Public Health Professions: Education and Career Information

Education programs for public health professionals are generally offered at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Public health professionals work to prevent the spread of disease, promote safe workplaces, and ensure the safety of people within communities. Epidemiologists, occupational safety and health specialists and health educators are all public health professionals. These jobs all require a bachelor's degree or higher.

Essential Information

Public health professionals focus on the health care of an entire community or population rather than on individuals. Bachelor's degrees are a necessity for these professionals, and master's degrees and above are often required. Several specializations and career paths are available, including epidemiology, occupational safety and health, and health education.

Career Epidemiologist Occupational Safety and Health Specialist Health Educator
Education Requirements Master's degree or higher Bachelor's degree or higher Bachelor's degree or higher
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $69,450 $70,210 $51,960
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% 4% 12%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Careers in public health include epidemiologists who study the origins and spread of disease, occupational health and safety professionals who investigate and monitor worker health, and health educators who help people understand health issues.

Epidemiologist

Education

Epidemiologists must earn at least a master's degree in epidemiology, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Science Education. Those working in research or in medical facilities may need a doctoral degree. The NIH states that undergraduate degrees in biological sciences are beneficial for students wanting to become epidemiologists.

Graduate degree curriculum in epidemiology teaches biostatistics, epidemiologic methods, research strategies, health law and scientific writing. Students can take electives that concentrate on a specific specialty within epidemiology, such as cancer epidemiology, reproductive epidemiology or cardiopulmonary epidemiology.

Job Description

Epidemiologists work in medical and research facilities where they study and manage infectious diseases. These infection control professionals consult with doctors to diagnose, treat and control contagious diseases. They create protocol for dealing with certain diseases and inform public health officials about outbreaks.

Job Duties

Epidemiologists conduct research on various diseases to determine their origin, risk factors, life cycle and spreading habits. They report their findings to health officials and the public. Epidemiologists are called upon in hospitals to inform hospital staff on how to identify and handle transmissible diseases. They also aid in public health programs that focus on infectious diseases.

Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that epidemiologist earned a median annual income of $69,450 in May 2015 (www.bls.gov). The highest paying industries for epidemiologists were scientific research and development, insurance carriers and hospitals.

Occupational Safety and Health Specialist

Education

The BLS states that occupational safety and health specialists typically earn a bachelor's degree in occupational health, safety or a related field. A master's degree is sometimes required for certain positions. Curriculum for a bachelor's degree in occupational safety and health includes fire prevention, hazardous materials, safety management, chemistry and toxicology. The BLS also reports that practical experience is important for graduates entering the job field, and selecting degree programs that offer internships can be beneficial.

Job Description

Occupational safety and health specialists investigate workplaces to ensure they're safe and healthy. They often travel to various work settings such as offices, construction sites, factories and mines to ensure that employees are able to perform their duties safely and effectively.

Duties

Occupational safety and health specialists investigate employee complaints regarding working conditions and perform routine checks. They investigate accidents to determine the cause and implement ways to prevent future accidents. While inspecting a work site, they check equipment to ensure it's working properly, look to see that safety procedures are implemented and collect samples of dust, vapors, gas and other materials to test their toxicity. Occupational safety and health specialists develop and update safety strategies and hold meetings with employees to inform them of these strategies.

Salary

In May 2015, occupational safety and health specialists made an annual median income of $70,210, reported the BLS. Large private firms and government agencies are most often where occupational health and safety specialists find employment.

Health Educators

Education

A bachelor's degree in health education may suffice for an entry-level health education position, but many employers require candidates to have graduate degrees, according to the BLS. Curriculum in health education typically includes courses in the U.S. health care system, public health policy, risk assessment, biostatistics, epidemiology, program development and behavioral research. Students also gain practical experience under the guidance of a certified teacher.

Job Description

Health educators inform the public on ways to live a healthy life. They develop and execute strategies to help them meet their goals.

Duties

Health educators consult with health specialists to determine the most serious health issues facing a community. They come up with ideas for rectifying those problems. They create and implement community health programs, distribute educational information, teach workshops, organize health screenings and give lectures. Health educators network with key figures in public health care to aid in their goals.

Acquiring funding through grants and other financial means is often part of a health educator's job. After implementing a health education program, health educators evaluate the program's success. Employers of health educators include government agencies, medical facilities, schools and colleges. In medical facilities, they help patients and their families understand diagnoses and the treatments involved. Health educators working at colleges reach out to young adults and discuss relevant health issues such as safe sex and drugs.

Salary

The median annual salary for health educators in May 2015 was $51,960, according to the BLS. Among the highest paying industries for health educators were general medical and surgical hospitals, the executive branch of the U.S. government and specialty hospitals.

Epidemiologists study infectious diseases and assist with the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. Health educators inform communities about potential health risks, steps people can take to minimize exposure to illness or injury, and may also provide health screenings for the public, while occupational safety and health specialists focus on ensuring employers maintain a safe working environment to minimize the risks of employee illness or injury.

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