Career Spotlight: Is Public Health the Degree for You?

Public health practitioners help people stay healthy. They play key roles in cities and towns across the United States. And, demand for public health professionals is expected to grow, particularly in the aftermath of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of health education specialist and community health worker jobs will increase 13% between 2019 and 2029. These professionals educate people about conditions that affect their wellbeing, according to BLS. They also help people adopt healthy behaviors.

Ultimately, earning a college or university degree can put you on a path toward a successful career in public health. Yet, it pays to develop a career plan so you can determine whether to pursue a public health degree.

Now, let's look at three factors to consider as you try to determine if a public health degree is right for you.

1. Career Opportunities

You can pursue a wide range of career opportunities if you earn a public health degree. For example, consider the following roles available to MPH graduates:

  • Infection Control Officer: Hospitals and other healthcare organizations employ infection control officers tasked with finding ways to reduce the risk of disease and infection transmission.
  • Emergency Management Specialist: As an emergency management specialist, you'll handle all aspects of emergency response during a disaster.
  • Bioterrorism Researcher: Bioterrorism researchers create products to treat infections or diseases that can occur due to bioterrorism attacks.

Of course, you don't need a master's degree to find work in public health. Common entry-level public health jobs include: 

  • Health Promotion Specialist: Health promotion specialists drive awareness of healthy behaviors and/or obesity, substance abuse, or other health-related issues.
  • Child Development Specialist: When you work as a child development specialist, you help kids develop their cognitive, behavioral, and/or social skills.
  • Health Administrator: You can work as a health administrator who plans, coordinates, and directs health services within a medical clinic or healthcare organization.

The bottom line: many career opportunities are available to those who earn a public health degree. Therefore, if you want a degree that gives you access to myriad career opportunities, public health can provide an excellent choice.

2. Skills

It often helps to consider your current skill set and the skills you'll need to develop before you enter a public health degree program.

Top skills that public health employers demand include:

  • Communication: Public health professionals must have the ability to quickly and accurately disseminate information to people from different cultures, backgrounds, and languages. They must also show empathy and compassion as they share information about medical conditions and other complex healthcare topics.
  • Problem-Solving: For public health practitioners, launching an initiative or getting people on board with healthy behaviors or activities can be a long, arduous process. Thus, these practitioners must be able to identify and address problems in their early stages, so they can get the best results out of their everyday work.
  • Flexibility: There is no telling when a public health crisis will arise. But, the best public health professionals remain flexible. And, these professionals have no trouble staying calm, cool, and collected under pressure and adapting to challenges on the fly.

A combination of hard and soft skills can dictate your success in public health. Fortunately, a public health degree program enables you to build these skills and fine-tune them over time. As a result, the program can help you obtain the skills you need to thrive as a public health professional.

3. Area of Interest

You can pursue a public health degree in a topic that piques your interest. That way, you can become an expert in an area of interest — and put yourself in a terrific position to develop a rewarding career doing something you enjoy.

By pursuing a degree in public health, you can get expertise in a variety of areas, such as:

  • Epidemiology: Involves the study of the incidence, distribution, and potential control of diseases and other health-related factors.
  • Global Health: Focuses on widespread health issues and the differences and similarities in terms of public health in various cultures and countries. 
  • Nutrition: Emphasizes how the body absorbs and uses nutrients in food, along with the relationship between diet, health, and disease.

The common thread between different areas of interest in public health: learning how to help others take care of themselves. With a public health degree, you can gain valuable insights, so you can help people around the world remain healthy and safe.

Should You Pursue a Public Health Degree?

Public health is a great field for those who want to promote disease prevention and help others improve their quality of life. However, earning a public health degree is not the best choice for everyone.  

If you are on the fence about earning a degree in public health, it can be beneficial to evaluate your career goals. Also, you may want to meet with a public health professional, so you can gain firsthand insights into what it's like to work in the field.

Furthermore, crafting a pros and cons list of earning a public health degree can be beneficial. You can then use this list as you try to make a final decision regarding whether to pursue a public health degree.

Lastly, if you move forward in your quest to become a public health professional, assess multiple degree programs. Once you find the right degree program for you, submit your application materials, and you can move closer to a successful career in public health.

Bryce Hall