Public Health Career Guide
Public health degrees open doors beyond just the commonly assumed government career path. There are actually a wide variety of settings in which public health graduates may work, as with any degree program. Some of those settings are:
- Public: Health department administration, disaster preparedness and public nursing are just three areas in which a public health graduate may work for the government.
- Education: Education-related roles in public health are often as teachers to public health students or within research.
- Private: Whether as a consultant or employee, public health graduates often work for pharmaceutical brands, healthcare organizations or insurance companies.
- Non-profit: Non-profit roles for public health graduates tend to address gaps in healthcare or specialize in a specific population. For example, a non-profit role may serve minorities, veterans or mothers.
In order to ensure that the student is qualified and able to compete for their desired role in public health, he or she should research the degree level required for performance within that type of position. While a particular job of interest may only require a lower degree, students should also consider their ultimate career progression and whether a graduate degree will serve them more adequately. Some students spend up to six years focusing on their education, first acquiring a general public health foundation, followed by greater focus on their area of specialization.
Public health schools generally offer the following degree programs:
Associate: A two-year degree can be a good starting point for the public health field. Students in such a program learn foundational information about public health, such as public health worker goals and challenges. There may be some focus on legalities of public health.
A degree at this level may work fine for administrative support and entry level roles in public health. Credits achieved as part of this program can usually transfer toward a higher degree, if the student later desires to acquire a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor of Public Health: Multiple areas of specialization are often provided for public health students in a bachelor’s degree program. Such degrees also provide a good foundation and focus for a later graduate program.
A Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science may be available to students of public health programs, depending upon the school. A Bachelor of Science may focus on natural science, while a BA may focus on social science. Research specializations such as epidemiology and biostatistics generally benefit more from a BS degree.
Students more interested in areas such as community health, behavioral health or health communications might benefit more from a BA degree program. The best resource for determining which is a right fit for an individual student is always the school admissions office or university public health department.
Graduate: A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree provides students with the ability to compete with their peers toward more lucrative roles. Such accredited programs have a minimum of five areas of potential focus for MPH students. Students in the MPH program can pick one of these areas in which to specialize:
- Biostatistics Programs
- Environmental Health Science Programs
- Social and Behavioral Social Sciences Programs
- Epidemiology Programs
- Health Services Administration Programs
Doctorate: A doctorate degree is the highest attainable level of education for a public health student. These programs include a comprehensive course of study. Upon completion of this program, students are prepared for roles in academia and upper management. Those desiring to become a university professor or researcher will likely be required to have a DPH degree.
Potential Career Paths in Public Health
In essence, the higher the degree of pursuit, the more specialized education in public health may become. A highly specialized degree program can influence which sector of employment the graduate is most appropriately suited for, as well as how much salary can be earned.
Some of the most common areas career paths include:
Biostatistics and Informatics: This is the analysis of data as it applies to healthcare, using models to track population health and identify trends. Best suited for students with a love and aptitude for mathematics, this career field within public health offers potential roles of Biostatistician, Health Informatics Specialist and Medical and Health Services Manager, among others. View Biostatistics degrees here.
Community Health: These public health workers take a holistic approach to public health, considering what may influence the health of a given region’s population. These roles usually involve higher concentration on political science, sociology and biology than those in the Biostatistics and Informatics area of work. Common roles within Community Health include Health Care Administrator, Community Health Worker and Health Educator, to name a few.
Environmental Health: This field of public health focuses on study of aspects of the environment and how they affect population health. For example, an environmental health degree focus may be on climate change, pollution and electromagnetic fields. Workers in these careers often concentrate on research, prevention and outreach to the population toward prevention of environmental affects on health. Some roles within this arena include Environmental Scientist, Quality Investigator and Environmental Engineer.
Public Health Occupations – Wages, Employment, and Projections
Below you will find detailed data on every public health related occupation in the United States. Our data is gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and combined with US Census Bureau data. We hand-edit this data and update it when it is released by the US Government, and have put hours of work into being able to easily display public health occupations throughout the website.
|Public Health Occupation||AVG
|Community Health Workers||$38,180||25.1%|
|Environmental Scientists and Specialists||$72,050||14.6%|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||$103,680||23.2%|
|Health Specialties Teachers||$112,950||36.1%|
|Healthcare Social Workers||$53,590||26.8%|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||$45,820||22.8%|
|Mental Health Counselors||$43,990||28.5%|
|Natural Sciences Managers||$136,450||5.7%|
Salary for Public Health Personnel
There are many variables included in determination of salary for a given field of work or role within the field. Those considerations include level of education, geography of employment, sector of employment, occupational responsibility or management level, economy and other factors.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics under the U.S. Department of Labor provides occupation-specific statistics for each geography in the United States. Within these statistics, public health workers in Hawaii are paid the least of all in the country. The highest paying state is New York. Florida lies in the middle of all states, for salary.
