What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?
Earning a public health degree can lead to meaningful careers in diverse fields. Learn more about public health careers.
Updated April 25, 2022
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- A public health degree can lead to many different career paths.
- Public health salaries can vary based on the industry and a person's credentials.
- Most jobs for public health graduates require continuing education.
- Many public health professionals enjoy excellent job growth projections.
Earning a degree in this versatile field can lead to a career as a community health educator, researcher, or practitioner. Some public health professionals work for pharmaceutical companies or governmental agencies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the demand for jobs in public health and other healthcare professions will grow considerably over the next decade.
Public health salaries vary by career path, sector, and a person's degree level. According to PayScale, public health bachelor's degree graduates earned an average of $50,000 per year in January 2021. Master's in public health (MPH) graduates made an average annual salary of $64,000 as of November 2021.
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Public health professionals with graduate degrees may gain access to higher-paying jobs. Possible positions include epidemiologist or community health services manager. Learn more about public health salaries and growth outlook in the following sections.
How Much Does a Public Health Professional Make?
Public health salaries vary widely by industry, employer, and position. Research or management positions in healthcare-related industries tend to pay the highest salaries. Research directors and medical and health services managers often make six figures a year. According to the BLS, these professionals earn nearly twice the median salary across all occupations. The demand for medical and health services managers is also projected to grow over three times more than the average growth rate for all occupations during the next decade.
The BLS projects similarly strong growth for epidemiologists between 2020 and 2030. According to the organization, both epidemiologists and public health nurses made a median salary of around $75,000 per year in May 2020. Keep in mind that some healthcare careers require professionals to complete additional education beyond a bachelor's in public health. Occupational health and safety specialists, for example, made a median annual salary of around $76,000 in May 2020, but these workers may need additional training.
Many public health graduates also serve as community health educators, who often earn less than private sector professionals. According to the BLS, health education specialists and community health workers made a median annual salary of $48,140 in May 2020. The BLS projects positions for these professionals will grow 17% between 2020 and 2030.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Public Health Degree?
A public health degree can open the door to many rewarding career opportunities at nonprofits, government agencies, and private companies. Some graduates work in the community as educators or nonprofit agency administrators. Advanced degrees in this field can lead to research or medical practice careers in the healthcare industry. Some graduates pursue public health policy careers in government. See below for descriptions of popular and emerging public health careers.
Top Public Health Jobs
School Health Educator
These professionals familiarize K-12 or college students with important health and wellness information. School health educators may visit classrooms, speak at assemblies, or work in school health clinics. This job usually involves creating programs or materials that promote exercise, proper nutrition, and safety.
Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Both nonprofit and for-profit workplaces take steps and implement protocols to protect employee safety. Occupational health and safety specialists examine workplace equipment and practices to ensure compliance with safety regulations and standards. Daily activities may include training employees to follow safer practices and protocols.
Biostatisticians use computer science and statistics to identify and interpret biological data. Usually working in teams, biostatisticians plan and perform studies on phenomena such as disease transmission. These professionals may study human, plant, or animal health. They can work for corporations, research foundations, or government agencies.
Social and Community Services Manager
These managers oversee community workers, programs, and organizations. Community services managers in the public health field evaluate the effectiveness of related projects and programs. These professionals may also participate in staffing, training, and scheduling activities. Possible public health specializations include homelessness, mental health, and domestic violence.
Public Health Nurse
Nurses may provide community education and nursing care in various settings, such as government agencies and healthcare facilities. Public health nurses may perform various health education services such as prenatal training and vaccine education. A public health degree can help support this career path, but nurses need additional nursing education and licensure to practice.
These professionals supervise hospital operations, staff, and finances. They sometimes oversee budgeting and hiring by collaborating with other managers. Responsibilities may include ensuring legal and regulatory compliance. This role also focuses on finding cost-effective ways to provide high-quality patient care. Aspiring hospital administrators need several years of successful management experience to qualify for this high-level career.
Top Industries for Public Health Jobs
Many public health degree graduates work as health educators in K-12 schools or colleges. According to the BLS, education industry professionals earned a mean annual wage of $59,810 in 2020. Health education specialists and community health workers made a median yearly wage of $48,140 during the same period. Public health professors earned a median salary of $80,560 per year.
One of the fastest-growing and most lucrative industries, healthcare affords many opportunities for public health graduates. Some public health students pursue medical degrees and become healthcare practitioners, who made an average yearly wage of $85,900 in 2020, according to the BLS. Relevant careers include public health nurse, nutritionist, and epidemiologist.
A public health degree can lead to careers in production industries such as manufacturing. According to the BLS, people working in production industry occupations earned an average wage of $41,760 per year in 2020. However, a public health degree can qualify graduates for higher-paying roles. Occupational health and safety specialists, for instance, earned an average of $78,110 annually in 2020.
