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Infectious Diseases

8 Key Facts About Working in Public Health

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, public health is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Could a career in this field be right for you?

It’s certainly an industry that has lasting relevance. After all, even when infections of the novel coronavirus subside, there will still be other pathogens circulating, and thus more lives that need protecting. 

Following is a primer on what it takes to work in public health, and what it could mean for you and the rest of the world. 

You may be surprised to learn that this career doesn’t only involve working in policy or research. In fact, there are many avenues that provide the opportunity to effect positive change through these careers.

1. There are more than a few paths you can take

The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) notes several fields of study in this realm. They include biostatics and informatics, community health, environmental health, epidemiology, health policy and management, and minority health and health disparities.

2. Accredited public health programs can help set you up for success

So you think you want to work in public health? As a first step, consider pursuing an education from a public health program with accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). You can search for programs in your area on the CEPH website. 

3. Clinical health and public health are different things

The ASPPH calls out one key difference between these fields: The former focuses on treatment while the latter focuses on prevention. If you are interested in tending to those who are already ill, consider a medical field instead. 

4. Even before you begin your studies, you can get experience

Consider working for or volunteering at a health institution that can help you determine whether this field is right for you. Options include hospitals and clinics, your local health department, public health organizations like the American Red Cross, and nonprofits that focus on public health policy or advocacy.

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5. Some unexpected undergraduate degrees can translate to a career in public health

Take a math or science degree, for instance. These fields of study may lead you to a job in epidemiology or biostatistics, notes the ASPPH. Similarly, anthropology, psychology, or sociology may prime you for a career in behavioral sciences or health education. 

One thing you should never compromise on, though, is sharpening your communication skills, the ASPPH advises. The ability to convey information clearly will be paramount no matter which field you choose. 

6. After finishing your studies, you could end up at a number of different types of companies

For example, you may work at a pharmaceutical company, a nonprofit, a government agency, a university, or a clinic or hospital, notes the ASPPH.  

7. Working in public health touches on multiple areas of society

According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), your career has the potential to do so much more than simply prevent disease and promote health. For example, a public health career might aim to combat climate change, encourage healthy behaviors that reduce chronic disease (think helping people cut back on obesity-promoting soda intake or cancer-causing tobacco usage), narrow income inequality (as poverty and poor health can coexist), help set the stage for safer communities, and provide greater social justice to give everyone a say in who governs their communities. 

8. Public health careers save and extend lives

You can feel good about choosing to work in public health. According to the APHA, access to quality healthcare has the potential to add or subtract 15 years from an individual’s life. No matter the specific field of study or career you opt for, know your efforts will help move the needle in the right direction. 

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