The extensive public health field is a unique area of study providing many professional job opportunities for those who enjoy helping others. Public health combines different academic areas for a multidisciplinary approach to the health care field, offering almost limitless opportunities for professional specialization. Your reasons for pursuing public health will be as unique as you are, but here are ten of the most common reasons to study public health.
1. Job Security
The need for public health workers in every sector is expected to grow for the foreseeable future. With most graduates finding job prospects directly after college, the unemployment rate for public health professionals remains low. As more awareness is raised about the benefits of public health programs, these workers will be in even higher demand.
You can increase your job security by interning while you attend classes. Some degrees require you to complete a semester-long internship while other programs do not; either way, you can earn credit towards your degree while improving your resume. Well-establishes schools have long-running connections to local health departments and non-profit organizations, so ask for help to find the perfect internship or practicum.
Another way to beef up your job security as a public health professional is to earn a dual degree. You can combine your studies in public health with social work, law, nursing or business. With a public health dual degree, you’ll earn two master’s degrees in as little as three years, and you’ll be a highly desirable candidate for a wide range of job openings. You’ll also have access to double the opportunities for internships, tuition reimbursement, scholarships and fellowships because you’ll be drawing from two separate fields.
2. Professional Variety
Another desirable trait of the public health field is the extreme variety of professions and areas of upward mobility. In the public health field, you can create public health policies, develop medical care programs, analyze health statistics or educate communities on ways to stay healthy. Along with the variety of jobs, public health workers can choose to work in schools, government or private companies. International and local organizations have a need for public health workers as well. There are many avenues to pursue.
If you desire constant variety in your working life, consider a public health career in the non-profit sector. By working with a small organization, you will take on responsibility for many types of tasks. For example, if you worked for a homeless shelter as a public health director, your tasks might include pursuing grants, scheduling testing events with the local health department, leading trainings for employees, coordinating a weekly group meeting for visitors to the shelter, partnering with a university to design a research study that will let you offer better services to homeless visitors and creating an emergency response plan for the organization.
You can also find changing public health roles by working for a government agency if you’re willing to change departments or jobs every few years. You might move from an entry-level community health educator position into a management role in the restaurant inspection department then transition into a county-wide director job. In this career, you’ll enjoy great benefits like ample paid time off and affordable health insurance, but your career advancement will be dependent on government funding.
3. Solve Problems
Public health experts are problem solvers that routinely find solutions to community and global health issues. People who work in public health enjoy the challenges associated with fighting diseases and developing prevention programs. The ability to identify health risks and then initiate a plan to resolve them keeps workers engaged in their jobs. They determine the needs of a community through personal interactions and statistical data. Then they use that data, along with ethical considerations for the community members, to make plans for resolving the issues.
You will never run out of problems to solve in the public health field. In American history, public health has moved from preventing infectious diseases like malaria and polio towards addressing long-term issues like obesity, heart disease and brain injury. In recent years, with outbreaks of Zika, COVID-19 and even measles, some of the focus of public health has shifted back towards infectious disease prevention. As human behavior evolves, so too will the need for public health professionals.
4. Help Others
Many public health employees become interested in this field to improve the health and well being of other people and communities. One of the most rewarding benefits for public health is knowing that they are making a lasting impression to improve society. Many public health workers are directly involved in local communities and can see an immediate impact from their work. They are responsible for educating the public and bringing health awareness to local communities. On the community level, they can track statistical data to determine local health problems and advocate for those people.
One reason so many students are drawn to the public health field is the opportunity to help others in many different ways. If you thrive on interaction with others, you can find great career satisfaction as a public health educator or patient navigator who meets directly with members of the community to help navigate health questions. However, introverted students can also find a fulfilling career working behind the scenes in statistical analysis or program design. No matter which public health career path you pursue, you’ll be helping your community.
5. Worldwide Impact
Besides helping out at the community level, public health professionals are also involved in worldwide policy initiatives. They are able to make a global presence by guiding public policy and international programs aimed towards improving health in developing nations and preventing disease outbreaks. Some public health fields gather data to determine trends and analyze statistics to develop plans for reducing health-related problems in specific geographic regions. Others use those reports to help initiate policy changes through international organizations that will make a permanent change for the improvement of those societies.
Working for a global health organization is competitive. If you’re interested in this career, you’ll need a master’s degree in public health. You’ll also benefit from speaking a foreign language, particularly Spanish, French, Arabic or Mandarin Chinese, because those languages are often used in global agencies. If you want to work directly in the field, you should strongly consider joining the Peace Corps, a two-year international program, to gain experience working in challenging conditions. You should also consider building your expertise in health policy by concentrating on that field during your degree or even pursuing a dual degree in the subject.
