The public health field covers a broad range of community needs at every level. From family-oriented and local community issues to regional, state, national and international concerns, public health careers are essential to addressing social, health, and environmental issues for those most in need of representation.
The issues surrounding and resulting from COVID-19 in 2020 for much of the world highlighted ongoing healthcare and social concerns in desperate need of attention. Perhaps it helped raise the alarm bells on the need for a greater number of committed, educated, and caring public health professionals.
To that end, the Biden Administration recently announced that more than $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, enacted in March of 2021, will go to recruit, hire and train public health workers. This massive investment means there will be ample opportunity for those interested in a public health career to pursue an education in the field without going into extensive debt. While COVID-19 was devastating in many aspects of life for many people, it did shine a light on various intensive needs, and this Act helps address those.
If you are considering entering the field of public health and pursuing your bachelor's degree in this critical area, keep reading to learn how you can help the community whose needs speak to you and how you can earn a living while caring for others.
What Is Public Health?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation defines public health as "the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities." That means there are a number of pathways open to you to help others. The most common ways that public health employees and officials do this is by providing information, education, and training to local populations on subjects such as healthcare and environmental health as well as the personal, local, and societal issues that affect them and those around them.
The CDC alone employs 14,000 people in about 170 public health-related occupations in all 50 states. That's only one of the many organizations in need of sympathetic and educationally equipped professionals in public health to respond to an array of needs.
Why Is Public Health Work So Vital to Communities at Every Level?
Public health addresses the needs of a broad spectrum of people and their communities to ensure good health. A public health professional's overriding goal, regardless of profession, is to help communities promote healthy lifestyles, respond to infectious diseases and outbreaks like the coronavirus, research diseases, and prevent injuries.
What Public Health Careers Appeal to You?
Whether you only recently become interested in public health or you’ve wanted to pursue this path for years, you might have developed an interest in a specific area. Or maybe you just have a passion for making a difference in the lives of those around you, in the next town or on the other side of the world. Either way, there is a spot for you in public health.
It’s a wide-open field. You could wind up in positions that take advantage of your affinity for science or your focus on working to provide clear and effective messaging to different population groups. One fact remains: For most public health professionals and university educators, the field is uniquely personal. It’s time to make it yours.
5 Public Health Careers to Consider
Here are five public health careers you might consider pursuing to give you the tools to help your selected community effectively.
1. Health Education
Health educators, or health education specialists, frequently obtain a bachelor's degree (or higher) before, ultimately, working with a broad spectrum of populations, including individuals, families, schools, businesses, and other community groups. In this area, you might work with a public or private organization to create, implement, guide, oversee, analyze and redirect programs and strategies to promote health and well-being.
Upon earning a bachelor's degree, students interested in pursuing a career in this field need to also earn a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) certification. If you're wondering what job titles might look like in this field, here are a few that will help you determine specific coursework you might seek during your studies to prepare:
- Alcohol Educator
- Case Manager
- Community Health Educator
- Community Organizer
- Diabetes Educator
- Education Program Manager
- Family Services Specialist
- Health Education Programmer
- Program Resource Coordinator
The opportunities go on and on, especially when you start considering all the venues that might need your assistance, such as schools, head start programs, community centers, small businesses, corporations, clinics or local health departments.
2. Epidemiology and Research
Epidemiology is a vital branch of medical science that researches and investigates the factors surrounding the absence or presence of diseases and disorders. As you might imagine, the pressure on—and call for—epidemiologists for well over a year has been incredible as community and political leaders at every level counted on these public health scientists to help collect, analyze and deliver data in a way that everyone could understand. They also help to show how the disorder affects civilization at various levels, including societal issues ranging from mental health to the economy.
To pursue this career path, it's important to earn your bachelor's degree in a related field, such as public health, before gaining some experience in the field.
3. Social Work
While many of us might think of social workers as those who handle people on a case-by-case basis, perhaps working for a county or city agency, there is much more to this vital field than that. While those social workers provide an essential service by tending to the needs of individuals, families, and small groups, there are also community social workers.
Community-oriented social working professionals, once they obtain a public health degree, explore a selected community's most pressing concerns and try to get to the bottom of the issues involved. These issues might concern health issues or problems that typically infringe on the community's health. Once social workers start looking into the community, they might find that many community members suffer from the same problems, such as poverty, substance abuse, obesity, homelessness, mental illness, depression, or crime and violence.
A social worker in this field strives to help improve the quality of life for everyone in the community, seeking to identify and solve the problems that plague the community members.
Job titles you might see when entering this field include:
- Case Investigator
- Case Manager
- Community Mental Health Worker
- Integrated Health Program Manager
- Quality Improvement Strategist
- Population Health Social Worker
- Reproductive Health Coordinator
For some jobs listed above, an undergraduate degree is all that is required to get your foot in the door. For others, an advanced degree is called for. You may also need to earn various certifications and licensing in a relevant health or science field for some positions, such as community health workers or case managers.
Strong and clear communications are a crucial element of public health. Think about the COVID-19 outbreak and how rapidly and effectively the CDC and various government bodies provided clear information and guidelines to help minimize the spread of the disease.
As a public health communication professional, your messaging relies on evidence-based health information intended to serve and protect the population to whom you report, whether in your local neighborhood or at the national level. But communications responsibilities go beyond massive outbreaks. Your work is needed daily to broadcast behavior-changing initiatives for public health for disease prevention efforts, health and fitness campaigns, research activities, and program development and evaluation.
Upon graduation with the right bachelor’s degree in communication, you could find yourself in:
- Health Marketing
- Media Advocacy
- Media Literacy
- Public Relations
- Social Media
You might end up creating pamphlets and other literature for your local health clinic, easy-to-read guides on hygiene for your local health department, interpreting information for ESL community members or writing for health communication journals.
5. Environmental Health
Unfortunately, many communities experience environmental health issues—think Flint, Michigan, and its ongoing struggles to get healthy water for its residents. You might face many other factors as an environmental health professional that can affect human health, including air quality, water protection, food safety, waste disposal, and hazardous and toxic substances. On a somewhat smaller scale, such as environmental health in the workplace, you might try to uncover issues regarding hazardous conditions and substances in the workplace or help to improve employee health through ergonomics and healthy lifestyle initiatives.
Are You Ready to Take a Closer Look at a Career in Public Health?
Salaries in this field cover a broad range—starting at around $40,000 for a mental health caseworker and going up to the $180,000 mark for an infectious disease specialist. Take the time to explore where you want this career path to take you and how much additional education, certification, and licensing you will need to pursue it. Our team at JWU can help you work it all out.
If you’re interested in a career in public health, you can earn your bachelor’s degree in public health from JWU to get a great start. For more information, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].