The public health field is filled with employment opportunities for individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree and then completed a master’s program, which benefits students interested in a career path that matches their interests. Pursuing an advanced degree can help narrow down career options, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the possibilities. Many students may be curious about the current public health job outlook, considering the increased demand for public health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the field of public health extends far beyond one virus.
The overarching goal of public health professions is twofold: to prevent chronic illnesses (like diabetes, heart disease, and lung cancer) and infectious diseases (like AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B); and to promote health and well-being using preventive methods and best practices.
Public health professionals achieve these objectives by leveraging their skills in conducting research and historical analysis, developing education programs and health policies, and promoting proactive medical practices. Individuals who are interested in pursuing an online Master of Public Health degree can benefit from learning about the public health job outlook.
Is Public Health a Good Career Choice?
The broad scope of the public health field and its associated advanced degree studies can accommodate a range of interests, skills, and occupational goals. As a result, the field is appealing to job seekers and bachelor’s degree graduates from nearly every professional background. Public health experts can find meaningful employment in a number of settings, including nonprofit organizations, government agencies, community-based agencies, universities, and medical facilities.
Examining the job outlook and salaries associated with public health careers can help in deciding whether a career in public health is a good option.
Beyond salary and overall job stability, the nature of the work must be considered as well. Job seekers should remember this is a field that seeks to protect and improve the lives of the nation’s population through innovation, education, and medical intervention. Few career choices offer such a potential to positively impact the lives and health of countless individuals.
Public Health Job Outlook
Health care is considered one of the fastest-growing employment sectors in the U.S., with an estimated 2.6 million new positions (a 16% increase) projected between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While public health professions make up only a fraction of this industry segment, many research, education, and social work careers within the public health field are expected to grow consistently over the same period.
For example, the BLS expects job opportunities for health education specialists and community health workers to grow by 17% between 2020 and 2030, which is significantly higher than the 8% projected job growth for all occupations. This positive outlook is largely the result of rising health care costs, global initiatives, workplace safety campaigns, a need to replace workers who are transferring or retiring, and increased public awareness of health and wellness issues at the national and local levels. Additionally, COVID-19 has shown the nation that pandemic preparedness (a public health issue) is of the utmost importance.
Concerns over chronic illnesses, infectious diseases, and mental health have created a significant demand for public health workers, further solidifying the public health job outlook. Every prevention campaign, a policy proposal, and health study relies on a variety of skill sets and areas of expertise to make an impact, from research and analysis to public outreach and content creation.
Public Health Salaries
The salaries of public health workers vary widely depending on the position they hold, as many high-level research and administration roles require specialized training and a long history of work experience. For example, in 2021 health educators and community health workers earned a median annual salary of $48,900, according to the BLS. By comparison, the average health care administrator made $70,600, per June 2022 data from the compensation website PayScale.
While most public health professionals are primarily concerned with making a difference in the lives of people and their communities, there are plenty of opportunities to secure above-average pay at for-profit workplaces. But before individuals submit their job applications, they should spend some time learning about the history, career opportunities, education requirements, and relevant skills that can help them stand out to potential employers.
Careers in Public Health
Pursuing a career in public health comes with a variety of benefits for aspiring students and established professionals alike, as the field’s wide scope can provide significant occupational mobility. Beyond the career opportunities, the public health sector uniquely affords opportunities for passionate individuals to make a difference in the community, domestically and abroad.
This career path is ideal for those who want to tackle existing and emerging health issues in their areas, solve complex global problems, and advocate for sustainable health care solutions. While master’s-level public health education may appeal to students with a strong desire to help others, it’s also a valuable avenue for professionals interested in making a career change.
Individuals curious about what they can do with a master’s in public health can explore the following career paths, which illustrate the strong public health job outlook.
Public health research uses the same systematic methodology and technical skills employed by scientists in other fields. Public health specialists in this field test lab samples, investigate diseases and infections and analyze test results to draw concrete conclusions about the hazards they’re studying.
