September 30, 2014

As one of the leading resources of its kind, Best Public Health Schools is committed to helping you get started as you consider and pursue a career in public health and related areas.

What does a Public Health Professional Do?

Understanding the typical role and responsibilities of a health professional may help you to determine which field is right for you. Although many careers in public health involve specializing, the following is a description of the general roles and responsibilities involved in a specific public health profession. An epidemiologist, aka a “disease detective,” researches the distribution of diseases in human populations and creates reports on disease risk.

Many subspecialties exist within this profession, including chronic disease epidemiology, environmental or occupational epidemiology, to name a few. It is often said that in order to be a successful epidemiologist, one must have an inquisitive mind and be able to interact with people across the spectrum of public health professions. A health educator, on the other hand, designs, facilitates and implements educational programs.

What Kinds of Training and Education are Required?

Because there are a variety of careers available in public health, the necessary education and training will vary accordingly. For instance, careers in epidemiology and biostatistics will require at least a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics, whereas an environmental health professional must have a comparable degree in the sciences. Specifically, a strong science background is essential for anyone interested in a career in environmental science, and one might even consider getting a Master’s in Public Health. Likewise, the fastest way to a career in epidemiology is to obtain a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology. Some individuals go on to earn a doctorate in epidemiology (PhD) or public health (DrPH), while others attend a 2-year training program offered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS). The EIS recruits MDs, PhDs, veterinarians, nurses, pharmacists and occasionally laboratorians to participate in the intense training program. On the other hand, a math or science degree is not absolutely necessary if you are interested in a career in health administration or health education. In fact, for these professions, degrees in business management and behavioral science may be more useful. Consider evaluating our list of the Top 10 Online Public Health Degree Programs.

Do You Have What it Takes?

Consequently, the best candidates for a career in health education have an interest in pedagogy and a talent for understanding cross-cultural differences and how to communicate most effectively within a diverse community. The major role of an environmental health professional is to identify the critical environmental exposures which may adversely affect human health. If you have a strong science background and enjoy problem-solving, a career in environmental health may be right for you. Like epidemiology, environmental health has many options for the practitioner looking to specialize. Toxicology is a busy subspecialty which includes both bench and field scientists who perform environmental evaluations and conduct research to minimize the adverse impact human activity has on the environment. Additionally, environmental health professionals may specialize in public policy, where they will be be involved in the drafting of proposals for environmental legislation, or community planning.

Finally, while health education itself is a distinct career path in public health, many public health professionals eventually work in academia, training and instructing the future generation of public health professionals.