What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree? Careers & Salaries Revealed

If you are asking yourself if you should pursue a degree in public health, consider the many career options available and the impact that they have. You can choose a career devoted to offering workshops on preventative care for low-income households, or you can design and execute experiments that test out a new pharmaceutical in a clinical trial. 

Or, you can educate the public about the effects of chemical spills on the environment and on human health. All three paths are devoted to the public’s health and safety, and a public health degree is a stepping stone.

Of course, a meaningful cause is not the only motivating factor for choosing a degree in public health. Job growth and salaries should not be discounted. The good news is that many jobs in the public health field are expected to grow within the next 5 to 10 years. 

The median salary for a bachelor’s in public health is $50,444, with many opportunities for advancement. 

In sum, if you are looking for a meaningful, impactful, and financially rewarding career, a degree in public health is a great place to start. Below is a list of 10 the most common career options for this degree.


Epidemiologist

What can you do with a public health degree?
photo via Flickr Creative Commons

If you want to be on the forefront of stopping the spread of diseases and viruses, a career in epidemiology is for you. Epidemiologists are the detectives of the health sector. They investigate the causes of diseases and viruses, their spread, and who is most prone to getting them. They also make recommendations to stem the spread of diseases and prevent future outbreaks. Epidemiologists gather and analyze the information necessary for medical research and for developing effective, preventative care.

Typically, epidemiologists are employed by hospitals, colleges and universities, and health departments at local, state, and federal agencies. Most work for government agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control or National Institutes of Health. There are many opportunities for fieldwork, such as conducting interviews and collecting samples to bring back to the lab. 

Most epidemiologists have a master’s degree in public health (MPH), with a specialization in epidemiology. A master’s degree is needed for most entry-level positions in the field. It is not uncommon for some to have completed doctoral work in medicine or epidemiology.

Whether you have a master’s degree or a doctoral degree, your job prospects as an epidemiologist are good overall; the public needs you. In 2020, the median pay for an epidemiologist was $74,560/year.


Healthcare Administrator

Another promising career path for a public health degree is health administration. If you are passionate about equitable access to quality healthcare and resources and have a penchant for leadership, a career as a healthcare administrator might be your calling.

As a healthcare administrator, you help develop and manage healthcare programs and systems that serve the needs of families and communities. Healthcare administrators work for hospitals, hospital networks, or large healthcare systems. Through management and administration, they provide the infrastructure needed to support the work and activities of primary caregivers. 

The work is quite comprehensive; not only do you need to understand the basics of public health, but you will also need to navigate the maze of policies and laws governing hospitals and healthcare administration. This is not an easy feat as laws and policies vary across county, state, and national levels. 

The minutiae of billing, staff schedules, and HR are as important as knowing the demographics of the populations you serve. 

While a bachelor’s degree in public health, or another relevant field, can land you a managerial position in medical and health services, a master’s degree (plus some experience) is required for many advanced positions or promotions. The base salary for a healthcare administrator ranges from $41k-$113/year, depending on a combination of education, experience, and location. The median salary is $69,927.


Health Education Specialist

As a health education specialist, also known as a health educator, you will have the opportunity to combine an interest in public health with an educational mission. In many ways, education is at the heart of public health initiatives and programs. Education specialists, alongside healthcare providers, are the bridge between policymakers, health administrators, and the general public. They convey the information necessary to make initiatives effective in their mission by planning programs, collecting and analyzing community data, and promoting healthy environments, practices, and lifestyles.

Health educators work in various sectors, from hospitals and clinics, schools, governments, to community organizations. With a public health degree, you would be able to lend your expertise in educational initiatives and programs focused on disease prevention and patient care, or community outreach in general. This is just one possible application of public health in health education. 

There is a projected job-growth rate of 11% for health education specialists and an average salary of $54,101/year.


Emergency Management Director

Mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. 

These are the pillars and phases of emergency management in dealing with disasters and emergencies. Going down this route, you will apply your public health degree to areas beyond disease prevention and control. You will be entrusted with the responsibility of devising plans and procedures for responding to disasters and catastrophes.

Emergency management directors work for hospitals, schools, private companies, and, of course, local and state governments. The specifics of the job vary from sector to sector and across industries. Those who work in the private sector provide technical, scientific, and security services, identifying and assessing hazards, damages, and risk in the workplace. They also train employees and staff in emergency responses.

As long as wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters pose a threat to humans, there will be a vital need for emergency management directors in many sectors and all over the country. In fact, the projected job-growth rate for this role is 4% within the next ten years, with directors making an average of $76k/year.


Health and Safety Engineer

This is the first occupation on this list primarily concentrated in the private, science, and technical services. Health and safety engineers serve companies, organizations, and consumers by developing safer work environments and products. Your main objective as a health and safety engineer is to help prevent people from getting injured or sick, whether at work or from using a product or equipment. Your job is also to ensure that a workspace is compliant with health and safety regulations.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in public health, engineering, or occupational/industrial hygiene, health and safety engineers must possess sharp observational, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Often, you will have to tackle complex and multi-faceted problems that draw on these skills, as well as your ability to think outside the box. Overall, it is one of the most demanding jobs on this list.

