A master’s in public health (MPH) degree can open the doors to a wide range of professional opportunities. In fact, there are so many varied options that it could easily leave one wondering, “What can you do with an MPH?” There are a few career fields that are commonly targeted by those with the degree — epidemiology and public health management — but specific job types and organizational roles can be highly variable based on the work setting and personal skill set.
Defining the Major Segments of MPH Work
There are a wide range of job types you can pursue if you have an MPH degree, including roles in global and environmental health, biostatistics, and health policy development. However, we’ll be focusing on two primary areas as they represent many of the common skills, work tasks, and competencies that show up across the industry: epidemiology and public health management. Understanding the distinctions between these two spheres is a key first step in thinking about the type of job you may want to seek after earning your degree.
Epidemiologist: An epidemiologist researches public health issues – particularly diseases, chronic illnesses and injuries that are common within a community. To do that, an epidemiologist analyzes data from large-scale studies, performs investigative lab work to identify patterns in diseases and develops clinical strategies to combat public health conditions. In practice, this can mean everything from working to halt the spread of a disease before it reaches epidemic scale to researching chronic illness patterns in a region and developing educational programs to help the public understand the root cause of frequently occurring illnesses and take preventive action.
Public health manager: A public health manager is heavily involved in the ethical and economic sides of public health, working with government and private sector stakeholders to develop policies and implement programs designed to promote healthier behaviors, apply health policy to practice, and prepare for or respond to emergency situations. Providing education and communication around health policy is also common for this role.
There is some crossover in skill sets between these two roles — both must have specialized skills in collecting, analyzing, and reporting on health-related data, for example. However, they are distinct enough to require specialty training. As such, MPH programs are structured with concentrations that allow students to specialize in the coursework that best aligns with their career goals. When you consider what you can do with an MPH, it’s important to first decide which of these two specialties you have in mind.
To help you in this decision-making process, let’s take a closer look at some of the details associated with these public health fields.
Epidemiology: Core Work Attributes
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual wages for epidemiologists can be highly variable depending on work settings. As of May 2018, epidemiologists working in scientific research and development had a median annual wage of $98,800, while those in hospitals received a median annual wage of just more than $82,000. However, all other epidemiologists — those in local and state government as well as in educational settings — all earned less than $70,000 per year. Those working for colleges, universities, and professional schools had the lowest median annual salary at just below $62,000.
Most epidemiologists worked in these lower-salaried fields, with 54% of epidemiologists active in 2018 functioning in state and local government settings, excluding education and hospitals. Another 15% worked in educational settings. Approximately 14% worked in hospitals while 8% function in research and development settings. The BLS explains that epidemiologists have particularly diverse work environments due to the nature of their work.
According to the BLS, a great deal of epidemiology work is completed in offices and laboratories, but many epidemiologists spend significant time traveling to clinical environments and field locations to perform hands-on research. For the most part, work is handled on a full-time basis with a structured schedule, but field work and emergency situations can disrupt schedules.
Actual epidemiology work can consist of:
- Gathering data on medical conditions from historic records, clinical environments, and field settings
- Collaborating with other experts on assessing and analyzing that information
- Performing analysis and research in laboratory environments
- Working in conjunction with clinical professionals to develop care and emergency response strategies
- Creating reports on findings and communicating data to relevant stakeholders
Public Health Management: Core Work Attributes
The public health management field is even broader and more diverse than the epidemiology sector. As such, there are a wide range of job roles that can fit into the broader category of public health manager. In a general sense, public health managers oversee teams devoted to projects in the sector. This can take a wide range of forms, but is most often handled in federal, state, or local government agencies or nonprofits. Public health managers may also work in hospital settings to manage system-wide research and policy issues, or for specialized nonprofits.
A few specific types of public health manager include:
Public health researcher: These individuals manage public health research processes, handling tasks such as data collection, reporting, identifying needs for new studies, and analyzing the implications of various health strategies on different population groups. This often includes leading public health research efforts by engaging with members of the community as well as clinical professionals.
Public health communications manager: Public health initiatives rely on building awareness throughout the target audience. Whether working for a government agency responding to a localized trend toward a specific condition or a nonprofit that builds public awareness of a disease, communication is essential. Public health communication specialists bring their management, research, and medical expertise to the forefront in overseeing communications strategies surrounding campaigns.
Public health educator: Similar to communications specialists, these public health professionals focus on promoting better health. They may manage teams that provide training sessions to the public, visit schools and offices to run health information sessions, or similarly engage the public to promote better health outcomes. Developing curriculum and researching community needs are also key tasks in these roles.
Public health policy manager: Developing policies, whether for big-picture government issues or practices in hospitals, requires extensive research and public health data analysis. Managers in this segment may lead research projects, run forums to discuss the implications of policy measures, and otherwise work to create and evaluate policies. Analyzing proposed policy measures and working with interdisciplinary teams to refine those policies to best support public health goals is a major component of this role.
Specific Job Types for Individuals with an MPH
Epidemiology and public health management represent the major areas of work in public health. They showcase the skills and type of work performed by professionals in the field. With those overarching themes in mind, here’s a quick look at a few real-world job listings that highlight the type of work completed by individuals with an MPH degree:
Deputy Health Officer: Based on a job listing for the Anne Arundel County of Department of Health in Maryland, individuals in this job will take on tasks such as overseeing public health bureaus; liaising with agencies, community groups, and academic institutions; and providing quality assurance analysis across public health programs.
Public Health Program Manager: A professional in this field will take on key tasks such as managing grant submissions, providing guidance for evidence-based practices, and evaluating techniques to improve program quality, according to a job ad for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Associate Epidemiologist: A job listing for a private organization in Massachusetts sheds some light on epidemiology work, describing key responsibilities as performing studies into treatment patterns, transmission, and natural histories of diseases, as well consulting with international clients and analyzing benefit-risk dynamics for various treatment strategies.
Program Coordinator – Health Resource Center: This position stands out as one focused more on the educational side of the public health management sphere. The job listing, which is from the Boston Public Health Commission, describes the position as a health educator role within a team that serves adolescents in school and community settings. This particular job role is focused on training around sexuality, unplanned pregnancy, emotional well-being, and substance abuse prevention. Work activities can range from classroom presentations to students to training for school staff and administrators.
These specific job roles don’t represent an exhaustive list of the work that individuals with an MPH degree can pursue, but highlight the wide variety of specific roles that are available for those with expertise in either epidemiology or public health management.
Taking the Next Step in Your Professional Journey
Choosing your career path in public health is dependent on the specific type of work you are most driven to do. Whether you want to work in health service, public health education, or in combating infectious diseases, individuals with an MPH degree have a variety of career options.
The online MPH program at Regis College can help make those options accessible for you. At the same time, our program is priced at $600 per credit, making it nearly 60% less expensive than our competitors. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you build toward your professional future with an MPH degree. We would be thrilled to put you in touch with an enrollment advisor or send you more details about our program.