Scientists in the public health sector primarily work in laboratory or hospital settings, which may be familiar to microbiologists, geneticists, agronomists, and other research-centric specializations. This allows scientists to pivot from their current field of study into several areas of public health with little to no retraining required, though a Master of Public Health degree can streamline the transition. Important research-based public health careers include the following.
- Epidemiologist: Collect and analyze data on communicable diseases and chronic illnesses to identify the root causes and distribution patterns of public health issues. Communicate these findings to other public health professionals and policymakers so solutions can be developed.
- Environmental scientist: Leverage natural science knowledge to protect human health and the environment by studying pollution, natural disasters, and industrial practices. Collect and compile environmental data from samples of soil, water, air, and other materials for analysis to determine which are threats to the environment and human health.
Public health educators develop and implement strategies to promote healthy behaviors and spread awareness about diseases, hereditary risk factors, mental health, and environmental hazards. Their work relies on the same teaching methods that educators in other fields use, such as problem-based learning techniques, direct instruction, and social cognitive theory. Public health education often involves distilling complex ideas into easy-to-understand resources that can be widely distributed, such as educational materials on reproductive health, nutrition, and communicable diseases.
Although the daily responsibilities of public health educators differ from teachers in classroom environments, the core concepts motivating their health promotion efforts are quite similar. Obtaining an advanced degree in public health can help fill in the gaps, exposing educators to the subject matter, hard skills, and learning outcomes at the heart of this field. The job outlook for public health educators includes occupations such as:
- Health education specialist: Inform communities at the local and national levels about health risks and available health care services and programs. Be at the forefront of developing materials and educational programs that teach people about critical health topics and preventive health care best practices. Serve as an advocate for improved health-related resources and programs.
- Social worker: Identify people and communities in need of support to address health disparities and solve everyday issues that impact their well-being. Facilitate access to information on community resources such as food stamps, child care, health care, and more.
Medical professionals add substantial value to the public health sector because their expertise supports social programs, community outreach efforts, and health care policy development. Doctors, nurses, hospice workers, and other trained caregivers can leverage their firsthand experience to support state and federal initiatives and improve existing health programs.
Transitioning to a public health career enables medical professionals to shift their focus from individual patients to large populations, allowing them to have a wider impact on general health and wellness. Nearly all public health subfields rely on the clinical knowledge of traditional caregivers to inform their research and education strategies, identify emerging threats, and guide their advocacy for effective health legislation. The public health job outlook for medical professionals covers a range of occupations, including:
- Public health analyst: Implement and coordinate health programs and policies that facilitate effective solutions to public health issues and health disparities in underserved communities. Gauge the effectiveness of programs using in-depth analytical research that yields actionable insights. Assist in creating pamphlets, articles, and infographics that present key data insights in a way that is easy for the public to understand.
- Medical and health services manager: Plan and direct medical services at treatment facilities, private practices, or public health organizations to stay compliant with changes in health care laws and policies. Develop improvements and efficiencies designed to cut costs, streamline processes, and enhance the patient experience. Recruit, hire, and train nurses and other frontline medical workers. Conduct or oversee a variety of administrative tasks such as scheduling, bookkeeping, and filing.
Skilled mathematicians can pursue a variety of career opportunities within the public health field, as organizations around the world depend on statistical analysis and modeling techniques to create compelling, data-driven health studies and education initiatives. Public health mathematicians use their analytical skills to answer important research questions and predict how infectious and tropical diseases will spread in populations.
The insights generated from the work of mathematicians allow medical professionals to create effective intervention strategies and remain proactive when new health risks are identified. However, this career path does a lot more than just crunch the numbers, as public health mathematicians are heavily involved in designing new studies and research methods to ensure proper information is collected. Common math-focused public health jobs include the following.
- Biostatistician: Analyze data and apply statistical techniques to generate actionable intelligence about behavioral health and real-world issues, like the spread of diseases and the efficacy of medical treatments. Use data to make informed predictions so appropriate actions can be taken to curb the spread of diseases and send medical resources to where they are needed most.
- Survey researcher: Design and administer public health surveys to gather information on the prevalence of chronic illnesses, health disparities, and other health-related topics. Analyze data using statistical software to extract meaningful insights about survey responses.
