What can you do with a public health degree?

May 16, 2018

The field of public health focuses on serving communities by preventing disease outbreaks, educating the public about health risks, and working to reduce health disparities across populations.

Segments of public health include community health, epidemiology, environmental health, policy and health management, and behavioral health, to name a few. It’s a diverse field with numerous career opportunities for those who have an undergraduate or graduate degree in public health.

Heather Alonge, PhD, MPH former faculty member in Capella University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences Department of Health Care, provides an overview of the field and career paths to explore.

Q. How do you define public health?

A. The mission of public health is to promote the health and well-being of people, communities, and populations.

Public health works to track disease outbreaks, prevent injuries, and understand how factors like race, gender, education, and socioeconomic status influence health decisions and outcomes.

The many facets of public health include speaking out for laws that promote seatbelt use and smoke-free indoor air, spreading the word about ways to stay healthy, and giving science-based solutions to societal health problems.

Q. What will students learn in a public health bachelor’s program?

A. Students enrolled in Capella’s Bachelor of Science in Public Health program can expect to gain a basic understanding of how to develop and present wellness programs in local communities, centered on protecting the health of populations and improving quality of life.

The program provides a solid foundation in biological, statistical, and social sciences and emphasizes evidence-based practices of program assessment, planning, and evaluation. Students with a public health degree will have an understanding of preventing disease, prolonging life, and improving the health of entire populations.

Q. What career options are potentially available to graduates with a public health degree?

A. A bachelor’s degree provides the foundation for many different positions in public health.

Employment settings to explore include federal, state, and local government entities, health care organizations, public health agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

A couple of entry-level positions to explore in public health include:

Public Health Policy Analyst: The role of public health policy analyst often works for and/or with government agencies, nonprofit or health care organizations. Professionals in this job evaluate public health policies to determine their impacts and make recommendations for improvement. By focusing on improving education, disease prevention, and healthy lifestyle promotion, public health policy analysts are able to work to improve the overall well-being of a community.

To do their jobs well, public health policy analysts must be good communicators as well as have strong skills in math and critical thinking.

Job responsibilities may include:

  • Gather and analyze data from current policies to evaluate effectiveness.
  • Identify problem areas for current public health policies.
  • Develop new policies and improve current ones when necessary.
  • Consult and work with other health professionals to develop policies for public health.

Health Educator: Health educators assist individuals and communities with voluntary behavior changes and healthy adaptations to maintain a good health status and to stay free from injury, violence, and disease. Health educators are also responsible for assessing the need for health education programs within communities by reviewing available data.

Job responsibilities may include:

  • Advocate for and assess the community’s needs.
  • Develop programs designed to teach the community about health topics.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.
  • Assist community members in understanding their health conditions and connecting them with health care and social service resources.

Q. What positions require an advanced degree in public health, such as a master of public health or doctor of public health?

A. As with many industries, oftentimes prior experience—coming from related professional backgrounds like nursing, law enforcement, and advocacy— determines if someone with an advanced degree in public health will be qualified for certain positions.
A Master of Public Health (MPH) can help qualify professionals for many positions in the field. Related job titles to explore include:

  • Community health program manager
  • Health outcomes analyst
  • Public health advisor
  • Legislative policy advisor

Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) graduates often will have leadership-focused careers and positions in their organizations. Related job titles to explore include:

  • Public health program consultant
  • Chief public health advisor
  • Director of disease prevention and control
  • Program director

Learn more about Capella’s online public health programs:

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