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Public health is not nearly as narrow of a field as it may sound. There are a few different career options, along with a variety of work environments within this sector. You can work helping underserved areas, or places affected by disaster. You may help cure diseases, or find homes for displaced people. Whether you are entering the industry with your high school diploma, or you’re attending the university for your doctorate, there is a public health career available to you.
In broad terms, public health offers care to patients outside of a medical facility. It also is defined as the effort of preventing global epidemics and keeping entire nations healthy. There is a weighty responsibility that falls into the laps of those pursuing a life of public health servitude.
Public health is managed by a group of agencies. Usually, something like a medical facility will work in conjunction with the local department of health, a school system, medical providers, and other related partners. Together, they will follow the ten guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, which are to:
As the above list by the CDC states, health workers work to ensure the vast majority of the public is healthy, whether it is an individual or an entire community.
The actual job description will be determined by your career path. But, there are some commonalities among the majority of the public health careers. These are:
Public health workers focus on issues such as vaccinations, safety in the workplace, making sure infectious diseases don’t spread, and other issues facing the general population when it comes to health and safety.
Because there are so many different responsibilities associated with each career, as you gain more experience, job opportunities and promotions will not be uncommon.
If you know you want to go into public health, that’s a good start. Next, you need to determine which aspect of it interests you: science, medicine, or statistician. Do you want to research, have boots on the ground, or work in a lab? Once you can answer that, it will help you pave your way toward your education process.
Most public health care workers have master’s degrees. That doesn’t mean you absolutely have to, it’s just become more of the gold standard in recent years. To begin your career in public health, you must:
There are many different career paths leading to a life in public health. Most nursing positions can take you there, as can social work, nutrition, biology degrees, and more. Below is just a sampling of the types of degrees you can get in order to start working in the public health sector.
Dietician and Nutritionist: A bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition, dietetics, public health nutrition, or other related subjects is typically what will get you into an entry-level position. Most states will require you to have a license to practice. Median pay for dieticians and nutritionists is just under the $60,000 mark annually. Faster than average occupational growth is predicted through 2026.
Read: What a Nutritionist Does
Epidemiologist: You’ll investigate the how’s and the why’s of diseases and their cause and effect on humans. You’ll have to have a master’s degree through an accredited program to enter this field. Expect a median annual salary of just under $70,000. There is average occupation growth expected, with 500 new positions opening up through 2026.
Health Educator: You’ll teach the public about health-related issues, and ways to promote wellness. A bachelor’s degree plus a teaching certificate is how you’ll enter your position. Expect a median annual salary of just less than $39,000. Faster than average employment growth is expected, with 8,800 new positions opening through 2026.
Microbiologist: You’ll study organisms and how they live, grow, and interact with the environment. For an entry-level position, a bachelor’s degree is required. If you are wanting to do your own research, or you want to work for a university, then you’ll need your Ph.D. As a microbiologist, you can expect a median annual salary of over $69,000. Average employment growth is expected, with an additional 1,900 new positions opening through 2026.
Biology Technologist: You’ll work in a lab where you’ll help the medical scientists conduct experiments. To begin your career, you’ll first need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field. You can expect to earn a median salary of more than $43,000. There will be 8,400 new positions available through 2026.
Read: Careers in Biology
Public Health Nurse: Instead of taking care of one person, you oversee the health of communities when you’re a public health nurse. You need to first become an RN and advance your degrees from there. Median annual salary is more than $55,000, and the job outlook is well above average.
Social Worker: You’ll be diagnosing and treating patients with a variety of mental, emotional, and behavioral issues, as well as helping them learn coping skills. At the very minimum, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. However, if you are hoping to be a clinical social worker, you must have a master’s degree along with two years work experience. You must be licensed by your state in order to practice. You’ll earn a median salary of $48,000. There will be over 109,000 new social worker positions opening through 2026.
Statistician: You solve healthcare problems through statistics. To do this, you’ll need to get your master’s degree in either mathematics or statistics. You can expect a median annual salary of $103,000. There is a huge shortage of statisticians, so this career has 12,600 new positions opening through 2026. Health Administrator: You will plan, direct, and coordination health and medical services. Employers prefer candidates with master’s degrees. You will earn a median salary of more than $98,000. Over 72,000 new positions will be available through 2026.
The average salary for most public health workers who have a bachelor’s degree is $50,000 annually. Higher degrees will bring your salary up incrementally, with a doctorate degree holder being among the highest paid, at an average of more than $150,000. Your salary will be determined by which career you go into, what part of the industry you work in, how much experience you have, and where you live.
Most career opportunities in the public health sector are being projected to grow much faster than average. This is good news if you’re heading into this field, because there will be plenty of positions available to you once you have your degree and are ready to start working.
Job stats were found on bls.gov.