“Getting your first job in public health can be challenging,” says Dr. Heather Alonge, faculty member in Capella University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences.
“It is quite the conundrum: you can’t get a job without experience but you can’t get experience without a job. Yet there are numerous things that you can do outside of formal employment in order to gain experience, network, and build your resume.”
Alonge shares her views on how to begin a career in public health with a bachelor’s degree, as well as when and why to pursue an advanced degree.
Q. What are the career opportunities for someone with an undergraduate degree in public health?
A. A bachelor’s degree in public health provides the foundation for numerous career options after graduation.
Entry-level jobs include working for federal, state, and local government entities, hospitals, public health agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Many bachelor graduates start their careers as health educators in a community setting sharing information about disease prevention and promoting healthy living.
Other career options include research assistant, field worker, program assistant, and community health worker.
Q. What steps can someone with a bachelor’s degree take to begin a career in public health?
A. Internships and volunteer work are great way to get experience and to expand your network.
Many local health departments and nonprofit organizations seek interns to assist with projects and program development. Volunteering offers an avenue for meeting people and getting your foot in the door.
You can also offer your services as a public health consultant. Many facilities and organizations oftentimes need a little extra assistance to complete deadlines and tasks. While it isn’t a permanent position, consulting work is good experience, it pays well, and sometimes can lead to employment opportunities.
If you’re starting out in the world of public health, keep building your network, and you will find your niche.
Q. Is there a need for an advanced degree in public health?
A. Every public health program has its own approach to the undergraduate major, with different ideas about curriculum design and how much to integrate graduate-level classes and content.
In general, a bachelor’s in public health provides a broad introduction to the field. Undergraduates cover most of the same core topics as master’s in public health (MPH) students—epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, health policy and management, and social and behavioral sciences.
However, an MPH offers a deeper education and more practical skills, usually with a more intense focus on a specific topic area and additional coursework on leadership. It’s not uncommon for students who majored in public health as undergraduates to discover that they want or need more specific skills in order to advance into leadership roles.
Many public health professionals work for a few years and then, once they’ve more clearly identified what they want to accomplish, return to school for an MPH then Doctor of Public Health (DrPH).
Q. How can professionals currently working in this field keep their knowledge and skills current with trends and changes?
A. Public health is an ever-changing discipline and field.
For instance, in the past two decades, we have made a transition from awareness to prevention of disease and illness. In order to adapt to shifting trends, public health professionals should take advantage of industry professional memberships and continuing education opportunities.