6. Focus on Social Justice
Many students bring a strong commitment to social justice into the classroom, and universities are responding. With a public health degree, you can expect to learn about structural determinants of health, historical impacts on modern outcomes and detailed ways to tailor public health programming to specific communities. You might read about the Tuskegee experiment and how it shaped modern medical ethics or discuss the disparities in maternal mortality between different communities and countries.
If you have a passion for serving a specific community, public health can help you make that passion a reality. For example, if you’re fluent in multiple languages, you’ll be in high demand as a public health educator, and you can create or tailor educational messaging for specific communities. You may have valuable lived experiences with the unique strengths of your community. Public health jobs actively seek professionals with that type of experience who can improve public health messaging and respect the cultural needs of diverse populations.
Public health is a field that encourages students and professional to bring their real selves into the workforce. You won’t be stuck in a stuffy, corporate job with a degree in public health. Instead, your personal experiences will be valued and welcomed by your professional community.
7. Supplement Your Current Education
If you’ve already earned a degree, you may be looking to grow your degree by furthering your education. A master’s degree in public health is an excellent way to open up new job fields while building on your previous experience. Most graduate programs in public health require only a handful of prerequisite courses like one semester of statistics or two semesters of social sciences, so you’ll likely qualify for admission with limited or no additional coursework.
For healthcare providers, such as nurses, doctors and therapists, combining a public health degree with professional licensure offers numerous career advantages. Some of the highest-level jobs in public health require an understanding of clinical medicine and public health principles. If you want to work as an epidemiological investigator, tracking down mysterious diseases by interviewing patients about their symptoms and possible exposure routes, you’ll be an excellent candidate if you understand both how to assess clinical signs in patients and how to analyze large amounts of clinical data. As a medical professional with public health training, you can also work as a medical or nursing director for a government agency or a lead researcher for a public health study.
8. Tackle Emergencies
You aren’t limited to sitting behind a desk or delivering PowerPoint presentations in community meeting spaces. Public health officials are on the front lines of emerging disease outbreaks, from limiting the spread of COVID-19 to handling medical waste disposal in field hospitals in West Africa during an Ebola outbreak. You’re most likely to find work in public health emergency response if you specialize in epidemiology, the study of the spread of diseases, or biostatistics. If you’re interested in this career path, you should consider working for the federal government, specifically the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or a non-governmental organization like the World Health Organization (WHO).
In some areas, you can also find non-profit agencies that address emerging public health crises. However, these agencies are more likely to address the long-term consequences of the outbreaks. For example, a non-profit might help bolster the local health system after an outbreak, while a larger organization would be the first responders.
9. Address a Specific Health Issue
Perhaps your father suffered from diabetes, or your grandmother couldn’t find a doctor who understood her culture or you’re from a community that’s disproportionally burdened by HIV/AIDS, alcohol addiction or obesity. For many public health students, these personal struggles transform into deeply felt motivators for entering the field. Because public health is so flexible, it offers space for students who want to focus on specific illnesses or populations.
Your personal experiences can be a powerful tool for engaging your community. Imagine the impact of a former intravenous drug addict discussing her journey towards sobriety or a Mexican-American professional who educates medical providers on understanding how curanderos influence health decisions in Mexican immigrant communities. Whether you want to work directly in health education or stay in the university community and design research studies, your dedication to a specific community or disease burden will be a valuable asset in your career.
10. Quick Entry to the Medical World
Most careers in medicine require extensive training. Doctors and dentists attend graduate school for four years, many hospitals now require a master’s degree in nursing for new employees and even pharmacists and audiologists must obtain a doctoral degree before becoming licensed. If you’re looking for a mid-life career change, going back to school for half a decade may not be feasible. Luckily, public health offers a challenging but workable path into the medical field for anyone.
With a master’s in public health degree, you can complete your entire graduate training quickly and with minimal disruption to your busy life. Some universities offer completely online programs, and most schools can help you find internships or practicums that work around your schedule. While a public health degree doesn’t enable you to perform surgery or work in an ambulance, you’ll be able to make a real difference in your community once you enter the field. You can even work at a hospital in an administrative capacity.
If you’re interested in combining multiple health-related academic subjects, public health is the field for you. You’ll enjoy a fascinating curriculum as you pursue your degree and an even more fascinating career with many different possibilities. No matter what area of public health you choose to pursue, you’ll spend your career knowing that you’re making a lifelong difference in your community, which may just be be the most rewarding reason to study public health.
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