What Can You Do with a Master’s Degree in Public Health?

Public health is the driving force behind efforts to promote wellness, prevent disease and encourage healthy behavior. Anyone seeking evidence of public health’s importance needs to look no further than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Public health functions, such as studying disease and the factors that affect it, supporting health care policy, and communicating about health and safety practices, have been front and center as the world grapples with preventing and treating the coronavirus. Public health is behind other efforts that protect and enhance the health of all people as well — from delivering community health programs, to exploring geography’s impact on health outcomes, to advocating for practices that reduce disease and discourage unhealthy practices.

A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree can help students advance in various careers in this field to make a broad impact in health care efforts. Those asking, “What can you do with a master’s degree in public health?” should examine the professional roles in which the degree can help them excel.

An epidemiologist analyzes data on a computer.

Careers for Master’s Degree in Public Health Graduates

Leadership roles in planning, implementing and evaluating public health programs rely on the knowledge and skills that students can gain through an MPH degree. This knowledge helps master’s in public health degree graduates address what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes as “essential public health services”: work that emphasizes the well-being of everyone in a community by removing barriers such as ableism, poverty and racism.

MPH programs’ traditional focus on solving problems, improving lives, addressing health care issues and conducting research can set the stage for a range of career options. MPH graduates are equipped to provide essential public health services by focusing on areas such as:

  • Biostatistics
  • Community health
  • Epidemiology
  • Geographic health patterns (GeoHealth)
  • Global health
  • Public policy

The following are among the potential careers for MPH graduates:

Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who study patterns and causes of disease and injury. Through research, community education and public health policy, they aim to lower the risk and lessen the rate of poor health outcomes. They often specialize in an area of public health, such as:

  • Disease
  • Injury
  • Environmental health
  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Genetic and molecular epidemiology
  • Maternal and child health
  • Mental health
  • Veterinary epidemiology

Epidemiologist Job Duties

Epidemiologists’ job tasks range from securing research funding to communicating with health care professionals and policymakers about their findings. They may perform tasks such as studying demographic information to uncover risk factors for a certain disease or monitoring trends in how patients respond to treatment to address specific health conditions.

Their duties include the following:

  • Planning and leading studies of public health problems
  • Gathering and analyzing data to find the source of disease
  • Sharing research results with the medical community, government officials and the public
  • Supervising public health personnel
  • Writing grant proposals for research funding

Epidemiologist Workplaces

Epidemiologists generally work in applied public health or research. Applied epidemiologists often have government roles, conducting education outreach and surveys. Research epidemiologists often work in higher education or with federal agencies, such as the CDC or National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Some epidemiologists perform research for private companies, including those focused on health insurance or pharmaceuticals. Others work in public health advocacy for nonprofit organizations.

Health Educator

Becoming a health educator is another example of what you can do with a master’s degree in public health. Professionals in this role teach people about healthy behaviors, devising approaches to enhance the well-being of communities. For example, they may plan blood pressure screenings or conduct classes about quitting smoking.

Their roles vary based on where they work. In its overview of the profession, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes three types of health educators based on their place of work.

Health Educator at a Health Care Facility

At health care facilities, health educators may work with patients or medical professionals. Their duties may include the following:

  • Developing and conducting surveys to inform the education outreach efforts of the health care facilities
  • Providing information to patients and their loved ones about a health diagnosis or potential treatments
  • Training medical staff in ways to effectively communicate with patients

Health Educator for a Nonprofit Organization

Health educators who work for nonprofit organizations lead programs and create materials to improve the well-being of residents of their communities. Among their duties are:

  • Assisting the organizations in securing funding for health care education
  • Developing public health materials for the appropriate audience, according to the organizations’ focus
  • Informing policymakers about public health issues

Health Educator at a Public Health Department

Health educators who work for public health departments may perform tasks for their departments as well as in collaboration with other individuals or organizations. Among their duties are:

  • Assisting with developing public policies on health and wellness
  • Creating materials about healthy practices to share with their communities
  • Developing workplace programs that encourage healthy behaviors, such as exercising or eating healthy foods, among employees
  • Establishing campaigns about public health issues, such as vaccinations or preparations for health emergencies
  • Managing grants and grant-supported public health projects

Data Analyst

Public health data analysts evaluate numbers and other data to help organizations make better decisions about their programs. Public health data analysts typically work in the public sector, reviewing program data that lends insight into the following aspects of public health initiatives:

  • Areas to strengthen in an existing program
  • Needs to address in a new program
  • Outcomes of a current program
  • Effectiveness of a program’s rollout

For example, a public health data analyst may produce reports about whether an immunization program met its goals for encouraging participation. Another example is that the data analyst may reveal the staff training needed to successfully implement a public health project.

Health Promotion Specialist

Health promotion specialists work with organizations, communities, schools and hospitals to educate them about their role in promoting good health. Their work duties may include the following:

  • Developing partnerships with community leaders and organizations to identify best practices for providing health information
  • Advising policymakers about effective strategies for educating the public about health issues
  • Teaching communities about health issues, such as obesity or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

Health Coordinator

Health coordinator is another example of careers you can pursue with a master’s degree in public health. Professionals in this role work in health care facilities to help manage patient care.

