Get a Career in Public Health

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Public health professionals are the people who study, quantify and improve health in a state or in the country as a whole. These professionals look at health from a population, prevention and health promotion perspective, instead of on an individual medical basis. There are many different careers you can choose in order to follow this path. For example, you can choose fields as diverse as medicine, mental health research, environmental studies, nutrition and legislative policy development. Most of these fields require degrees in higher education and a commitment to research and education. Find out how to get a career in public health.


  1. Obtain your high school diploma or complete an equivalency certificate, like a General Educational Development (GED). Most public health careers demand a degree in higher education, so you will need to finish your secondary education.
    • People who choose a public health path should be interested in science, mathematics and statistics. A love of research or communication can also help you to work in this field.
  2. Seek a public health degree. A number of different types of professionals work in the public health sector, most of which include an emphasis on statistics, mathematics, biology, environmental science or medicine. The following are degree programs that you can consider:
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    • Get a bachelor’s of science degree in public health. This 4-year degree at an accredited university is likely to focus on a number of aspects of public health, such as administration, health information management and environmental science. This is an excellent degree program if you want to go on to be a doctor, nurse, dentist, social worker or physical therapist. This is a good course of study if you want to be involved in management.
    • Get a bachelor’s of science degree in epidemiology. This highly specialized scientific field works in both clinical and research positions to study and isolate possible epidemics. You can seek a research job with a bachelor’s degree, but you may want to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology to improve your job prospects.
    • Seek a degree in environmental science. Environmentalists are employed at the state and federal levels in both research and field functions. They study threats on public health.
    • Seek a degree in behavioral science. This scientific degree features elements of human behavior and psychology as well as the effects of bad behaviors on health. Behavioral scientists study how the way we act determines our health, adding to information about the causes of major diseases, such as diabetes, strokes, cancer and heart disease.
    • Consider a degree in medicine, law, nursing, dentistry or nutrition. Although you do not have to go into public health if you complete these degrees, you can choose to practice in a public health setting.
    • Other professions that require a bachelor’s, but not a master’s degree, include policy advisor, health educator, health journalist, health communications specialist, local health officer and preparedness specialist.
  3. Volunteer for a health-related charity, hospice or medical facility while you are in school. This experience shows a passion for health and health improvement. It can also subject you to some of the pressures of a career in medical health.
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  4. Boost your public health experience by seeking an internship in the local, state or federal government. Look for internships at agencies such as the Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency or a job with a legislator.
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  5. Seek a master’s or doctorate degree. Some career paths, such as medicine, epidemiology, behavioral science and dentistry require that students complete graduate degrees. You can choose to get a job in the public health sector and return to school later, or continue right into your degree.
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    • People who are interested in being a corporate medical director, laboratory director or another high level administrative role should consider a master’s degree in public health. In these 1 to 2 year programs, you are required to demonstrate a high level of knowledge of issues affecting public health and prove your ability to find solutions.
  6. Apply for an entry-level role in your field. The first place to check for jobs is your city and state governments. Look for job titles that include “specialist,” “researcher,” or “research assistant.”
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  7. Consider moving to a larger political area, such as a county seat, state capital or Washington D.C. If you want to work as a public health lawyer, policy advisor, epidemiologist or disease specialist, you may need to move to a public health hub, where there are many government agencies.
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  8. Apply for a mid-level position if you have completed a master’s or doctoral degree. This academic experience may allow you to skip forward a few steps on the employment ladder; however, you will need to complete many years of public health experience in order to take on a senior role. You may need to move to an agency location to take on this role.
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  9. Seek a leadership position in your agency or department. Public health professionals who have years of experience in the field can be promoted to senior positions where they publish results, educate the public or manage public health initiatives.
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[Edit]Things You’ll Need

  • High school diploma
  • Bachelor’s degree in scientific field
  • Master’s degree in public health or other specialty
  • Entry-level research or assistant position
  • Volunteer
  • Internship

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