A career in public health offers graduates the power to change lives by improving community well-being. Public health professionals examine and propose solutions to the health challenges facing specific populations. Serving as a link between communities, governments, and medical professionals, public health specialists must be well-versed in science and sociology as well as public policy. A bachelor's degree instills the foundational skills required to take on challenging roles in exciting fields, including environmental health, emergency management, and global health.
As an undergraduate, you should start exploring potential career paths during your junior year. Do you want to earn a master's in public health or take a public health job immediately after graduation? The following guide covers the most important skills students gain from public health programs, as well as the wide variety of roles the field has to offer and how you can land the job you desire.
Skills Gained in a Public Health Program
Public health professionals must master a wide range of skills used to identify problems and develop solutions. Even entry-level public health jobs demand strong interpersonal communication, public speaking, writing, problem-solving, and analytical thinking skills. Undergraduate-level programs build and strengthen these competencies through a combination of coursework and hands-on learning experiences such as internships. Internships provide a chance to explore different public health careers, build valuable professional relationships, and apply the following skills in practical settings.
- Interpersonal Communication
Understanding others' concerns is a crucial element in solving public health issues, and strong interpersonal communication skills are key to collaborating with others. Public health workers must meet with community members, share ideas with colleagues, and clearly and effectively discuss concepts with others.
- Public Speaking
Public health professionals must be competent public speakers who are proficient at giving presentations, delivering reports, and persuading both individuals and large groups of people to adopt new strategies and public health initiatives.
Every public health career demands strong writing skills. Many jobs involve drafting reports and proposals for new initiatives, composing press releases and educational materials, or documenting current strategies.
- Problem Solving
Regardless of their specific position, all experts in the sector must identify, investigate, and solve problems. After viewing problems from multiple angles, interviewing affected individuals, and analyzing responses, public health professionals propose various solutions to aid communities in need.
- Analytical Thinking
Analytical thinkers are able to solve problems quickly, and fast responses to serious problems may save lives. As you construct your resume, consider showcasing accomplishments that highlight your analytical thinking skills.
Why Pursue a Career in Public Health?
Public health jobs offer competitive salaries, but they also provide many chances to improve lives and help communities overcome obstacles. In addition, many jobs in the field present opportunities to travel and aid communities abroad. The developing world faces many public health challenges, including the physical and mental effects of war, disease, and malnutrition, and multilingual individuals who possess a public health degree often flourish in positions overseas. Others choose to stay closer to home, working alongside local governments and agencies to extend residents' lifespans and improve their overall quality of life.
Along with an extremely low unemployment rate, the healthcare sector boasts competitive wages and a rapid job growth rate. Most public health career paths offer professional development and continuing education opportunities, and some employers offer tuition reimbursement programs that fund employees' degrees. A master's or doctoral degree strengthens depth of knowledge, builds competence, allows professionals to explore new methods of creating positive change in communities, at home and abroad.
How Much Do Public Health Majors Make?
Many factors influence how much public health majors earn after graduation. Professional experience typically plays a large role, as does education. Candidates who hold a public health degree at the master's or doctoral level usually earn more than those with only a bachelor's or associate degree. As the table below demonstrates, more experience correlates with a higher starting public health salary. As in most employment sectors, management and upper-level positions pay more than entry-level public health jobs. In addition, larger industries such as healthcare management tend to offer more competitive salaries.
How to Work in the Public Health Field
Earn Your Degree
Few institutions offer associate programs in public health, and most aspiring professionals begin their academic careers by earning a bachelor's degree. Along with general education coursework, an undergraduate public health curriculum includes introductory classes in the social and natural sciences. Students explore concepts in psychology and sociology, as well as the fundamentals of biology and chemistry. Bachelor's-level coursework provides a well-rounded knowledge base that lays the groundwork for both graduate studies and entry-level public health jobs. In addition, some bachelor's programs include internship opportunities. By shadowing professionals at local public health agencies, students obtain hand-on experience, bolster their resumes, and build a network of professional contacts.
While some graduates choose to enter the workforce after earning a bachelor's degree, many public health students immediately enroll in graduate school to pursue an MPH degree. Emphasizing advanced research skills, master's programs typically feature concentrated academic paths that allow students to explore specialized public health fields in greater detail. Combined with the right concentration, a master's degree can open up a world of exciting and challenging career opportunities.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Be a Public Health Professional?
