What Can You Do with a Master’s in Public Health?

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Online Master of Public Health programs can present various career paths for aspiring public health professionals, but selecting the perfect route can take time and effort. With many options available, some individuals struggle to find a direction that aligns with their interests and skills after earning a bachelor’s degree. Luckily, several strategies can be used to help simplify the process of selecting an accredited graduate school and securing a fulfilling profession.

First, it’s important to learn about what you can do with a master’s in public health. Prospective graduate students can choose to pursue any of a variety of public health careers. Individuals who know they are interested in earning a Master of Public Health degree should develop a baseline understanding of different roles in the public health field.

What Can You Do with an MPH Degree?

For those wondering what you can do with an MPH degree, an important thing to know is that the degree opens the door to many different career options. Public health professions can fall into two broad categories based on their core skills, education, and the type of work they perform: researchers and administrators. Although these classifications overlap in their concern for positive community health outcomes, the everyday responsibilities of public health researchers markedly differ from the administrative tasks policymakers and advocates oversee. There is, of course, a symbiotic relationship between these career paths, as one could not achieve results without the active support of the other.

Public Health Research Careers

Building a career in public health research is one of the many things you can do with a master’s in public health. Public health researchers work, collect, and analyze data on specific threats to the overall well-being of the general public and develop actionable solutions to the toughest health challenges. By understanding public health issues and trends, researchers can design scientific studies that generate new perspectives and inform future disease-prevention strategies. This subfield can suit professionals who prefer hands-on working environments and investigative tasks, such as:

  • Creating detailed research procedures and reports
  • Probing into community health trends in small and large populations
  • Assessing environmental hazards by visiting disaster and outbreak sites
  • Uncovering the root causes of health disparities and epidemics

Many public health researchers split their time between laboratory and field assignments, as visiting real-world environments presents the surest way to unearth the source of diseases, illnesses, and injuries.

Most public health research careers come with an above-average pay rate, especially roles that require travel to remote or dangerous regions of the world, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While it’s true that some professionals risk their health and safety on a regular basis, plenty of employment opportunities do not involve significant personal risk.

Epidemiologist

Epidemiology is a branch of public health that investigates the causes and distribution patterns of infectious diseases, environmental injuries, and other pressing health problems. Epidemiologists analyze different population segments to understand where tropical diseases and noninfectious illnesses originate, how they spread, and what treatment methods can mitigate their impacts on the general public.
Group of people in lab coats researching on a computer at a desk.

Individuals in this profession largely focus on developing science-based disease-prevention strategies that can stop epidemics before they grow out of control. The information they gather and analyze can help improve clinical and medical practices around the world and create new treatment methods that health practitioners can use to mitigate future outbreaks. Epidemiologists perform a range of different tasks, such as:

  • Collecting and studying blood samples and other bodily fluids
  • Observing how diseases spread through populations and environments
  • Conducting descriptive studies on infectious and chronic diseases
  • Directing public interviews and surveys on general and specific health topics
  • Analyzing historical data to create actionable epidemic models

Following are three specific epidemiologist roles:

  • Nutritional epidemiologists explore the science of public health and seek to understand the relationship between people’s diet and their health.
  • Chronic disease epidemiologists study chronic diseases and disorders and seek to find treatment options.
  • Molecular epidemiologists research the genetics of diseases in specific populations to understand how they are formed and transmitted.

Employment opportunities for epidemiologists exist in city and state governments, medical foundations, and large organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Epidemiologists have a median annual salary of $74,560 as of 2020, and the projected job growth rate for the role is 30% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Biostatician

Becoming a biostatistician is another option for what you can do with a master’s in public health. Biostatisticians have some overlap with the work and education of epidemiologists, though they typically operate with a much wider scope. This public health role includes analyzing data and statistics from medical research studies and clinical trials to draw specific conclusions and make predictions about health-related issues. Although fieldwork is relatively common, most individuals work in office settings.

