7 Reasons to Get a Job in Public Health
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Public health employees work to prevent the spread of disease and keep the population as healthy as possible. These professionals, from nurses to lawmakers, commit to improving the quality of people's lives within the communities they serve.
Although any healthcare profession can be rewarding, public health offers a unique set of advantages for employees. If you are still weighing your career options or are considering a career change, check out these seven reasons why public health could be the best choice for you.
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Top Reasons to Work in Public Health
To learn more about the advantages of working in public health, we spoke to two professionals in the field. Michael Mittelman, OD, MPH, MBA, is the president of Salus University, and Krista Beckwith, MSPH, CPC, is the vice president of population health and wellness at Everside Health. Together, they offer the following insights into why now is an excellent time to enter the field of public health.
Variety of Career Opportunities
The term "public health" encompasses various careers, roles, and responsibilities, many of which are high-paying jobs. "There are myriad opportunities for those who pursue a public health degree," says Dr. Mittelman. "They can include epidemiology, biostatistics, health promotion and education, health policy, public health advisor, environmental health positions, public health nurse, health engagement specialist, and community or global health specialists, among others."
The field of public health helps create conditions in which people can live their healthiest lives possible. Whether you want to provide direct patient care as a public health nurse, foster community engagement as an organizer or planner, or provide support through social work or communications, there is an opportunity in public health.
In today's rapidly changing world, job stability is a concern for many. Public health must develop to meet new challenges, while maintaining considerable job stability.
Ms. Beckwith highlights her own career experience as an MSPH degree-holder as evidence of the field's job stability. She has used her degree to find stable work in many arenas, including local community settings, internationally, in federal and state government, and in the private sector.
"I sought a degree that would allow me to adapt over time and evolve with the growing trends in the healthcare market without being pigeonholed into one type of role," Beckwith says. "A public health degree does just that."
The COVID-19 pandemic influenced nearly every aspect of life, including the demand for additional workers in certain fields.
The pandemic put unprecedented pressure on public health programs, creating a surge in demand for employees. However, many local health departments and agencies face staffing shortages brought about by an aging workforce, staff turnover, and concerns about worker safety. As a result, there is a high demand for workers in public health. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects much faster than average employment growth for epidemiologists, health education specialists and community health workers, and social and community services managers between 2021 and 2031.
The COVID-19 pandemic also increased interest in public health positions, with more people pursuing a degree in the field. The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) reports that applications to public health graduate programs increased by 20% for the 2020-2021 academic year. Many schools and students note that COVID-19 and the desire to "do something" about the spread of the virus spurred interest.
High Job Satisfaction
Despite some challenges inherent in public health, 82% of workers reported job satisfaction, according to a survey by the de Beaumont Foundation.
"Rarely do you see an individual choose this route without a passion for the why, and the impact they want to make on the world with this career," Ms. Beckwith notes. This motivation can result in a high level of job satisfaction, she says, "as individuals seek to align their chosen roles with the passion that brought them into the career track in the first place."
However, Ms. Beckwith also admits that public health work can come with a unique emotional toll. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many public health professionals received negative feedback, threads, and criticism, claiming that the profession was overreaching. "As a result," Ms. Beckwith shares, "we have lost many passionate, articulate, and competent members of the profession, who no longer had job satisfaction due to the backlash."
Opportunity for Advancement
Dr. Mittelman reports that public health offers professionals the chance to advance within their field, especially when they hold an advanced degree. "Many public health programs will allow students to specialize," he says. "Having an advanced degree in public health will help make job candidates more competitive when pursuing these very rewarding jobs."
Ms. Beckwith agrees that "advancement is absolutely possible," due to the diversity of career paths offered by a public health degree.
Ability to Influence Health Policy
Many people enter public health because they want to influence the well-being of their communities and the world at large. One way this happens is through developing and informing public health policy.
As Dr. Mittelman points out, "Having a public health degree with a concentration in health policy, epidemiology, or environmental health gives you the credibility and knowledge to assist governmental agencies in establishing health policies." He notes that this is instrumental in responding to health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and also in routine policies concerning vaccinations, health and wellness strategies for diverse populations, and local disease tracking, among other functions.
Ms. Beckwith chose a health policy focus for her public health master's degree. She reports that public health can carry influence far beyond what we would traditionally consider health policy, such as the Affordable Care Act. "The public health discipline can [also] impact transportation policy, immigration policy, environmental policy, social policy, and many more. And it can be integrated across all layers of policy, from a local jurisdiction up through the national ranks."
Make a Positive Impact on the Lives of Others
Dr. Mittelman also points to the ability to make a difference as a deciding factor for many people choosing to enter the public health field. "Through global and community health engagement activities, you can help developing countries, or even rural communities in the U.S., develop effective public health measures that prevent disease and positively impact the quality of life."
Making a positive difference in the lives of others drives many people to a career in public health, whether they work directly with individuals or on a broader scale to develop health policies and programs. According to the de Beaumont Foundation survey, 95% of public health workers believe the work they do is important.
Ms. Beckwith notes that public health professionals can make a positive impact in many ways: "This may be through delivering direct services or education, providing the underlying data surveillance/analytics, designing new products focused on health/wellness, impacting local/state/federal policy, ensuring the health and safety of the public and our local communities, or protecting our environment."
Start Your Public Health Journey
Public health is a dynamic, evolving field with a wide range of career options that share a common goal: promoting and protecting community health and ensuring the best possible quality of life for everyone.
If you are considering a rewarding career in public health, your journey begins with earning the right degree. Start by reviewing some of the top online programs for a master's in public health to launch your career.
Meet Our Contributors
Michael H. Mittelman, OD, MPH, MBA
In 2013, Dr. Mittelman became the sixth president in the 100-year history of Salus University. Dr. Mittelman earned a bachelor of arts degree from Jacksonville University in 1975. In 1980, he earned his doctor of optometry (OD) degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) at Salus University, later earning a master of public health degree (MPH) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In May 2019, he earned an MBA from the Fox Business School, Temple University.
After a 33-year career, Dr. Mittelman retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of rear admiral (Upper Half), having served as deputy surgeon general of the Navy. In June 2019, Dr. Mittelman was inducted into the National Optometric Hall of Fame of the American Optometric Association.
Krista Beckwith, MSPH, CPC
Krista Beckwith, MSPH, CPC is the Vice President of Population Health and Wellness at Everside Health, one of the nation's largest providers of direct primary and mental health care. Within her role, she oversees the company's population health product line and supports the company's strategy for ongoing management of populations seeking care.
Ms. Beckwith received her undergraduate training in integrative physiology from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her master's training in public health from Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is also a certified professional coder through AAPC. Within her career she has held positions internationally and locally, within state government and the private sector, and within both payer and healthcare delivery systems.
Page last reviewed on February 24, 2023
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