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We Ask the Experts for Public Health Career Advice

Public health is not about being a doctor, nurse, or other clinical healthcare provider.

When you work in public health, you address health at a community level to improve the lives of hundreds to millions of people at a time. You could be developing or advocating for new policies, collecting and analyzing data, designing or implementing programs, developing treatments and vaccines, creating marketing and communication campaigns, or a variety of other work. 

But the core of the field is working to improve health outcomes, which includes addressing the societal and systemic factors that lead to improved health.

Three public health career services experts from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health’s member institutions offered their takes on why you should consider public health and how to pursue a career in the field:

Ruthann Haffke

Career Counselor and Coach, Former Director of Career Services, University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health

What advice would you give someone considering a career in public health?

Now more than ever, the need for public health professionals is represented in the news daily. Public health issues are getting national attention, funding, and encouragement for timely, creative problem solving.

What kinds of industries do public health workers enter?

Academia, biotechnology, data sciences, healthcare consulting, environmental health, government, health tech/startups, healthcare systems (hospitals/HMOs/clinics/insurance), global public health, nonprofits.

What do you think the future landscape of jobs in public health holds? Expected job growth?

Growth areas for public health will be in: all levels of government as an aging workforce needs to be replaced as employees retire, and new policies are developed and implemented; industrial hygiene (worker safety is a priority for business and their customers); and public health labs (pharmacy and biotech for testing, vaccinations, medications, and cures).

What attributes make someone a good fit for a career  in public health? What makes someone successful in the field?

Being motivated by making a positive difference in the world and enjoying tackling tough problems. Self-motivated, persistent, creative thinkers who can work with a wide variety of people.

What additional insight would you share with someone about public health?

Hiring is continuing to happen in the field! The needs are many and great.

Heather Krasna

Assistant Dean of Career Services, Columbia University School of Public Health; Co-Author, “101+ Careers in Public Health”

What advice would you give someone considering a career in public health?

A commitment to preventing illness and promoting wellness, combined with a passion for changing challenging underlying societal problems to do so, is a prerequisite for a career in public health. Public health is one of the most meaningful career paths available and allows diverse options for different people.

What kinds of industries do public health workers enter?

Government, nonprofit organizations, hospitals, universities and research institutes, global health (NGOs, UN agencies), consulting, pharmaceuticals, tech startups, insurance companies.

What do you think the future landscape of jobs in public health holds? Expected job growth?

Many of the occupations within public health, specifically biostatistician, health educator, health program manager, healthcare/medical care management, social and human services director, and so on, are among the fastest growing occupations in the United States. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be one of the only fields that is growing now.

What attributes make someone a good fit for a career  in public health? What makes someone successful in the field?

You have to be passionate about public health. Many career pathways won’t make you rich. Commitment to being the unsung hero who keeps people from getting sick, rarely getting the limelight or credit, is important. And public health is science-based. Being able to understand research, statistics, data analytics, survey design, and so forth, is critical to success. Empathy and strong communication skills are also important.

Katherine Brumfield

Senior Career Services Specialist, Colorado School of Public Health

What do you think the future landscape of jobs in public health holds? Expected job growth?

I think we are going to see more private companies hiring occupational health and wellness professionals. I also think health departments will need larger teams of public health practitioners, especially in emergency response and preparedness. I think we could see an increase in consulting positions as well.

What attributes make someone a good fit for a career  in public health? What makes someone successful in the field?

Motivation to improve health for all, driven to solve problems, adaptability to change, and willingness to collaborate and work on interdisciplinary teams.

What additional insight would you share with someone about public health?

Public health careers are very rewarding and not often recognized. When considering a career in public health, remember there are lots of ways you can show up. For example, do you want to dig into research and collect and analyze the data? Or do you want to work with communities to create and implement programs? Or do you want to improve policies? Or do you want to address environmental factors that impact health? We need all of these lenses in public health, but how do you want to show up?

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