"I didn’t plan to be in this field, but now I can’t imagine being in anything else," says Crystal Cozier, a student pursuing a master's in public health (MPH) at the University of Texas School of Public Health. That's not an unusual sentiment among public health workers, whose efforts save lives and promote healthfulness for millions of people in communities around the world.
Students in the University of Texas program complete a practicum (an internship-like field experience that typically focuses on a single research question). Cozier's involved spending a summer in the Republic of Zambia working with the Ministry of Health. She helped set up a program to introduce better screening methods for cervical cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death among Zambia’s women. One of the highlights of her experience was attending a chiefs' indaba, a gathering of hundreds of traditional leaders who can help support the ministry’s public health outreach. Asked what she learned from the experience, Cozier replied: "Local context is so important, and the wealth of knowledge in communities is so rich."
It’s life-changing work like this that makes many master's in public health students passionate about their chosen career path. Public health careers allow practitioners to make real change in society and for individuals, both at home and around the world.
In the U.S., public health jobs are particularly relevant to societal change, since the healthcare sector is projected to make up nearly 20 percent of GDP by 2025 and currently employs more workers than any other part of the U.S. economy. Healthcare is also a field in transformation, with new technology changing the way caregivers deliver care and patients relate to their health.
What is an MPH degree? An MPH degree typically takes two years to complete. It covers a range of topics related to the spread of disease, administration of health services, healthcare planning, and the social and cultural context of health. Curricula are likely to include courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental science, behavioral science, health services administration, health economics, health policy, and research ethics, among other topics. Unlike a Master of Science, which is considered an academic degree continuing to a PhD, a Master of Public Health degree is usually a terminal professional degree; those who complete it often end their educations and enter the professional world upon graduation.
Who gets a public health degree? Those with an undergraduate degree in social sciences like economics, political science, or sociology are well-suited to an MPH degree, but students with other backgrounds successfully pursue this degree. Some students enroll in an MPH to augment their education after completing a master’s degree or PhD in another subject.
What are the admissions requirements? MPH applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree and a GRE or MCAT score. Some programs require applicants to have completed college-level coursework in mathematics, statistics, and/or science. Some programs prefer students to have a few years of related work experience before applying.
MPH graduates enjoy a broad range of career choices. Jobs open to those holding a master's in public health include the following:
Epidemiologist. A career as an epidemiologist involves investigating patterns of disease and injury, educating the community on health risks, and working to inform health policy with evidenced-based research. These socially minded professionals dedicate their careers to reducing the risk and occurrence of disease in communities.
Epidemiologists can expect to make a median annual salary of $69,660, with pay ranging from around $43,000 to more than $113,000. Those working in scientific research and development services and in hospitals make the best incomes. Job growth in epidemiology is expected to be around 9 percent between 2016 and 2026, slightly faster than the average for all U.S. occupations.
Health policy analyst. Working in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, political organizations, and think tanks, health policy analysts develop, analyze, and sometimes implement health policy ideas and proposals. Qualitative and quantitative research allows them to discern the effects of specific health policies on demographic groups and communities, assess the potential outcomes of proposed policy solutions, and implement policy directives effectively.
Salaries for health policy analysts average around $60,000, with a range from $44,000 to $80,000. Health policy analysts who reach the senior levels of federal government social services agencies can make more than $100,000.
Public health lobbyist. Lobbyists, whom the Bureau of Labor Statistics groups with public relations specialists, are professionals who work to influence government policy. Public health lobbyists ensure that legislators are informed of the public health consequences of existing and proposed laws.
Public relations specialists can expect to make a median salary of $59,300 per year, though pay ranges widely from around $33,000 to more than $112,000. Public health lobbyists working at the federal and state levels can expect to earn in the middle of this range. For example, a recent SimplyHired search indicated that a Congressional lobbyist for the American College of Surgeons earns between $40,000 and $56,000 a year and that a state affairs specialist with the American Physical Therapy Association makes an annual salary of between $47,000 and $63,000. The job outlook for this occupation is solid, as the healthcare industry is a major sector of our economy and healthcare legislation is continuously in flux.
International aid worker. These intrepid professionals provide aid, food, medical care, and other needed assistance to underserved people around the world. Aid workers are usually on the frontlines of public health crises like disease outbreaks, famines, and natural disasters. They may also perform development and reconstruction work in countries and communities targeted for international assistance.
Aid worker salaries may seem low at first glance, but these jobs typically come with benefits like field allowances, accommodations, and generous leave and R&R. International aid worker pay typically ranges around $25,000 to $55,000 for humanitarian agencies but can be quite a bit higher for aid workers with governments or multilateral organizations. Aid workers are consistently in demand as the humanitarian need continues to grow in various areas of the world.
Health educator. Health educators work with government agencies, healthcare systems, and social services providers to serve a range of populations and ameliorate a variety of health concerns. They develop and implement wellness-promotion strategies and programs and work with specific communities to address health concerns.
Health educators can expect a median annual salary of $53,940, with incomes ranging from $31,500 to $97,000. The occupation is growing robustly, with employment in this field expected to increase 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, more than twice as fast as the average for U.S. occupations.
Biostatistician. Biostatisticians apply statistical analysis to medical-, health-, and other biology-related subjects to draw conclusions from the data in order to help solve real-world problems. They are most likely to find work with the federal government, research companies, and healthcare institutions.
Statisticians are well-compensated, making a median annual salary of $84,060, with salaries ranging from around $50,000 to more than $130,000. Employment prospects for statisticians are likely to grow 33 percent between 2016 to 2026, almost five times as fast as the average U.S. occupation.
Medical Writer. Medical writers conduct research and develop materials about medical or healthcare topics for various audiences. They may work as independent contractors or they may be employees of pharmaceutical or medical equipment companies, healthcare systems or providers, or government agencies. They produce articles, reports, manuals, training materials, and educational papers related to specific fields within medicine and healthcare.
Medical writers earn an average of $71,000 per year, with wages reaching up to $136,000 for those with more than 20 years of experience. Job growth for medical writers is expected to be just about on par with average growth for U.S. occupations.
MPH degrees provide the chance to apply health-related theoretical knowledge to real-world problems and allow graduates to build careers at the forefront of health and medical progress. MPH graduates are situated for fulfilling careers that include complex challenges and the chance to improve lives in profound ways.
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