Public Health is an exciting and interdisciplinary major focused on the spread of general health awareness and the prevention of diseases. It's a good field for those with a broad range of interests, as work in the field can take a variety of different expertise -- some public health majors might find themselves working as health officials themselves, while others could end up as nutritionists, public speakers, sociologists, and more.
This is because there are two major aspects of the public health field -- first, the understanding of good health practices themselves, and second, the dissemination of these facts to the public. Given how many jobs there are to be found in both of these concentrations, it can be pretty difficult to decide which one you should go after.
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a map, just for Public Health Majors such as yourself, to navigate your way through the choppy waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who prefer step by step navigation on your path, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
First thing's first: what skills you'll need to get started.
Skills for Public Health are relatively data-oriented, given the amount of medical knowledge required to work this job effectively, but a huge part of the field is also the spreading of up-to-date medical information in order to improve Public Health as much as possible on a societal level.
As a result, communication skills are much more important for the Public Health major than they would be for other less social hard sciences.
Let's take a closer look at what this means for Public Health in particular:
Data analysis skills
An important point on top of research is your ability to analyze the data that you have in order to discover how it will apply to certain situations. Your attention to detail and your ability to quickly understand and synthesize new information into opinions and solutions is essential to success in Public Health positions.
Team skills/interpersonal skills.
It's not often that you get to pull the lone ranger act during the practice of Public Health. Typically, you'll be working as part of a team while completing projects, and your ability to play nicely with others is integral to your capacity for succeeding in the field at large. It's also integral to getting anything at all accomplished on a day-to-day basis.
People in Public Health jobs must develop techniques to overcome problems in data collection and analysis, such as high nonresponse rates, so that they can draw meaningful conclusions.
Internships in Public Health are, perhaps unsurprisingly, based primarily in groups that have some kind of standing in the larger public health community.
Whether it be at a hospital, senior care center, drug abuse clinic, or any other related healthcare facility, an internship in Public Health involves dealing with the health of an entire community rather than simply the health of a single person.
Given the amount of colleges involved in one way or another with hospitals and the medical community, a great number of Public Health internships are available directly through schools themselves. Check with your college's health services department to see if they have any openings for you.
Before you settle on an internship or placement, though, you'll want to make sure it's the right fit for you. Ask yourself these questions:
Public Health jobs are typically related to fields related to the biological sciences, particularly those focused on human biology or medicine -- these jobs typically require additional education such as a masters or PhD. However, many jobs in the field are also related purely to the dissemination of information related to Public Health, and may require little to no additional education.
With our map, you can click the Job Titles and learn more specific information for each position (what their responsibilities are, how much they get paid, etc.) But here, we wanted to call out some of the most common jobs for recent Public Health Major grads.
Here are a few of the most interesting jobs for recent grads such as yourself:
Typically needing at least a master's degree, Biostatisticians develop statistical models in order to help provide data to researchers in a variety of biology-related contexts, and often provide in-depth consultations on the results of this data.
Environmental scientists use their knowledge of natural sciences in order to protect the environment and improve human health. Much of this job involves conducting research, analyzing samples and surveys, and developing plans to prevent or fix environmental problems.
Health and Safety Techs collect data on health and safety conditions in the workplace in order to help prevent harm to workers, property, and the environment at large. Duties include inspecting and evaluating work environments, collecting and analyzing samples of toxic materials, and evaluating worker health and safety programs.
Figure Out Your Field
There are a huge number of Public Health fields, and while many of them overlap, it's still best to focus as early as you can on getting a foot in the door in the industry that interests you the most.
According to ExploreHealthCareers.org, there are 5 core areas of Public Health. These include:
Again, many of these fields have positions that might overlap, but others (which you might find interesting) are intensely specialized, and the longer it takes for you to get going, the further behind you're being left as the field itself continues to innovate and evolve.
Depending on how far you've gone in your education, you may have already settled on your particular public health specialization, or perhaps your particular public health career carries across all disciplines. But if you haven't found your niche yet, you should start researching some of the biggest groups in that field and try to find accounts of how people were able to find their first jobs at one of those groups.
Start Gaining Experience
Public Health is one of those unique fields where, with the right attitude and willingness to work, you can start gaining experience before you ever get your first job.
In a nutshell, Public Health involves understanding best health practices and then engaging with the public in order to help them better understand some of these practices. That's something you can easily do on your own, but it requires a willingness to go out on a limb.
Starting some kind of blog or website dedicated to public health is one small example of somewhere you can start. Blogs are free to host on a variety of websites, requiring nothing but your time and the ability to communicate effectively (an essential skill in Public Health).
There are also things you can do in terms of assisting or volunteering for non-profit work -- even if it's not directly health related, the experience of communicating with the public and working on awareness campaigns will help you learn some essential communication skills that will serve you in the Public Health field. Additionally, they'll give you some great experiences to discuss at any future job interview. And thanks to websites like Facebook and Kickstarter, you can always try running some sort of charity campaign yourself for a cause you feel is worthy. You could organize a 5k on the behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or start a Kickstarter to raise money for your local Planned Parenthood center.
In Public Health, many of the opportunities are already in your hands -- this can be daunting, but with the right perspective, it can also help you get started on your career before you even have your first job.
Pursuing an advanced degree
Obtaining a graduate degree in your course of study can serve as an excellent way to separate you from the herd - but you must first decide whether it's worth your time.
Master's degrees are often considered for Public Health majors given the career focus of the field -- Master's degrees allow a student to focus on one particular area of study and specialize, picking up some additional skills along the way. Public Health Master's students can choose to focus on fields like environmental health, health policy, occupational health, global health, and others.
PhDs, on the other hand, are intended for those on the scholarly side of the field. While many Public Health PhDs end up in the field, they tend to write papers and conduct research into the more theoretical aspects of Public Health. There are an even wider array of specializations available to PhD students, but the focus tends to be on developing research skills than on gaining skills necessary for fieldwork.
There is a small exception to this; also available to Public Health students is a degree called the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH), which is primarily geared toward fieldwork. This interdisciplinary degree works particularly well as an extension of a Master's in Public Health, and these students exit the degree with an intense understanding of the Public Health field that allows them to work in a number of different contexts.
Here are common advanced degrees that people with Public Health degree normally consider:
Master's in Public Health
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health)
DrPH (Doctor of Public Health)
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree here are some external sites, to help you with your decision:
A professional organization devoted to the study and awareness of public health research, providing membership benefits such as conferences, publications, networking and educational opportunities, and more.
The ACE assists those in the health and fitness industry by offering educational programs, certifications, networking opportunities, and other membership benefits.
Enter "Public Health" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to Public Health Majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country.
In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.