions in need of treatment persist, and as advancements in medical technology are made.

However, in general job growth and salary figures for any public health job will vary based on factors like location, education level, and experience. Here’s an idea of what career outlook and pay could look like for public health workers in the coming years:

Professional Resources for Public Health Workers

The American Public Health Association is the main organization for this profession. Some of the benefits for joining APHA include having have access to their research and science (in the Journal of Public Health), attending their conferences, obtaining continuing education credits, and acting as a public health activist with other members. There are other organizations one can belong to depending on their specialty within public health. For instance, those in dietetics or nutrition would also be members of the American Dietetics Association.

Sources

1.     Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, http://www.aspph.org/discover/

2.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse Counselors, www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-and-behavioral-disorder-counselors.htm

3.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators, www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm

4.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Biochemists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biochemists-and-biophysicists.htm

5.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm

6.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Biostatisticians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/statisticians.htm

7.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Public Health Administrators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm

8.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Dietitians and Nutritionists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm

9.     Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Science Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-science-and-protection-technicians.htm

10.   Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm#tab-2

11.   Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm

Public Health Schools