Biostatisticians investigate everything from the prevalence of mental health conditions to the effectiveness of accepted medical treatments and medicines. For example, biostatisticians often evaluate the impact of pharmaceuticals on patients and at-risk populations, which helps health specialists develop effective methods for treating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and more. Their daily responsibilities include:

  • Using statistical techniques to assess risk factors for common health issues
  • Aggregating massive volumes of scientific data for large-scale analysis
  • Creating new methods for genetic, genomic, and neuroscience research
  • Designing comprehensive studies and biological experiments
  • Monitoring clinical studies and interpreting the results

The rapid evolution of data-gathering technologies and techniques has created a substantial demand for biostatisticians in almost every employment sector, according to a press release from Kolabtree. While some individuals choose to secure a specialized degree in biostatistics, public health programs can also provide targeted educational opportunities that can contribute to graduate students’ occupational success.

After earning an MPH degree, individuals may secure a position in biostatistics with a government agency, pharmaceutical company, or nonprofit group such as the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Biostatisticians, a role that falls under the broader category of statisticians, have a median annual salary of $92,270 as of 2020, and the projected job growth rate for the role is 35% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Environmental Specialist

Environmental specialists leverage their knowledge of the natural sciences to study the interrelationships between the environment and human health. Individuals in this career field seek to understand these health challenges in totality and create solutions that can reduce human suffering and the loss of life. Environmental specialists regularly restore contaminated land and bodies of water, assess the impact of new construction projects, and advise industrial manufacturers against the use of harmful chemicals and substances. Their core responsibilities include:

  • Collecting air, soil, water, and food samples for scientific study
  • Developing data collection methods for research projects and investigations
  • Analyzing samples, surveys, and data records to assess environmental threats
  • Crafting prevention, control, and restoration strategies for pollution
  • Evaluating the causes and effects of common health-related hazards

Environmental specialists typically work in laboratory and office environments, though many individuals prefer the hands-on field assignments that put them in direct contact with the environmental risks they study. Environmental specialists, including health environmental specialists, have a median annual salary of $73,320 as of 2020, and the projected job growth rate for the role is 8% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Public Health Administration Careers

Public health administration careers are another option for what you can do with a master’s in public health. Public health administrators utilize the research data generated by health scientists to develop comprehensive outreach campaigns, government policies, and educational programs that turn information into action. Experts in this field directly engage with the general public, including urban and rural populations, as well as their local community to translate complex health issues into easy-to-understand concepts.

Public health administrators rely on their strong communication skills, leadership abilities, and management experience to oversee nonclinical operations in public and private sector health care organizations, medical facilities, and nonprofit health organizations. This career path can appeal to public health professionals who are passionate about working with people and enjoy problem-solving activities, such as:

  • Coordinating treatment programs and health care operations
  • Managing cross-channel media campaigns and education-focused projects
  • Crafting solutions-focused legislation in partnership with government officials
  • Communicating with the general public about health issues and environmental risks

Public health administrators spend most of their time in office or facility settings or in their local community, although their work usually involves close collaboration with a variety of disparate institutions. When it comes to compensation, individuals in this career field tend to focus on their passion rather than monetary gain, but there are plenty of opportunities to secure an above-average pay rate. The following are four common public health administration careers.

Public Health Analyst

Public health analysts regularly collaborate with scientists and policymakers on social work and large-scale health campaigns, making the position a sort of hybrid between research and administration roles. Individuals in this line of work often engage at the local, national, and global levels to foster greater awareness of environmental hazards, chronic health issues, maternal and child health, infectious diseases, and mental health challenges. Public health analysts review programs and policies to evaluate their effectiveness and identify new strategies for promoting positive health outcomes. Their day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Assessing the impact of existing health and wellness initiatives
  • Gathering relevant research data to support ongoing educational campaigns
  • Educating government officials and the public about various health care issues
  • Creating impactful content to generate community interest in important health topics
  • Writing detailed reports that provide actionable policy recommendations

Public health analysts can pursue any of a number of specialized career paths depending on their occupational goals, technical skills, and educational background. Health professionals in this field can find employment opportunities at hospitals and health facilities, government agencies, nonprofit consulting firms, and more. The annual median salary of public health analysts is around $66,900 as of 2021, according to PayScale.

Medical and Health Services Manager

Another thing you can do with a master’s in public health is become a medical and health services manager. This administrative role is essential to the daily operations of medical facilities, which play a significant role in the health and well-being of every community. Medical and health services managers plan, direct, and coordinate the delivery of health care resources, often across an entire facility or clinical department.