Degree length depends on several variables, including program format and structure, delivery method, and degree level. Some online programs feature accelerated and self-paced coursework that lets students complete their studies quickly. Others operate according to a cohort model. In a cohort program, incoming students take courses together and graduate at the same time. While cohort-based programs offer a great deal of structure and collaboration between faculty and students, they typically take longer to complete.
Most undergraduate programs consist of around 120 semester credits, and take full-time students about four years to complete. Requiring anywhere from 45-60 credits, master's programs are roughly 2-3 years long. Due to their highly individualized nature, MPH programs vary considerably in length, and doctoral candidates may spend as many as 10 years pursuing their degree.
Concentrations Available for Public Health Majors
- Food, Nutrition, and Health
Exploring the relationship between culture, diet, and community health, this concentration is ideal for students who wish to improve lives through nutritional education. Graduates work for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and community centers to host classes and develop dietary guidelines.
Median Salary: $56,013
- Health Leadership and Management
All public health organizations require competent leaders who can successfully manage resources and employees. Stressing leadership and administrative skills, this specialization introduces both broadly-applicable management strategies and leadership methods and topics unique to the healthcare industry.
Median Salary: $60,030
- Epidemiologic and Biostatistical Methods for Clinical Research
Epidemiologists study the ways in which diseases spread, and biostatisticians examine healthcare data to draw conclusions. Both career paths require excellent research and analytical skills. Unlike most public health concentrations, this track focuses heavily on statistical analysis and data collection methods.
Median Salary: $62,863
- Global Environment Sustainability and Health
Professionals who specialize in global environment sustainability and health travel the world to promote healthy, environmentally-friendly economic development strategies. Learners who pursue this academic track explore sustainable methods for improving living standards in developing regions and protecting natural resources.
Median Salary: $52,936
- Health Systems and Policy
Health systems and policy experts study the relationship between healthcare policy, social and cultural factors, and public health. These professionals use research to present lawmakers and other stakeholders with policy recommendations. This specialization emphasizes concepts related to healthcare legislation, healthcare infrastructure, and the evolution of healthcare delivery.
Median Salary: $59,934
- Aging and Public Health
By studying aging from biological, sociological, and psychological perspectives, these specialists gain valuable insight into ways that older people can maintain their health and independence. Coursework for this concentration typically addresses topics related to human development and gerontology.
Median Salary: $35,314
What Can You Do with a Public Health Degree?
Individuals who hold advanced degrees enjoy a greater number of career opportunities than those with undergraduate degrees. While an associate or bachelor's degree in public health may help you land entry-level positions, some of these jobs present narrow career paths and limited opportunities for advancement and salary growth. In general, the most lucrative public health careers require both a master's degree and relevant professional experience. Master's programs build competencies required for many management-level public health careers, such as advanced research skills.
Fortunately, many universities offer online master's programs in public health, which make it easy to earn a degree while remaining employed. These programs provide both the education and hands-on experience needed to land high-level positions. After earning a master's degree, many graduates who intend to pursue academic careers choose to take their studies even further by enrolling in a doctoral program.
Associate Degree in Public Health
Although most associate degree-granting institutions do not offer public health programs, students may still take associate-level courses that qualify them to work in entry-level public health jobs like the examples below. Many public health professionals use these positions as stepping stones to more lucrative careers, or as a way to fund a bachelor's degree. It is important to note that the salaries presented in this and the following tables represent average earnings, and recent graduates typically earn less.
- Patient Services Coordinator
Patient services coordinators perform administrative tasks in medical settings, such as filing paperwork and performing patient intake and discharge duties. They are typically the first professionals patients meet after arriving at a hospital. Associate-level sociology, psychology, and natural science courses present the concepts needed to safely and successfully work in a hospital setting.
- Health Coach
Much like how athletic coaches train athletes to strengthen their performance, health coaches train people to lead healthier lives. Health coaches work one-on-one with clients to create individualized wellness plans focused on nutrition and exercise. Many health coaches are introduced to health science topics while pursuing an associate degree.
- Office Coordinator
Office coordinators are in charge of clerical organization and operations. They may also assist visitors, take messages, order office supplies, and perform other administrative duties. Associate programs offer many courses related to this role, including office management, English, and hospitality.