An Associate’s degree in public health can provide an educational foundation for roles such as Environmental Health Technician. However, at the Associate level, one must realize that salaries will be among the lowest in the field public health. Generally, such roles start within the $30,000 range and allow for career progression to today’s salary of about $50,000.
A Bachelor’s degree provides entry to even some roles where employers might seek a Master’s level candidate. Salary for these roles start at about $8,000 or $12,000 higher than the annual average for entry level Associate’s degree roles. Bachelor’s degreed individuals have an opportunity to work diligently toward a salary which doubles in their lifetime. While this is not a given, it is possible for an experienced manager with a Bachelor’s degree to peak within their career at $80,000 or more.
At the Master’s degree level, starting salaries hover around the $50,000 mark or slightly higher. With a Master’s degree, there is greater potential to advance more quickly toward higher paying and management roles, once field experience is added to the resume. A Master’s educated public health worker can exceed income of $100,000 per year.
Individuals with a Doctorate of Public Health degree naturally have the best salary outlook of all public health professionals. Top roles with such a degree pay above $125,000 per year, with some reaching as high as an average of $155,000 per year.
Of course, at this level, an individual is more able to forge an unlimited pathway in salary and entity of employment. Top corporate executives are often paid in excess of $200,000 per year, so a private sector Doctorate degreed public health professional is presented with a wider range of growth opportunity.
Top Employers for Public Health Professionals
Immense growth is expected for jobs in the public health field over the next ten years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects about 21 percent more jobs to open by 2022 for educators in health and community health workers, alone. Medical and business fields are also opening more for public health graduates.
Some potential employment pathways for public health graduates include:
As part of the broader sector of government, there are some intriguing opportunities for public health graduates within highly respected areas of employment. Those include opportunities at the federal, state and local levels of government.
- Center for Disease Control (CDC): The primary federal organization for public health, this entity employs a wide variety of public health professionals in diverse roles. The mission of the CDC is to protect against outbreaks and respond to such, when those occur. The CDC also works health data analysis and makes policy recommendations. Most of the CDC’s employees hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH provides biomedical and health related research under the Department of Health and Human Services. Heavily funded by the government, the NIH has been at the forefront of medical research, such as in understanding of cancer, development of the MRI and in other research leading 144 of its employees to become Nobel Prize winners.
- Local and state public health departments: Programs, policies and research are the three primary areas of focus for public health workers at the state and local level of government. These employees fulfill many of the duties of the CDC, just at a lower level of government and within individual communities, to individual members of the population.
Public health degreed professors within colleges and universities provide the foundation and preparation for the next generation of public health workers. These roles are most often a blend of research and education.
Executives educated in public health help their organizations balance medical care, field advancements, wellness programs and more in well-rounded delivery of optimum healthcare. Settings may include a hospital, home health agency or long term care facility.
Social workers with public health degrees guide patients’ healthcare related needs, bridging gaps and enabling connections with the right resources for medicine, therapeutic care, nursing and other needs.
Managed Care Organizations
Using their ongoing access to vast databases of health information, health insurance organizations help identify trends in healthcare for improved delivery. Of course, these organizations aim to improve care quality while enabling cost reduction. Much of this is facilitated through pathways of disease prevention to improve patient health and wellness.
Corporate health and wellness programs have proven successful in development of healthier workforces. Involvement in healthcare policy development and pharmaceutical-related research and development are other potential areas of employment or contracting as consultants for public health graduates within corporations.
Consumer advocacy and voluntary health agencies are two areas of growth for public health graduates within the non-profit sector. Unification of global goals and initiatives are important to the public health industry. Niche non-profits focused on a specific disease, population or health issue also provide critical contributions.
For students seeking more information about a potential career in public health and for identification of the right degree program to suit their goals, the following websites are helpful:
- Council on Education for Public Health: Provides students with assistance in location of an accredited degree program at undergraduate and graduate levels.
- I am Public Health: This web page provides information for students exploring career options available for public health majors.
- org: SOPHAS.org provides one center of application for degree programs in public health.
For individuals desiring to access a program for experience within public health, whether as a career foundation or to explore the field, the following resources are available:
- AmeriCorps: AmeriCorps provides opportunities to gain public health experience for students and others interested in the field.
- Peace Corps: Becoming a volunteer with the Peace Corps is an invaluable means of gaining experience in public health, for students and others interested in the field.
- Public Health Training Fellowships: Fellowships available to students from high school to graduate level are listed on this helpful page, as well as ways to gain post-doctoral research and career training.
For professionals already in the public health field seeking to gain information from peers or to network, the following websites may prove helpful:
- American Public Health Association: A professional group for public health workers, their website provides coverage of hot topics in public health and networking opportunities.
- This is Public Health: Fact sheets about public health and information about how public health workers can heighten awareness of the field are included on this site