Health Coordinator Job Duties

The work of health coordinators varies, but among the key tasks generally associated with the role are:

  • Collaborating with other health professionals or facilities to ensure enhance patient care
  • Coordinating training for new employees
  • Developing work schedules for medical facilities
  • Discussing health concerns with patients and their loved ones
  • Educating patients about treatment plans, including medication or procedures
  • Investigating ways to improve patient treatment
  • Managing the finances of medical facilities

Health Coordinator Workplaces

Health coordinators typically work in office settings. Among the facilities where they typically work are:

  • Clinics
  • Government offices
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Schools

Program Director

Program directors lead programs for public health organizations, with responsibilities including program planning and development as well as providing education services. Among the duties of a public health program director are:

  • Developing budgets
  • Directing the use of grants and research results
  • Ensuring that public health services comply with professional standards and regulatory requirements
  • Leading business planning
  • Managing staff operations
  • Planning and leading disease management efforts

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts who work in public health are responsible for examining the effectiveness of current policies and informing the development of new programs and legislation. Working primarily with government agencies and nonprofit organizations, they evaluate the ways public health programs affect communities and determine how to improve those programs. Among the duties of this position are:

  • Reviewing and revising public health policy drafts
  • Proposing policy changes that can enhance outcomes
  • Working with individuals from other public health organizations to set policy goals

Salary for Master’s Degree in Public Health Degree Careers

Another consideration when researching what to do with a master’s degree in public health is salary potential. In general, a master’s degree in any discipline typically translates to higher earnings and lower unemployment, according to the BLS. For example, in 2019, master’s degree graduates overall had median earnings that were nearly $250 more each week than the median earnings of their counterparts whose highest level of education was a bachelor’s degree.

Factors That Affect Public Health Salaries

Salaries for master’s in public health degree careers vary significantly by profession. As with most job fields, various factors affect salaries for public health professionals, including the following:

  • Experience
  • Location
  • Training
  • Organizational policies for establishing pay levels

Public health roles typically call for an understanding of threats to public health, good communication and organizational skills, and problem-solving ability. Aptitude in these areas can affect advancement and salaries in these positions. Additionally, for some roles, obtaining licensing and certifications can increase salary potential. Health educators, for example, can earn a designation as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), offered through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC).

Salaries for Public Health Roles

The salaries of experienced professionals in the top range of earners for some of the public health roles listed above are as follows:

  • BLS data shows that the highest 10% of earners made $126,040 or more as of May 2020.
  • Health educator. BLS data shows that the highest 10% of earners made $70,790 or more as of May 2020.
  • Data analyst. PayScale reports that the highest 10% of earners made $92,000 or more as of August 2021.
  • Health coordinator. PayScale reports that the highest 10% of earners made $67,000 or more as of July 2021.
  • Program director. PayScale reports that the highest 10% of earners made $141,000 or more as of July 2021.
  • Policy analyst. PayScale reports that the highest 10% of salaries for this career were $89,000 or more as of May 2021.

Job Outlook for Master’s in Public Health Degree Careers

Graduates with a master’s degree in public health have many career options in areas that the BLS projects will have faster-than-average job growth between 2019 and 2029. Population changes and pandemic concerns are among the reasons for the strong master’s degree in public health job outlook.

Growing Demand for Public Health Professionals

The BLS predicts the job growth rate in health care overall will be 15% between 2019 and 2029. This category of careers is expected to add about 2.4 million jobs, more than any other category. The BLS anticipates the job growth rate for community and social service occupations to be 12% for the same period, an expansion that represents 348,600 additional jobs.

The BLS also provides job growth projections for the master’s in public health degree careers of epidemiologists and health educators, with faster-than-average growth anticipated for both roles. It projects epidemiologist jobs will grow by 5% from 2019 to 2029, and health educator jobs by 11%. This growth reflects 400 additional jobs for epidemiologists and 7,100 additional jobs for health educators.

For comparison, the BLS projects an average job growth of 4% for all professions it tracks.

Reasons for Public Health Job Growth

Health care professionals will be in greater demand largely because of an aging population that’s creating a need for more medical services. The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) notes that people age 65 and older are anticipated to account for 25% of the U.S. population by 2060, compared with 15% in 2016. This trend toward an older population means an increased risk of health challenges, from arthritis to dementia.

Another reason for the positive job outlook for those with a master’s degree in public health is the need for leaders to address the ongoing health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the systemic issues it’s exposed. For example, some COVID survivors have experienced long-term damage to their brain, heart and lungs. Additionally, the American Medical Association (AMA) notes that the pandemic has had the greatest impact on marginalized populations, creating demand for public health professionals to address these inequities.

For the specific public health jobs the BLS tracks — namely, epidemiologist and health educator — factors driving the increasing demand include an added emphasis on improving health outcomes and reducing medical costs as well as a focus on safety control measures.

Make Your Impact on Public Health

A master’s degree in public health can be the springboard to advancing in various careers. If you’re ready to make a greater impact on public health and in health care, explore the USC Master of Public Health online degree program. The program offers a broad range of concentrations that can prepare you to excel in any of the many public health fields. Concentrations include the following:

  • Biostatistics and Epidemiology
  • Community Health Promotion
  • Generalist
  • Global Health
  • GeoHealth
  • Health Services and Policy

At USC, you can develop your public health expertise online, from world-renowned faculty at a top-ranked medical school. Discover how the USC Master of Public Health online degree program can help you achieve your career goals.

 

 

Recommended Readings

Choosing a Public Health Concentration: What You Need to Know
MPH Student Uses Models to Promote Public Health Awareness
What You Need to Know About Contract Tracing

 

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