Specialists from almost every professional background have something valuable to offer the public health field, from technical skills and experience to general knowledge of specific health issues. Students who haven’t yet begun their careers are also essential to the growth of the public health sector since they contribute fresh insights and perspectives to improve health services and contribute to ongoing discussions. However, the type of work individuals can expect to perform largely depends on where they’re employed; every workplace prioritizes different activities and outcomes.
Where Do Public Health Professionals Work?
As the world grows increasingly interconnected, the success of health initiatives will continue to rely on the cooperation of public hospitals, private caregivers, nonprofit organizations, and government entities. Each of these workplaces operates in its own sphere of influence despite the parallels in their public health objectives, which may appeal to students and experts looking to narrow down their career choices. The public health job outlook shows promise for professionals who want to work in a variety of settings.
Government agencies leverage their administrative authority to enact public health policies and ensure private companies remain compliant with laws and regulations. Working for a government agency gives public health professionals access to cutting-edge technologies and sensitive information that may not be widely available. Each federal- and state-run hospital and health department has its own operational scope and funding limitations, though most institutions have significant resources at their disposal. Almost all public health agencies in the U.S. fall under the purview of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the following:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Food and Drug Administration
- National Institutes of Health
Private Sector Companies
While privately owned and operated corporations are beholden to their investors and shareholders, they still play a crucial role in the public health field. For-profit companies invest significant capital in medical research and studies in epidemiology to develop new treatments and health care technologies. They also provide direct medical services that help individuals identify and address chronic health issues and communicable diseases.
Additionally, the private sector relies on occupational health specialists to ensure their workplaces are safe and compliant with existing laws and regulations. Although this employment sector is more concerned with treating existing ailments than supporting preventive initiatives, it’s been responsible for important breakthroughs in immunization and cancer screenings, and it’s responsible for a significant part of the bright public health job outlook. Some examples of private sector companies that contribute to public health are:
- Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings (commonly known as Labcorp)
Unlike for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate with the sole purpose of addressing public health and workplace safety issues, regardless of financial gain. Most nonprofits are independent of government agencies, though they regularly collaborate on health promotion initiatives, awareness campaigns, and research programs.
NGOs and NPOs conduct research, develop social programs, promote health services, and advocate for health care policies that support underserved communities. Professionals in this employment sector are more concerned with improving living conditions for people all over the world than securing an above-average salary, though there are plenty of opportunities to earn a competitive pay rate. Examples of public health NGOs are:
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- International Society for Infectious Diseases
- American Cancer Society
A Brief History of Public Health
The concept of public health in its most elemental form has existed for thousands of years. U.S. public health policy reaches back to the 1798 Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which sought to protect the American public from the spread of foreign-borne diseases. The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the U.S. Public Health Service were later authorized to investigate diseases, sanitation issues, water supply protections, and sewage disposal methods.
In 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (later renamed the CDC) was formed, and that organization participated in the planning of the WHO. A core component of the modern public health landscape remains: uniting professionals from a range of unique workplaces, backgrounds, and specializations to protect the health of all people and ensure communities have access to the medical services they need.
What It Takes to Pursue a Public Health Career
One of the best ways to take advantage of the promising public health job outlook is to obtain an advanced degree that’s relevant to the field. The online Master of Public Health program from Regis College provides students and established professionals with the knowledge, expertise, and technical skills to pursue a range of career paths in the public health space, from health administrators to maternal and child health advocates and far beyond.
Online MPH majors at Regis College choose from two distinct concentrations: Epidemiology and Health Policy and Management. Both concentrations offer skill sets that align with many different in-demand public health roles and areas of expertise. The program’s foundational curriculum features courses on Social and Behavioral Sciences, Epidemiological Methods, and Biostatistics.
Additionally, students interested in public health education and management learn about Health Ethics and Law, Concepts in Health Administration, and Contemporary Issues in Environmental Health before ever having to select a specialization.
The public health job outlook is bright, and no matter what your career goals are, the Regis College online MPH can help you stand out in the field.