What you can learn about public health research

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A researcher looks at data

Data dominates the modern health care industry. Organizations worldwide are expected to spend a combined $3.7 trillion on information technology products and services in 2018, according to Gartner. Of all the industries participating in this technological arms race, the health care sector is the most active, touting a compound annual growth rate of 5.5 percent, researchers at the International Data Corporation found. This has pushed many experts to proclaim the arrival of an industry-wide information revolution. However, history shows that data ruled health care long before the coming of electronic health records, connected medical devices, and cloud storage.

Public health research has powered health care for centuries, allowing physicians and other stakeholders to develop cutting-edge clinical workflows and treatments that predated the IT era. Today, this work continues to hold great importance. Academic institutions, government agencies, health care organizations, and private companies invested more than $115 billion in public health research and development projects in 2016, according to Research America. The National Institutes of Health alone accounted for more than $30 billion of that spending. Due to increased occurrence of noncommunicable conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes — illnesses that take the lives of 40 million people per year, according to the World Health Organization — the public health research field will continue to grow.

Of course, devoted health care professionals in a variety of niches are responsible for moving research efforts forward, leveraging clinical expertise, managerial prowess, and polished leadership skills to collect critical public health data and use it to drive clinical and operational innovation. Consequently, there are numerous career paths available to individuals who are already working in health care and may be interested in moving into public health research. However, before taking action, prospective public health research specialists should learn more about the field and the specific competencies and credentials that often lay the groundwork for success.

Understanding public health research

Early bio-statisticians and epidemiologists were responsible for conducting the first data collection efforts centered on improving public health. For instance, in 1854, London anesthesiologist John Snow performed groundbreaking studies centered on cholera to combat a local outbreak of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This work, which garnered him the title of “father of epidemiology,” helped save the lives of many Londoners and provided the basis for future treatments and clinical processes related to the illness.

A number of key organizations had a hand in growing the field as well, most notably the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institutes of Health. The group was founded in 1887 as part of the now-defunct Marine Hospital Service, which preceded the U.S. Public Health Service. Over the following decades, scientists and researchers at the NIH pioneered treatments for numerous conditions, including arthritis, cancer, and mental illnesses. Approximately 153 NIH employees and grant recipients have earned Nobel Prizes for their work. The NIH has since been joined by many other research institutions, including the WHO.

Exploring exciting roles

Groups such as the NIH and the WHO employ and support thousands of public health researchers, scientists, and leaders. These individuals drive progress on multiple levels, working in labs, libraries, clinics, and conference rooms to advocate for important R&D initiatives aimed at improving public health. Medical scientists are among the most critical contributors. These professionals use their medical and scientific training to conduct research efforts designed to pinpoint new treatments. Epidemiologists — health care professionals responsible for studying disease in the field — are also essential to such efforts. Executive leaders and program managers play important roles as well, using managerial experience, clinical awareness, and leadership capabilities to develop and oversee public health research operations.

Health care professionals interested in public health can carve out impactful and successful careers in these roles, most of which come with strong compensation packages. The average U.S. medical scientist earns more than $82,000 annually, according to the BLS. Epidemiologists earn almost $70,000 per year, while executives can earn median salaries of $104,000, the BLS found.

Entering the field

How can health care professionals looking to enter the public health research field secure these positions? Enrolling in an online Master of Public Health degree program is a good start. Instructional tracks of this kind can help aspiring public health research leaders gain the experience and skills they need to succeed in this essential field. Regis College provides an online MPH degree program that empowers students to enter the public health research field via a holistic web-based curriculum that touches on key topics such as bio-statistics, epidemiology, and public health management.

Contact Regis College today to learn more about the online MPH degree program.



International Data Corporation


Medical Writing

World Health Organization

National Institutes of Health

Bureau of Labor Statistics Medical Scientists

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Epidemiologists