- Community Outreach Coordinator
Community outreach coordinators act as a bridge between their organization and the communities they to serve. They meet with clients to discuss and implement campaigns developed by their organizations' managers. To better serve clients, candidates are expected to understand fundamental concepts in sociology and psychology.
- Healthcare Recruiter
These recruiters seek out talented candidates to fill positions in healthcare-related settings. While much of their job involves reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates, familiarity with public health topics assists healthcare recruiters by allowing them to analyze applicants' credentials quickly and accurately.
Bachelor's Degree in Public Health
Many public health specialists begin their careers by earning a bachelor's degree. Combining general liberal arts coursework with major-related classes, undergraduate programs introduce fundamental public health concepts and competencies. Some bachelor's programs allow students to select a concentration and explore a specialized topic in public health. Others include internship or practicum components, which provide valuable opportunities to gain practical workplace experience and enhance one's resume. Jobs requiring a bachelor's degree offer greater career mobility, higher salaries, and more opportunities for advancement than those available to associate degree holders. While graduates acquire a wide variety of employment options, the positions below are some of the most popular.
- Research Analyst
Companies and organizations hire research analysts to collect and examine data related to a product or service. Analysts working in the public health field determine if latest public health initiative achieved its desired results. Research analysts working in public health require not only an analytical mind, but also the in-depth knowledge about the public health field that only a bachelor's program can provide.
- Clinical Data Analyst
Like research analysts, clinical data analysts review and keep track of important data. However, clinical data analysts work exclusively with scientific data. As a result, these analysts must understand medical terminology and basic science, both of which they gain through bachelor's programs in public health.
- Public Health Inspector
Public health inspectors investigate public establishments such as restaurants and swimming pools to ensure that businesses comply with all local, state, and federal health laws. Inspectors often travel for their work, sometimes hundreds of miles if situations require their expertise. Public health programs provide future inspectors the knowledge and skills needed to perform their jobs successfully.
- Regulatory Affairs Manager
All companies that provide a product or service require the skills of regulatory affairs managers. These managers ensure that products and services satisfy government rules and regulations. Much of the job involves keeping up with the latest legal changes that affect their companies. Many regulations pertain to public health, making a bachelor's in public health a perfect major for students interested in this career.
- Health Educator
Like health coaches, health educators strive to improve people's health and wellness. With a bachelor's degree in public health, health educators gain extra responsibility, such as developing wellness initiatives and managing health coaches. Also, with a bachelor's degree, health educators can work in more settings than health coaches, some of which offer excellent career advancement opportunities.
Master's Degree in Public Health
Master's programs in public health offer an in-depth look at advanced and specialized concepts. Many master's programs provide students with the option of selecting a concentration, which lets candidates tailor their education to align with their career aspirations. In addition, most master's-level curricula emphasize scholarly research skills and data collection and analysis methodologies. Candidates later apply these skills as they develop a master's thesis related to their concentration. This final written project demonstrates the student's depth of knowledge and research proficiency, and many graduates choose to include their master's thesis in job application portfolios.
- Senior Research Associate
Usually employed in medical and pharmaceutical settings, senior research associates work to develop new treatment methods for medical conditions. They often lead teams of research associates. Researchers with a background in public health use their specialized knowledge to identify and create treatments for large-scale health problems.
Epidemiologists study how diseases spread and work to prevent future epidemics. They research disease outbreaks by interviewing affected individuals and examining hospital data. This information is used to create reports, give presentations, and develop response strategies. Along with a public health degree, many of these specialists complete advanced coursework in statistics and medicine.
- Healthcare Consultant
Healthcare consultants work with medical institutions to expose and propose solutions for underlying problems in populations. While many find employment in large healthcare organizations, some consultants work independently. In graduate programs, Future healthcare consultants hone their analytical skills and medical knowledge in graduate-level programs, where they gain hands-on experience by working under experienced mentors.
- Industrial Hygienist
Industrial hygienists analyze workspaces for potential safety risks. When they discover hazards or respond to a workplace accident, they suspend operations until the problem is resolved or repaired. Students interested in this position typically specialize in risk management and perform one or more internships with workplace safety agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- Environmental Health and Safety Specialist
Like industrial hygienists, these specialists strive to improve workplace safety. Instead of material conditions; however, they focus on employee behavior and company practices. After conducting research and compiling data, environmental health specialists develop new methods of improving workplace safety and establish guidelines for employee conduct.