Some public health students become researchers or practitioners in the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry. According to BLS salary data from 2020, these professionals earned an average of $75,150 annually. However, many professionals in this field, such as pharmaceutical epidemiologists, can make much more.
This sector does not usually pay as much as other health-related industries. The community and social services sector paid an average annual salary of $52,180 in May 2020, according to the BLS. Health education specialists and community health workers earned a median annual salary of $48,140 in May 2020. However, many public health graduates find this work important and rewarding in other ways. Some public health graduates may become social and community service managers at public health agencies.
Top Locations for Public Health Jobs
BLS state and area data indicate that the bulk of epidemiologists work in state or local government. California employs the most epidemiologists, followed by Texas and Washington state. Washington epidemiologists earned the highest mean wage in 2020 at $113,900 per year.
California also employs the most health education specialists, dieticians, and nutritionists. Texas, New York, and Florida are also among the top five states that employ health and nutrition educators and medical and health services managers. Top-paying states for many public health professions include Washington, D.C., New York, and California. Public health professionals who live and work in large metropolitan areas tend to earn the highest salaries.
How to Start Your Career in Public Health
Earning a degree in public health can be the first step toward a career in education, research, or healthcare. Some students start their journeys with a public health-focused associate degree. These programs usually provide an interdisciplinary overview of the field and include general education courses that build communication and leadership skills. Some healthcare and community health jobs accept candidates with associate degrees.
Most careers in public health require applicants to possess a bachelor's degree at minimum. Professionals with bachelor's degrees may meet education requirements for positions such as early intervention specialists or research associates. Public health jobs at this level include health education specialists. Professionals who go on to earn advanced degrees may pursue careers such as epidemiologists, research directors, or public health professors.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Public Health?
Public health bachelor's programs require students to complete 120 credits, including general education coursework. The curriculum introduces enrollees to public health data analysis and healthcare delivery systems. Coursework also usually covers population health and infectious diseases.
Many public health bachelor's degree programs offer concentrations in fields like global health, biostatistics, and epidemiology. Some schools also provide emergency preparedness and environmental health concentrations.
This degree can lead to many interesting career paths. Possible positions include public health inspector and health educator. Consult our guides to learn more about bachelor's in public health programs and relevant public health jobs in industries such as healthcare.
Emergency Preparedness Planner
This job involves creating and coordinating various emergency response activities. These professionals spend considerable time training people in disaster protocols. Emergency preparedness planners may work for local or federal government agencies. They may also be required to travel to assist disaster-struck areas.
Average Annual Salary (December 2021): $64,690
Health Education Specialist
Professionals who work in health education focus on teaching individuals or groups how to promote wellbeing through healthy habits and behaviors. These specialists may gather and analyze health data. Health education specialists also may collaborate with public health departments or community health agencies. These specialists need at least a bachelor's degree in a related field. Some specialists pursue teaching careers.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $48,140
Nutritionists may work in healthcare facilities, community agencies, or private practices. Some nutritionists work for schools, sports organizations, or governmental health departments. These professionals support their clients in creating and following more nutritious meal plans. Nutrition careers require professional certification or licensure for certain roles.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $63,090
What Can You Do With a Master's in Public Health?
Many high-level jobs in public health require applicants to possess graduate degrees. Students usually complete about 42 credits to earn an MPH, depending on prerequisites completed. Core coursework typically includes health policy and management and foundations of epidemiology. Master's programs may allow students to specialize in fields such as health services administration, health education, and biostatistics.
Some MPH graduates go on to pursue healthcare careers. Earning an MPH can help you qualify for advanced public health careers such as epidemiologist and medical and health services manager.
Substance Misuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor
Some public health master's graduates pursue careers in counseling. Substance misuse and mental health counselors provide emotional support and education to individuals managing conditions. The BLS projects positions for these professionals will grow 23% between 2020 and 2030, a much greater rate of growth than the average across all occupations. Learn more about counseling careers from our career guides.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $47,660
These medical professionals educate individuals and communities about nutrition and health. They may diagnose and treat illnesses. Dieticians often work in healthcare facilities, schools, or research settings. Common activities include performing nutritional assessments and creating meal plans. These professionals may assist patients in managing food-related conditions such as eating disorders and diabetes. Some workers may also be able to find niche roles as public health dieticians and nutritionists.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $63,090
Medical and Health Services Manager
Also known as healthcare administrators or executives, these professionals oversee operations and/or personnel at medical departments or facilities. This career may include staffing, scheduling, and budgeting responsibilities. Medical and health services managers also ensure their organization complies with healthcare regulations and laws.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $104,240
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Public Health?
Doctorate in public health (DrPH) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in public health programs usually take 60-70 credits and several years to complete. DrPH programs often include courses such as public health leadership or public health communications and marketing.
Curriculums vary by school and program, but most doctoral programs in public health require students to complete major capstone research projects. Both DrPH and Ph.D. students often take various specialized courses in their chosen field.
