Share this article

What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated October 10, 2023
Reviewed by
Our Integrity Network

NurseJournal.org is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for NurseJournal.org as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

    What is public health and how can I enter this field? Learn about public health degrees and the personal and professional rewards of public health careers here.
    mini logo

    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Two public health workers discuss agendas before a staff meeting.Credit: DGLimages / iStock / Getty Images Plus

    COVID-19 has drawn a lot of attention to public health, but public health is more than infectious disease control.

    Public health careers can involve improving health equity and addressing social factors in health. You can achieve this by creating health education plans and helping to build healthy communities.

    Learn about public health programs and public health degrees that will prepare you for this potentially rewarding field.

    What Is Public Health?

    Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and communities on an institutional level.

    There are three main functions within public health. Assessment refers to identifying and measuring community health problems and needs. Policy development refers to designing solutions. The third part, assurance, means making sure people have access to these solutions.

    The coronavirus pandemic highlighted how public health brings together medicine and the social sciences.

    For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, public health professionals researched who is affected and how, developing government and organizational responses to the crisis, and making sure everybody has access to the vaccine. They also educated people about vaccination and other preventive measures.

    Loading...Learn More
    Visit Site
    Loading...Learn More
    Visit Site
    Loading...Learn More
    Visit Site

    What Are the Different Types of Public Health Degrees?

    Associate Degree in Public Health

    Some associate degrees in public health build towards a very specific role, such as a medical coder or medical transcriptionist. Others prepare you for entry-level work in a field like community health, largely as a stepping-stone to a bachelor’s degree.

    Learn more about what you can do with an associate degree in public health.

    Bachelor’s in Public Health

    A bachelor’s degree in public health prepares you for a wide array of public health careers, like community health specialist, prevention specialist, entry-level public health program manager, public health investigator, or health educator. Most public health positions require at least a bachelor’s in public health.

    Does it matter if you get a BA or BS in public health?

    You can pursue either a bachelor of arts (BA) or a bachelor of science (BS) in public health. A BA in public health focuses more on nonclinical areas such as the social sciences, education, and policy. A BS focuses on the natural sciences and medicine.

    BA graduates tend to find work in government agencies or nonprofits. In a field like infectious disease prevention, a BS degree would emphasize epidemiology, statistics, and the logistics of vaccination distribution.

    A BA looks at modifying human behaviors to reduce risk factors for chronic disease and injury. A bachelor of arts in public health also teaches how to apply strategies to reduce public health disease or injury burdens.

    Learn more about what you can do with a bachelor’s degree in public health.

    Master’s in Public Health

    A master of public health (MPH) can lead to a management role in public or community health. It can also lead to more specialized, advanced roles outside management.

    Many master’s in public health degrees offer a specialization, such as epidemiology, health management, public policy and health, or health promotion. You can earn either an MPH or a master of science in public health (MSPH).

    What is the difference between an MPH and MSPH?

    Both MPH and MSPH students learn public health practice. MSPH students may have more biostatistics and epidemiology coursework.

    Those who pursue an MSPH often view it as preparation for a doctorate in public health. Learners in MPH programs often must complete an internship or project in their specialization.

    Learn more about what you can do with an MPH degree.

    Doctorate in Public Health

    A doctorate in public health is the terminal public health degree. It prepares you for a high-level administrative public health career, or one focused on research and academia.

    A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in public health requires original research and a doctoral thesis. The curriculum varies by program, and often involves courses in public policy, disease prevention, healthcare systems design, biostatistics, and behavioral sciences.

    What is the difference between a DrPH and Ph.D. in public health?

    A doctor of public health (DrPH) is for professionals who want to work directly in public health, while a Ph.D. in public health is often for researchers and academics.

    If you plan to teach at a college, university, or research institution, you will need a Ph.D. If you wish to work in government or agencies that don’t require original research, you will need a DrPH.

    Learn more about what you can do with a doctorate in public health.

    Can You Get a Public Health Degree Online?

    Many schools offer online public health programs whose quality is on par with on-campus programs. Students can earn the same degree online or on campus.

    Many online programs do require some on-campus orientation or on-campus work. Programs requiring a practicum should arrange placement in your community, but ensure they do before enrolling.

    What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?

    In general, assistant positions, certain technical jobs, and entry-level public health careers require associate degrees.

    A bachelor’s in public health may allow for more professional autonomy, but you will likely work under someone with a master’s or doctoral public health degree. For a high-level role in academia or a think tank, you need a Ph.D.

    Most public health careers are in government, public health organizations, and hospitals or health systems. Yet, a growing number of community development organizations — foundations, grant programs, and groups prioritizing community well-being — are hiring public health professionals.