Doctoral Degree in Public Health
Ideal for individuals who wish to pursue careers in research, academia, or high-level roles, public health doctoral programs grant the field's terminal degree. Over the course of three to six years, doctoral candidates explore a specialized public health topic or problem and defend their findings in a dissertation. An adviser or committee usually oversees the dissertation process, which often requires travel, extensive research, and analyzing copious amounts of data. While doctoral programs are time consuming and demand a great deal of dedication, graduates are qualified to teach in colleges and universities and lead research teams. Many doctorate holders take executive positions with large companies.
- Postsecondary Professor
Postsecondary professors teach undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. They develop class syllabi and assignments, lead discussions, and guide graduate students who are composing theses or dissertations. Many postsecondary instructors perform original research along with teaching, using their advanced writing and research skills to publish books and papers on public health topics.
- Research Scientist
Research scientists work in numerous settings, including colleges, universities, and government organizations. Tasked with solving public health challenges through research and experimentation, they explore problems from many different angles and analyze data to develop solutions. Like postsecondary professors, many publish their findings in academic journals. A doctoral program in public health exposes future research scientists to advanced research methodology.
- Epidemiology Director
These communicable disease specialists manage groups of epidemiologists, lead research initiatives, and respond to disease-related health crises. Along with an advanced degree, they must hold extensive experience in the field and strong interpersonal skills. A doctoral program provides prospective epidemiology directors with the high-level research skills and specialized knowledge required for this demanding role.
Working in research labs, biotechnologists engineer organisms to serve new purposes and perform genetic experiments, such as modifying bacterial DNA to produce medicine. Many biotechnologists hold dual doctorates in public health and medicine. A background in public health offers insight into the societal health dilemmas that inform many biotechnologists' research.
- Healthcare Administrator
Nearly every hospital, rehabilitation facility and doctor's office employs a healthcare administrator to manage staff and oversee operations. Many administrators begin their careers as registered nurses, public health specialists, or physicians. By applying advanced analytical and problem-solving skills in the workplace, they improve both productivity and patient outcomes.
Unexpected Careers for Public Health Majors
Public health programs impart a variety of broadly-applicable skills useful in hundreds of other career paths. Along with a strong work ethic, graduates acquire the analytical and communication skills needed to excel in many different roles. Public health professionals, particularly those with five or more years of experience, often find it easy to change career paths. Like all candidates, applicants transferring from the public health sector must demonstrate that they can apply feedback from superiors and take advantage of professional development and continuing education opportunities. However, public health degrees provide many skills that set graduates apart in the workforce.
With the right combination of education and professional experience, public health majors often excel at jobs like those below. As you research potential career paths, remember to think outside of the box and explore all of your options.
- Human Resources Manager
These managers oversee their organizations' human resources departments. They develop and administer human resources policies, lead equitable hiring initiatives, and manage departmental budgets. Public health professionals interested in human resources careers should highlight their management skills and experience on their resumes.
Median Salary: $64,399
- Quality Assurance Analyst
Quality assurance analysts test new products to ensure that they meet the highest standards. After testing, they compose reports and present their findings to company managers or organizational leaders. Requiring strong analytical and problem-solving skills, this position is ideal for detail-oriented individuals.
Median Salary: $53,775
- Case Manager
Case managers work with vulnerable populations, helping individuals recover from addiction, reintegrate into society after incarceration, or overcome homelessness. Primary job duties include meeting with clients one on one and tracking client progress. Candidates interested in becoming case managers should pursue public health programs that feature coursework in psychology and sociology.
Median Salary: $38,982
- Resident Services Director
Resident services directors work in assisted living facilities, performing interviews with potential residents and their families. They acclimate new residents to the facility, oversee staff and operations, and develop activity programs. This role demands strong organizational and interpersonal skills, as well as a background in administration or management.
Median Salary: $55,761
- Grants Administrator
Many organizations and nonprofit foundations rely on grants administrators to manage grant funds. These professionals process paperwork, review grant applications, and assign funding according to organizational guidelines. They must keep in constant contact with grant recipients to ensure that funding is used appropriately. Grants administrators with public health experience often work for healthcare companies, government organizations, and community-based associations.