Because of advancements in biomedical engineering and software safety engineering, an aspiring health and safety engineer will not be out of job prospects anytime soon. The median annual salary is $91,410. Private science and technology sector salaries typically exceed salaries in government and construction.


Environmental Scientist

A bachelor’s degree in public health will enable you to get an entry-level job in the environmental sciences, which is an excellent choice for someone passionate about Climate Change and other environmental issues. At the core, environmental science is about the protection of human health and environmental health. It dovetails nicely with a degree in public health because of the issues and problems that overlap between the two, specifically those centered on human health and safety in the present and long term.

What do environmental scientists do exactly? Environmental scientists study physical, biological, and chemical conditions of the environment and how these conditions affect the organisms living under the conditions. Deforestation, a chemical spill, or air pollution can harm the health of organisms, including humans. As an environmental scientist, you would study these problems and provide solutions for countering their effects.

In many cases, environmental scientists work to prevent or solve environmental problems or provide guidance to governments, organizations, and companies to limit hazards to the environment and human health. Many environmental scientists work in labs or offices; others conduct fieldwork, collecting and analyzing samples. As an environmental scientist, you are no mere lab rat; the work you do, whether in or outside a lab, serves the public good.

Because of heightened public interest in environmental issues, the future bodes well for a budding environmental scientist. The projected job growth rate exceeds the average for all occupations, at 8% from 2019 to 2029. The average salary is $71,360/year.


Biostatistician

When it comes to public health issues and policies, you want the most accurate and timely data on health, diseases, biology, and medicine. Whether you need to know the effectiveness of a new pharmaceutical or the cause and transmission rate of a disease, data is necessary. This is where the biostatistician comes in. Biostatisticians utilize statistical research tools, applying math and data to the areas of biology and medicine.

Biostatisticians have a central role in public health research, collecting data from experiments, surveys, and questionnaires, which they frequently design and execute. As a biostatistician, you will analyze the data and disseminate your findings to agencies, organizations, and any group involved in public health and health policy.

The majority of entry-level jobs for biostatisticians require a master’s degree. A master’s degree in statistics and a specialization in public health is a winning combination. A biostatistician can expect an average annual salary of $85,742.


Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

Occupational health and safety specialists ensure that employees have a safe work environment. They work in various industries and settings to ensure that workplaces, procedures, and equipment comply with standards and regulations set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). As with most career paths for public health degrees, a career in occupational health and safety is devoted to the well-being of others. And since almost everyone spends most of their day in a workplace setting, this career is an outstanding and impactful choice for someone with a degree in public health.

The day-to-day responsibilities of an occupational health and safety specialist include inspections, investigations of workplace accidents, proactively communicating with employers and management, and developing procedures for improving workplace safety. Tech-savviness, critical thinking, attention to detail, and problem-solving ability are some of the core skills necessary to excel in this job.

An entry-level position in occupational health and safety requires a bachelor’s degree. To boost your chances of landing a great job, getting a master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in occupational health, is an effective strategy. Overall, the job outlook in this field is promising. The reported average salary for occupational health and safety specialists is $76,340.


Community Health Coordinator

The overall job outlook for aspiring community health coordinators is promising. Due to an increasing focus on affordable, preventative care, this career will not disappear any time soon; it is an excellent option for someone interested in public health.

Community health coordinators create and manage health initiatives and programs that address various health issues and improve health outcomes, especially for specific populations. These programs inform local residents about diseases such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, to name a few. Another component of these programs is to encourage and aid residents in adopting preventative measures to improve their health or to help them manage their health conditions.

Like many, if not most, jobs on this list, community health coordinators can work for a wide variety of institutions and agencies, chiefly schools, non-profits, and government agencies.

Most community health coordinators start with a bachelor’s degree in public health, biology, or health education and subsequently earn a master’s degree in public health, epidemiology, or healthcare administration. An entry-level position usually pays around 45k/year.


Public Health Attorney

The careers we have mentioned so far are research-heavy, focused on education, centered on safety, or on administering care. A legal career in public health is another great track for someone interested in public health.

Public health attorneys work as advocates, legal representatives, or advisors for individuals, communities, and government agencies. They contribute to public health by developing policies aimed toward improving wellness and health. At other times, public health attorneys advise businesses, individuals, and governments on their legal rights in public health.

To be an excellent public health attorney, you need to have good organizational and public speaking skills; being able to assemble, organize, and effectively communicate complex information is vital. Strong problem-solving skills are equally important as you will need to identify solutions to complex problems that may arise in a case. Last but not least, a bachelor’s and law degree are required. It is a good idea to choose a law school that offers a specialization in public health law. Even better, some schools offer a dual degree in JD/MPH, which will adequately prepare you for a career in public health law.

The national average salary for a public health attorney is $70,959

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