Public health is the perfect field for people who are interested in both science and in helping others. People with careers in public health specialize in serving the public by keeping communities healthy. With disease epidemics becoming an even greater concern in the United States and the world as a whole, public health professionals have a wide variety of fields and jobs to choose from.
Careers in Public Health
There are many careers in public health, but all are focused on keeping communities healthy. Many people in this field work as a community health worker or health educator, who works directly with people to help them adopt behavior that promote health. This could include encouraging people to get vaccinations, teaching them how to prepare food safely, advising on how to prevent catching diseases and more.
Public health workers also work with people who have chronic or communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, to identify how they acquired the infection, refer them to necessary health services, and educate them on how not to spread the diseases further. They also may work with parents to teach them how to make good health decisions for their children, such as choosing healthier food.
People with more education in public health (for example, a master’s degree) are more likely to work for the government or nonprofit agencies. They often work in policy-making, helping to create laws, policies, and recommendations that will keep communities healthier. Whenever you see a recommendation from a government agency, such as a suggested daily amount of a vitamin, a public health professional was involved.
With the rise of ebola and other tropical diseases, many public health workers are going into the field of global health. These professionals help to make plans for identifying, treating, and containing global outbreaks of disease. These professionals are very important in modern times, which increased mobility allows rapid and widespread epidemics of disease.
Job Outlook for Public Health
The demand for people with a degree and experience in public health is growing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field grew over twenty percent in 2011-2012 alone.
Because of recent measles and whooping cough outbreaks, as well as the emergence of global disease epidemics such as ebola, the government, and private agencies, are employing an ever-growing number of public health professionals. Maintaining a population’s health is fundamental to helping a community thrive.
Degree and Training Requirements
Public health professionals need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many have a degree in public health, but some have a degree in biology or another health care related field. In addition to a bachelor’s degree, many public health professionals have a master’s degree in public health or MPH. Some also hold additional certifications and licenses.
Regardless of their major, public health professionals must have academic background in the following areas:
- Epidemiology, the science of disease epidemics
- Informatics and biostatistics
- Community health
- Environmental health
- Social work
A major in public health will cover all of these areas. However, there is a variety of college majors that can work in public health as long as they take the correct classes to prepare them for the field.
In addition to education requirements, many public health professionals also have extensive volunteer work or job experience. This is often in fields of health or social work. These experiences prepare a public health worker for working in an effective and compassionate manner with diverse people in their community, especially underserved populations.
Daily Functions of a Public Health Professional
Because there are a diverse number of jobs in the public health field, it is hard to predict a general schedule for the field. However, most public health professionals have a few tasks that they complete every day, which include:
- Working with members of the public to educate them about healthy choices
- Collecting information to track the health of populations
- Meeting with other public health professionals to review trends in an area and make new plans to improve community health
- Reviewing new guidelines and recommendations so the people they serve can be given the most accurate and timely information
Public health workers have busy careers that involve both field work (working in a community, outside an office) and office work. It’s important that a person entering this field enjoy working in diverse and varied environments.
Public Health Certifications and Accreditations
There are several certifications and accreditations that can help a person in public health to further their career. The most common certification is the Certified Health Education Specialist, or CHES, certification. People can also test for and receive the CPH or Certification in Public Health. In addition, public health professionals can train for and receive a PHE, or Public Health Educator, certification.
In addition to a variety of certifications, public health professionals who attend graduate school to complete a master’s, or doctorate program can specialize in a field of their choice. Common specialties include school health, community health, public health education, global health, and public health policy.
Potential Salaries of Public Health Professionals
The median salary in the United States for a public health worker is $48,000 a year. However, many public health professionals, especially those who work in administrative and regulatory roles and/or have a master’s degree or additional certifications, earn much more than this.
In general, people who work in public health earn more than average and have a comfortable living, with an above average salary as well as a full benefits package. As with most fields, public health professionals earn more when they have more education, more experience, and more qualifications or other training.
Is Public Health Right for You?
If you are interested in science, health care, and working with the public, public health is likely to be a rewarding and exciting career choice. There are a few qualities that every public health provider must have, regardless of their exact job. These include:
- Enjoying working with the public
- Desire to serve others
- Interest in science, especially health sciences
- Being good at persuasion and helping people to overcomes resistance and barriers to good health practices
- Ability to work with other professionals to promote good health
- Interest in statistics and trends in populations
If these qualities describe you, then public health might be the perfect field for you. Demand for these highly paid and respected individuals is growing steadily and expected to continue growing in the future, so there is no reason not to explore a public health career.