Individuals in this role work alongside physicians, surgeons, nurses, and laboratory technologists to ensure their practices align with industry standards. The position’s core duties include:

  • Managing clinical personnel and health care services
  • Developing sustainable operating goals and objectives
  • Remaining compliant with laws and regulations
  • Monitoring budgets and departmental spending
  • Overseeing new treatment methods and medicine programs

Medical and health services managers usually work in office settings at medical facilities, hospitals, private sector clinics, or treatment centers. This is one of the higher-paid professions in the public health sector with a median annual salary of $104,280 as of 2020, and the role has a projected job growth rate of 32% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Health Educator

Health educators promote healthy behaviors by actively engaging with members of their communities through hands-on learning experiences, social work, and informational resources. Individuals in this profession act as a link between the general public and health care experts, developing targeted strategies to educate people about nutrition, exercise, chronic illnesses, mental health, and environmental risks.

Health educators work alongside other public health experts to collect data, distill complex research, and create tailored content to help reduce health disparities in every underserved community. Individuals in this career field oversee a number of essential outreach activities, such as:

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of health programs at the local, state, and federal levels
  • Helping the public understand what health care services are available
  • Teaching people how to manage existing health conditions
  • Designing educational programs, materials, and events focused on health topics
  • Advocating for improved health resources and community support

This career field is filled with passionate educators who enjoy working with local communities, and they can also find roles at universities, nonprofit organizations, and public health departments to teach health and wellness classes. The median annual salary of health education specialists is $56,500 as of 2020, and the projected job growth rate for the role is 12% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Occupational health and safety specialist is another career you can pursue with a master’s in public health. Professionals in this occupation ensure the connection between workplace environments and public health administrative regulations. This role is essential for the safety of individuals working in a variety of locations, from construction sites to restaurants.

Occupational health and safety specialists make sure that many elements of work environments, such as the ventilation, equipment, and electric wiring, meet the required standards and do not have a negative impact on workers. The position’s core duties include:

  • Examining workplace environments and equipment to ensure they meet government standards
  • Inspecting the workplace duties and practices of managers and employees to see if they align with regulations
  • Introducing new or more effective workplace procedures in various situations
  • Investigating accidents to understand what went wrong and identify hazards
  • Implementing new safety measures to prevent accidents from happening

According to the BLS, 22% of occupational health and safety specialists work in government positions. Most work full time and travel to different job sites. The median annual salary of health and safety specialists is $76,340 as of 2020, and the projected job growth rate for the role is 7% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS.

Pursuing a Higher Level of Public Health Education

Advanced public health programs can help students secure meaningful careers and build upon their bachelor’s education. While an MPH is not considered a terminal degree, graduates often dive right into full-time roles rather than pursuing additional educational opportunities.

Most public health graduate tracks cover an array of relevant topics in their core curriculum, providing exposure to different subject areas. Individuals interested in this career field should look for colleges and universities that have accreditation, offer hard skills training, and supply graduate students with real-world work experience.

Start Earning Your MPH Degree

An online Master of Public Health can provide full-time students with the knowledge and experience they need to build a successful career in public health. The program at Regis College includes foundational coursework in biostatistics, epidemiologic methods, social and behavioral sciences, and health ethics and law. The courses prepare students for a wide range of possible career paths and help guide their passion for community health and wellness.

Online MPH majors at Regis College can choose from two distinct concentrations, Epidemiology and Health Policy and Management, and have access to career services that can support their transition into the workforce following grad school. Learn more about how an MPH can help you pursue your ideal career in the field.

 

Recommended Readings

A Career as a Health Policy Analyst

Epidemiology Career Options: Six Ways to Use a Master in Public Health

Exploring a Career as an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

 

Sources:

American Public Health Association, 10 Essential Public Health Services

American Public Health Association, What Is Public Health?

The Balance Careers, “How to Become a Biostatistician”

CDC Foundation, What Is Public Health?

PayScale, Average Public Health Analyst Salary

Society for Human Resource Management, Environmental Health Specialist

Society for Public Health Education, Health Education Specialist

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists and Specialists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Education Specialists and Community Health Workers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians