Public Health Careers: Job Options and Requirements

Sep 30, 2019

There are many career options for those interested in working in public health. Nutritionists are required to have a bachelor's degree and state license, while health educators need a bachelor's degree in their field and state certification. Health administrators are required to have a bachelor's or master's degree before entering the field.

Essential Information

Public health professionals work in various fields, from nutrition to health administration and education, to better equip their communities with tools to prepare for and prevent potential health threats. They may work on a local, national or global level. Whether conducting research in a lab or in a community, overseeing a hospital or clinic, or educating the public about health issues, public health practitioners may pursue a variety of interests that can benefit communities, large and small.

Career Nutritionist Health Administrator Health Educator
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or Master's degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements State licensure None State certification
Median Annual Salary (2018)* $60,370 $99,730 $54,220
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 11% 18% 10%

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options


Nutritionists encourage the consumption of healthful foods and recommend healthy habits, such as daily exercise, to ensure an individual or community's overall health. They cover topics ranging from diet to disease prevention with their clients. Whether employed with hospitals, nursing homes, clinics or other community resources, nutritionists or dietitians work with an understanding of a community's or individual's culture and lifestyle.

Nutritionists may be employed as community, management or clinical nutritionists or consultants. Community nutritionists work with individuals, families or public health organizations, such as community clinics, to create diet plans based on need. Prisons, hospitals, schools and businesses all require large food service systems. Management nutritionists are tasked with overseeing entire food service operations, from hiring and training staff to coordinating equipment needs and other supplies.

Clinical nutritionists often work in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities. Collaborating with doctors and other health providers, they develop nutrition programs aligned with patients' medical needs. Either as self-employed or contract employees, nutritional consultants may work for health care facilities, athletic teams or individual clients to implement diet or weight-loss programs.

Aspiring nutritionists usually study subjects such as biology, chemistry, nutrition and physiology en route to a bachelor's degree in nutrition or a related field. They also might complete courses in business administration and psychology. According to the BLS, most states require nutritionists to be either licensed, certified or registered, though these requirements may vary. A key certification, though voluntary, is the Registered Dietitian credential offered by the American Dietetic Association. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that dietitians and nutritionists are expected to see 11% job growth from 2018-2028, which is much faster than the average. As of May 2018, the median annual salary for these professionals was $60,370, also according to the BLS.

Health Administrator

Health administrators must balance three key ingredients - business, science and politics - to provide effective services and ensure the sustainability of those services, according to the Association of Schools of Public Health ( A knowledge of or specialization in finance, economics or health policy could be beneficial in the field of health administration.

Health administrators may choose from managing specific departments to overseeing entire hospital systems. For instance, health information managers oversee and ensure the security of patient records. Clinical or departmental managers run specific departments and often practice in the area they manage. A hospital's head of oncology, for example, might be a trained oncologist.

Education and training for health administrators differ depending on the setting, but traditionally, health administrators have a master's degree in health, public administration or business administration. It is possible to obtain a position as a health manager with a bachelor's degree. However, these positions are usually entry-level and in smaller health care facilities.

Job growth for medical and health services managers is expected to be good, at a rate of 18% from 2018-2028, reports the BLS. This rate is much faster than the average rate of growth for all U.S. jobs and almost three times faster than the expected average growth rate for all management occupations across all industries. May 2018 BLS data showed a median salary of $$99,730 for these management professionals.

Health Educator

Health educators are researchers, organizers and facilitators. They continuously work to solve problems, apply research findings and implement programs designed to promote healthful habits in their communities. Health educators usually work in public health organizations, medical facilities, schools and postsecondary institutions. Workplace dictates the duties and means by which health educators interact with and inform their communities. Educators in public health often work for government institutions and are tasked with creating and disseminating information via media and other outlets to the public.

Patients and their families need to know how a particular diagnosis will affect their lives. Educators in medical facilities answer those questions and work with hospital staff to improve staff-patient interactions. Health educators in schools work with students to inform them about and encourage good health practices, in areas including nutrition and mental health.

Many health educators have a master's degree or Ph.D. in public health. Entry-level jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, and students may find that experience gained through internships or volunteering can help them get a job. According to the BLS, employers may insist that their employees take continuing education credits to keep current in their field and may even subsidize the classes. Prospective health educators often enter graduate programs in school, community or public health education.

According to the BLS, 51% of health educators worked in organizations dedicated to health care or social assistance as of 2018. Government agencies accounted for the employment of another 24%. Job growth is expected to be excellent from 2018-2028, with 6,400 new jobs during that time frame, equating to a 10% increase in overall employment. The median salary for these workers was $54,220 as of May 2018.

Public health workers play a vital role in improving community health, stopping the spread of disease, and preventing illness. They may be involved in counseling individuals about healthy lifestyle choices, or educating them about how a diagnosis may affect their day to day life. Job growth is expected to be faster than the national average for public health careers during the next decade.

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