    “In general, I find that people who are drawn to public health tend to be community-oriented and service-oriented. They want to make an impact on a lot of lives.”.
    — Christopher Lee, MPA /Is a Public Health Degree Worth It?

    Christopher Lee, MPA

    Careers With an Associate or Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health

    Health Information Technician

    Health information technicians handle health records and health data. They collect data, perform basic quality assurance, and generate reports. They must be comfortable with technology.

    Medical and Health Services Manager

    Medical and health services managers perform administrative duties in settings such as hospitals, health systems, clinics, military bases, and other healthcare facilities. Their role might include technology and personnel management or program logistics.

    • Minimum degree required: Bachelor’s degree
    • Median salary:$101,340 per 2021 data

    Occupational Health and Safety Specialist and Technician

    Occupational health and safety specialists and technicians help ensure the safety of workplaces like factories and construction sites. They may work directly on site or in government offices that regulate worker health and safety.

    Social and Community Service Manager

    Social and community service managers design and administer social services programs, including public health programs. In a small organization, they may oversee general public health initiatives. In larger organizations, they often specialize in a particular type of program, such as prevention, or a program task, such as assessment.

    • Minimum degree required: Bachelor’s degree
    • Certification required: Specialty areas may have certifications, but these are not required.
    • Median salary:$74,000 per 2021 data

    Health Educator and Community Health Worker

    Health educators and community health workers both offer services directly to the public. Health educators create and carry out educational plans. These can be online, in print, or in person. Community health workers help connect people to health services.

    • Minimum degree required: Bachelor’s degree for health educator or associate degree for community health worker
    • Certification required: Being a certified health education specialist from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing is often an employer requirement, though it is not legally required.
    • Median salary:$48,860 per 2021 data

    Careers With a Graduate Degree in Public Health

    Healthcare Consultant

    Healthcare consultants provide expertise to healthcare organizations in management, technology, strategy, or specialty topics. In public health, they provide guidance on designing facilities, ethics, interventions, or programs.

    Most healthcare consultants need both advanced education and experience in the field.

    Public Health Analyst

    Public health analysts gather, analyze, and report on public health data. They work in government or healthcare facilities. This position requires considerable experience with data and analytics, including statistics and demographics.

    • Minimum degree required: Master’s degree
    • Certification required: Many employers prefer certification as a certified health data analyst, though not legally necessary.
    • Average salary:$80,331 per January 2023 Payscale data

    Postsecondary Teacher

    Postsecondary teachers teach at any level beyond high school. In most schools, they also serve as academic advisors and on academic committees. In addition to teaching, four-year colleges and graduate programs often require instructors to do research and publish academic papers.

    • Minimum degree required: Master’s degree (though many four-year programs may require or prefer a Ph.D.)
    • Median salary:$79,640 per 2021 data


    COVID-19 has put epidemiology and epidemiologists in the spotlight. Epidemiologists study how contagious diseases are transmitted, how other diseases are contracted, and how injuries and other health risks happen. Epidemiologists must understand medicine, statistics, and the social sciences, depending on their specialty.

    • Minimum degree required: Master’s degree (though research institutions often require a Ph.D.)
    • Median salary:$78,830 per 2021 data

    Common Questions About Public Health Degrees

    Is public health a good degree?

    That depends on your career goals. If you are interested in the intersection of medicine and the social sciences, public health careers can be very rewarding. Public health degrees can be an option for those who enjoy challenges like designing health interventions or improving community health.

    Salaries depend largely on education and experience. In many communities, public health jobs are growing.

    Is public health a difficult major?

    Public health careers often require you to excel in the natural sciences, social sciences, medical concepts, mathematics and statistics, and technology. Whether or not you think public health is a difficult major will depend on your specialization, the program, and your skill set.

    What’s the difference between a public health degree and a health science degree?

    A health science degree prepares you to work in a medical field and to focus on treating patients clinically. A public health degree prepares you to work on the health of a specific population through multiple approaches, not just medical ones. Health science degrees emphasize biology, chemistry, and medicine; public health degrees emphasize the social sciences and medicine. Lastly, health science degrees focus on treating people, while public health degrees focus on treating communities or populations within a community.

    What public health jobs are in demand?

    Since COVID-19, there has been a growing awareness of the benefits of disease prevention and understanding the social factors of health. In addition, knowing the dangers of highly infectious conditions like COVID-19 has increased demand for many public health jobs. Some in-demand public health jobs include epidemiology, health education specialist, and community health worker. Other popular jobs are community service manager and health information or medical records specialist.

    Related Articles

    Page last reviewed December 18, 2022

    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.