Median Salary: $54,817
Where Can You Work as a Public Health Professional?
Public health professionals are employed in nearly every major industry and at all levels of government. However, demand for different specializations varies according to location, industry, and individual populations' needs. For example, professionals who specialize in food and nutrition may discover opportunities in areas with high obesity rates. If you wish to work in a specific city or part of the country after graduation, you should examine that city or region's public health needs before choosing a program. Selecting the right concentration may increase your chances of finding a job in the area.
As you explore employment options after graduation, it is important to seek out areas that offer both fulfilling career opportunities and the highest possible quality of life. Every state faces different public health challenges, and each region is home to different at-risk populations. In addition, states with larger metropolitan areas typically boast both a larger number of job openings and higher starting salaries. However, the cost of living in large cities often exceeds that of suburban and rural areas. In the map below, you can learn more about the public health opportunities each state has to offer.
How Do You Find a Job as a Public Health Professional?
Building a polished resume is the first step toward a successful job hunt. As you construct your resume, emphasize aspects of your education and experience that would most appeal to prospective employers, and don't be afraid to tailor your resume to each position. Finally, let at least one other person read your resume to check for errors and provide feedback. After you begin sending your resume to potential employers, you may wish to practice your interviewing skills by roleplaying with another person.
There are numerous ways to learn about job openings. The American Public Health Association, the Global Health Council, and the Public Health Employment Connection are all excellent career resources. Hospitals and government agencies employ the highest percentage of public health professionals in the nation, and health educators and community health workers represent the two fastest-growing careers in the public health field. Staying abreast of hiring trends and high-demand positions can help you get a better idea of where to apply and what employers are looking for.
Professional Resources for Public Health Majors
- Association for Women's Rights in Development: AWID works to promote gender equality in 15 countries by implementing public health initiatives related to issues such as HIV/AIDS awareness and women's health. Public health majors may explore multiple informational articles on the latest issues in women's development on the AWID website. Members may take advantage of networking opportunities by attending AWID events.
- International Development Jobs and Consulting Opportunities: This extensive job board hosts the latest global public health career openings. Visitors can search by job function or location. Members gain access to an exclusive network of professional headhunters. Other membership benefits include job alerts, advanced job search tools, and a featured profile on the devnetjobs.org website.
- UNjobs: An ideal resource for public health majors interested in working for the United Nations, the UNjobs website boasts open positions in dozens of fields, including public health. Candidates can organize results by UN organization or duty station, or search for careers by job title.
- Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health: Delta Omega boasts chapters throughout the United States. College faculty nominate student inductees based on academic merit and potential to leave a positive mark on the public health profession. Members gain access to professional development and networking opportunities, as well as discounted student membership in the American Public Health Association.
- The Carter Center: President Jimmy Carter created the Carter Center with the goal of improving public health throughout the developing world. The Carter Center offers internships and assistantships for graduate students studying public health and local volunteer opportunities for those living in the Atlanta, Georgia, area.
- National Association of County & City Health Officials: Local governments employ a large percentage of the nation's public health professionals. NACCHO connects over 2,700 local public health organizations in a mission to share information between member departments and promote professional development. Each year, NACCHO recognizes public health departments that demonstrate exceptional progress in improving their community health.
- National Environmental Health Association: NEHA serves as an advocate for both environmental protection and public health professionals who assist individuals suffering from pollution-related illnesses. Members may pursue a career-boosting NEHA credential, attend the annual NEHA conference, and access exclusive job boards.
- Public Health Foundation: PHF works toward helping public health organizations achieve goals, promote professionalism in the field, and develop best practices in workforce training. Public health organizations and professionals may enroll in multiple training courses, access free educational resources, and stay current on the latest developments in the field.
- Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service: The Commissioned Corps recruits highly trained healthcare professionals to respond to natural and human-made disasters. Learners interested in pursuing careers with the USPHS may apply to an early commissioning program. All USPHS employees receive the same benefits as members of the American Armed Forces.
- Pan American Health Organization: A branch of the UN's World Health Organization, PAHO strives to improve public health in the Americas. PAHO's current mission is to reduce smoking, increase vaccination rates, and promote blood donation. Students can research pressing public health issues and explore potential academic and career concentrations on the PAHO website.