The work of public health professionals is extremely important to both local communities and the world at large. If you have a passion for helping others and improving the lives and health of people around you, you may be interested in the crucial field of public health.
What Is Public Health?
Public health is defined as the science and art of protecting and improving the health of communities where people live, learn, work, play and pray.1 Preventing health problems before they occur, promoting health and wellness, and analyzing how genetics, behaviors and environment affect human health are all goals of public health professionals.
Some healthcare professionals work with individuals after problems arise, such as illness, injury or other concerns. Public health professionals, on the other hand, often work with people to help prevent these health issues in a variety of settings. Industry professionals focus on preventing disease and injury and promoting health by:
- Implementing health education programs
- Tracking and monitoring disease outbreaks
- Developing policies
- Administering healthcare services
- Conducting research
- Regulating healthcare systems
The Importance of Public Health
Every community benefits from public health educators who help promote healthy behaviors that prevent disease and reduce healthcare costs. The public health industry is important because it helps us to live healthier, longer and better lives.
Public Health in Daily Life
Each of us puts public health principles into practice on a daily basis, regardless of whether we are aware of it. The regular health choices we make are science-based solutions to health problems.2
Brushing your teeth daily helps to prevent cavities and tooth decay. Putting on your seatbelt whenever you get into a car protects you from injury in the event of an accident. Getting your flu shot helps to prevent the spread of disease. All of these common practices affect public health.
Is Public Health a Good Career Choice?
For those who aspire to make a change in people’s lives, a career in healthcare and public health can be extremely rewarding. But before making a decision about this field, it can be helpful to understand public health degree options and the careers that are available in this field.
The Benefits of a Public Health Degree
Completing a public health program gives you the knowledge and skills needed to effect change in important health topics and issues such as tobacco use, HIV/AIDS, cancer, mental health, vaccinations, employee health and safety, nutrition and healthcare reform.
Although you will likely start by earning a bachelor’s degree, due to the more advanced nature of challenges and systems in this profession, many careers in this field require a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree for both entry and advancement. This degree program will teach you the following core skills and qualities you need to succeed in any public health career.
- Communication: Effective written and verbal skills are essential for virtually all professionals in this field.
- Analytical, assessment and problem-solving skills: Many roles in this industry require skills in analyzing health-related issues within the community and supporting programs that help address the issues.
- Leadership and interpersonal skills: Companies are always looking for professionals who can successfully lead teams to meet their goals and objectives.
- Cultural competency: This field serves diverse communities and populations, so it’s important to be able to show trust, fairness and respect for cultural differences.
- Research/data analysis: Whether you are in a data analysis position or need to conduct research, a Master of Public Health degree will give you the critical thinking skills to summarize findings and report them to different stakeholders through various channels (such as presentations, reports and brochures).
Common Public Health Jobs
You can work in a wide range of areas with a degree in public health, including social and behavioral health, environmental health, maternal and child health, health services administration, epidemiology and biostatistics.
The following are a few examples of careers that may be held by those with an interest in public health:
- Health education specialists
- Community health workers
- Health specialties teachers
- Public health nurses
- Medical and health services managers
- Nursing instructors and teachers
Gaining Public Health Experience
Before getting your master’s degree, you may want to gain some firsthand experience in the field and learn more about the different areas and what public health professionals do. The sooner you start building connections and experience, the better your chances of finding a job in your preferred field after graduation. Here are a few ideas to help get you started in your search.
Volunteering is a great way to get started in the public health field. There are many organizations looking for dedicated volunteers, including:
- Health clinics and hospitals: Work on an immunization program, in a reproductive clinic or on a wellness challenge program.
- Nonprofit organizations: Provide ongoing or disaster-relief services to the public with organizations such as the American Red Cross.
- Local health departments or federal agencies: Help provide direct support services to your own community or on a national scale with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO).
- Public service organizations: Offer specific services to various communities throughout the United States or the world. Well-known public service organizations that are looking for volunteers include the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America and PATH.
Internships give you the opportunity to work with public health organizations to gain experience and help advance your career. There are many factors to consider when looking for an internship, including location, services provided, whether the program is open to students and what level of students can apply. There are many internship opportunities, especially for those with an advanced public health degree. Because opportunities vary widely, it is important to take your time when reviewing your options.
Short-Term Contracted Positions
If you have already started your career or are interested in gaining knowledge and skills in a specific area within the field, you may want to consider a short-term, contracted position. The CDC, for example, offers both paid and unpaid positions that can last from just two weeks to one year in length, depending on the position.3
If you are interested in a career in public health, explore Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, which offers a Master of Public Health degree that can provide you with the knowledge and skills to make an impact in your community. To learn more about bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public health at GCU, click on the Request Info button.
1 CDC Foundation, What Is Public Health? in June 2021
2 American Public Health Association (APHA), What Is Public Health? in June 2021
3 CDC Foundation, Interested in Enhancing Your Public Health Career? in April 2021
Approved by Associate Dean for Graduate programs College of Nursing & Healthcare Professions on Nov. 7, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.