These terminal degrees meet or exceed degree requirements in this field. Graduates may pursue careers as healthcare administrators, research directors, or public health professors.
These directors guide research teams, departments, and organizations. Research directors help researchers understand what they need to do and why. These professionals manage personnel, which can include hiring and training. Research directors often write detailed reports and present pertinent information to organization leaders. This career requires management experience and advanced communication skills.
Average Annual Salary (November 2021): $104,910
This research career involves studying disease and injury causes and patterns. These professionals may perform research in laboratories and out in the community. Common specializations include infection control, veterinary, and pharmaceutical epidemiology. Epidemiologists' research informs public health policy and education.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $74,560
Many public health Ph.D. graduates pursue college or university teaching careers. These professionals often teach courses and conduct scholarly research in their field. Public health professors also usually serve on committees and oversee graduate research projects. Some postsecondary teachers work as health educators in community settings.
Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $80,560
How to Advance Your Career in Public Health
Earning an undergraduate public health degree provides a solid foundation for graduate study in MPH, DrPH, or public health Ph.D. programs. However, some graduates take part in various training programs or on-the-job continuing education options instead.
Many public health graduates pursue certificates, certifications, or licenses that focus on particular roles or skills. The following sections introduce some of the many continuing education pathways for career advancement in this field.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Public health certification and licensure requirements vary depending on a person's career path. Candidates with 3-5 years of relevant work experience and a degree accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health qualify to take the Certified in Public Health (CPH) professional examination.
Administered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, the CPH credential indicates knowledge of public health practice, science, and professional ethics. This credential can qualify recipients to work in many fields, including nutrition and public health social work.
Common public health credentials for public health educators include Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES). The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing awards these credentials to applicants who pass the corresponding CHES and MCHES professional examinations.
Environmental health professionals can earn Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) certification from the National Environmental Health Association.
Public health associate or bachelor's degree graduates who seek career or salary advancement but don't want to invest in another degree can continue their education in other ways. CPH, CHES, or REHS/RS certificate programs can help enrollees prepare for professional examination and certification. Online courses or internships also may prove helpful in acquiring skills or knowledge for particular roles.
However, high-level public health jobs such as epidemiologist or research director usually require advanced degrees like an MPH, DrPH, or Ph.D. Graduate-level public health students may qualify for graduate or postgraduate research or teaching fellowships.
Frequently Asked Questions About Public Health Jobs
Is public health a good career?
The public health discipline features many rewarding career possibilities for people who want to have a direct and positive impact on the world around them. Public health students can choose between many specialized fields and careers. Common entry-level positions for graduates include community health worker and health educator. These roles provide meaningful, direct services to many people in need of care.
Healthcare-related fields and organizations continue to expand rapidly as the nation's population ages. The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the need for healthcare professionals. This means that studying public health can provide good job security and growth opportunities.
What public health jobs are in demand?
The BLS projects 32% growth in medical and health service manager positions between 2020 and 2030. These highly qualified professionals also earned a median annual salary of over $100,000 in May 2020. Roles for epidemiologists are also projected to grow 30% over the next decade.
The BLS projects 17% growth for health education specialists and community health workers. Dietician and nutritionist careers are projected to grow by about 11%. All of these occupations have greater projected growth rates than the average across all jobs between 2020 and 2030.
What are the highest-paying jobs in public health?
Public health graduates with experience may eventually qualify for careers as healthcare administrators. These professionals often earn six-figure salaries, putting them among the top earners in this field.
Research directors are also highly paid. These high-level professionals usually need doctoral-level public health degrees. Research directors may make more money working for private healthcare companies rather than for government research organizations. According to the BLS, epidemiologists earned a median annual salary of about $75,000 in May 2020.
Community health jobs do not usually pay as well. However, public health graduates may earn additional degrees and credentials that qualify them for higher-paying healthcare jobs in fields such as public health nursing.
Is public health an easy major?
Public health curricula can differ considerably depending on students' concentrations. Many public health programs include a mixture of liberal arts and science courses, cultivating the diverse balance of skills necessary to succeed in this field. Prepared and well-rounded learners may find this major challenging but manageable.
Public health students also need quantitative skills in order to pass courses like statistics and calculus. Strong analytical skills prove helpful when completing coursework on public health policy. Aspiring dieticians and health educators also need interpersonal and communication skills to excel in their careers.
Can I work in public health without a degree?
Most jobs in public health require at least a bachelor's degree in a related field. However, some individuals without degrees may qualify for entry-level community health worker or healthcare technician roles at public health clinics. Certificate programs can prepare individuals for careers such as medical equipment technician, home health aide, or patient care technician.
Accumulating years of professional experience can allow medical professionals to move up without a degree. However, public health students usually must earn degrees to qualify for advanced public health jobs such as epidemiologists or public health policy analysts.
Feature Image: Morsa Images / DigitalVision / Getty Images
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