University of Sourthern California


7 Careers in Global Health

Quality health care is a humanitarian issue that impacts the global community. With its potential to influence the futures of individuals, communities and nations, investing in health care can set the course for a country’s future.

Professionals who work in global health careers recognize that illness and diseases spread without respect for boundaries or laws, making it a universal responsibility for all nations to combat them. Through fields ranging from health policy and analysis to epidemiology or primary care, careers in global health care are an intersection between international relations and medicine and have the potential to improve the lives of others both nationwide and internationally.

As a challenging and influential field, a career in global health requires investing in education such as a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, which equips graduates with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions and recommendations. With the right experience and education, graduates have the opportunity to enter a rewarding field while reaching their professional goals.

What Is Global Health?

Health care is a universal need for individuals of all backgrounds, demographics and nationalities. With a study conducted by the Lancet reporting a shortage of approximately 6.4 million physicians to meet goals for universal global health coverage, combining the efforts of multiple industries is essential to improving the lives and health of communities around the world.

The issues that global health care professionals face are far-reaching. While many illnesses and diseases may start small, under the right set of circumstances, they can evolve into health crises or pandemics that impact the lives of millions.

Global health careers prioritize the needs and concerns of low-income and underserved communities. An intersection of professions ranging from science to medicine, research, policy and international relations, global health provides graduates with the opportunity to pursue a career that can make a positive impact on the lives of others on a national and international scale.

Why Pursue a Career in Global Health?

Epidemiologist looks at a testing vial in a lab.

Building a career in global health leadership holds a multitude of opportunities. However, as with any industry, there are many challenges as well.

Whether providing care as a physician or managing and distributing resources as a public health policy administrator, many global health professionals are on the front lines of disasters and health emergencies. These skilled professionals have the potential to not only see their successes first hand, but to impact the future of global health initiatives and care policies, advocating for those who need it most and representing their country on an international stage.

While there is a broad range of careers in global health, many of them feature common advantages including:

  • Travel: Global health careers often involve travel to communities around the world. For professionals who are passionate about experiencing different cultures, global health careers can be a great way to combine their careers with travel that goes beyond tourism.
  • Diverse Work Experience: Working in global health careers and gaining the professional experience to pursue senior roles allows candidates to build valuable leadership skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, organization and communication.
  • Occupational Fulfillment: As an opportunity to dedicate oneself to meaningful work, global health careers are based on pursuing solutions that improve the lives of individuals and communities around the world. While challenging, health care careers can provide professionals with a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Comparatively, some global health career challenges include:

  • Travel: As much as travel is an advantage for many, it can be challenging for those with familial responsibilities or those who would prefer a career with a stable schedule in a set location.
  • Burnout: The health care industry is particularly susceptible to burnout. Caring for others who are in poor health can be incredibly physically and emotionally taxing. Combined with the challenges of working in chronically underserved communities, acting as a care provider can lead to stress, emotional exhaustion and burnout.
  • Barriers to Care: Global health careers involve the coordination and cooperation of professionals across nations and industries. While well-meaning, many care initiatives encounter barriers to operation due to local concerns, international relationships and political challenges, causing frustration and putting projects at a standstill.

Global Health Careers

The field of global health is broad and includes desirable careers for MPH graduates and individuals with a variety of background experiences, strengths and skill sets. From those who are passionate about a career in health care to those who are better suited to policy, research or advocacy, there are global health careers that can suit a range of interests.

1. Health Policy Analyst

As the professionals that make recommendations for future policies and amendments to current programs or regulations, health policy analysts research and develop strategies to improve care outcomes. Working on a small scale within individual hospitals as well as on a larger scale in government organizations, nonprofits or political action committees, policy analysts look at the success of different programs and regulations to find areas of improvement.

According to Payscale, the approximate median annual salary for health policy analysts was $66,500 as of March 2023, with those on the uppermost end of the salary spectrum earning $97,000.

2. Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists are scientists and researchers who examine the causes of diseases and illnesses. The goal of their work is to discover what caused an illness or outbreak in an effort to control it, minimize its recurrence in the future or take steps toward eradication.

A type of detective for diseases and disease prevention, epidemiologists look at the origin and spread of an illness to better understand both how the outbreak could have been avoided as well as the best practices to defeat it.

Working in laboratories, scientific organizations and government agencies, epidemiologists are instrumental in controlling the spread of disease. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), epidemiologists earned an approximate median annual salary of $78,830 as of May 2021, with a projected employment increase of 26% between 2021 and 2031, much higher than the national growth average for all occupations.

3. Global Health Educator

Global health educators specialize in preparing and offering instructional programs on best practices to manage health, disease progression or preventative care. Active in underserved and vulnerable communities around the world, global health educators encounter varying illnesses depending on their location and often manage diseases that have been eradicated in other parts of the world.

Health educators play a key part in disease management and prevention, providing individuals with the tools they need to screen for diseases or administer medication from home. By teaching patients about their illnesses, health educators can restore some of their independence and autonomy, encouraging individuals to take an active part in their health and well-being.

According to the BLS, health education specialists and community health workers earned an approximate median annual salary of $48,860 as of May 2021. With factors such as education, work experience and job location influencing salary, global health educators can compete for higher paying roles by investing in an advanced education.

4. Physician

At the heart of advancements in global health care are the physicians and medical professionals on the ground who provide treatment. Skilled in providing life-changing care to patients of all backgrounds, physicians are key to administering the vaccines, basic care services, medical assessments and medications that are vital to fighting diseases worldwide.

In many cases, physicians are on the front lines when battling the spread of disease, treating patients and conducting research. Through a combination of medical care and advocacy for health care policy, becoming a physician is one of the most influential global health careers.

As of May 2021, the BLS reported that general internal medicine physicians earned a median annual salary of $242,190. Salaries can depend on factors such as job location, work experience and level of education. For graduates looking to pursue a career as a physician, it is important to consider whether they are interested in working for a hospital, government organization or nonprofit, as the type of facility can influence salary.

5. Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical and health services management is a global health career that fulfills a key administrative role. Tasked with planning, coordinating and directing the business activities and administrative tasks of health care providers, medical and health services managers ensure that day-to-day operations run smoothly and that physicians have the resources they need to treat patients.

Global health managers oversee the day-to-day development and monitoring of global health events and risks, mitigate damages and ensure organizations have the necessary resources to handle emergencies.

According to the BLS, medical and health services managers earned a median annual salary of $101,340 as of May 2021. Medical and health services managers play a key role in many health care organizations and can benefit from an advanced education in programs such as a master of public health.

6. Social and Health Program Consultant

Working in coordination with physicians and administrators, social and health program consultants provide organizations and health care institutions with guidance on how to better improve their care programs. Consultants analyze programs to identify what works and what needs improvement and provide solutions.

Social and health program consultants play an instrumental role in improving care programs and achieving positive care outcomes. According to Payscale, the median annual salary for health care consultants was approximately $82,500 as of March 2023.

7. Public Health Lawyer

Public health lawyers support other global health careers by assisting governments and navigating legal requirements. As global health involves providing care across borders, a variety of legal ramifications and processes must be taken into consideration.

Additionally, public health lawyers work within governments and on behalf of organizations such as the World Health Organization on issues such as modifiable risk factors, new laws and regulations relating to health and navigating international policies.

According to the BLS, as of May 2021, lawyers earned a median annual salary of $127,990.

How to Become a Leader in Global Health

The path to global health leadership requires candidates to build extensive experience, show dedication and earn an advanced education. Depending on their field, different programs or certifications can facilitate careers in global health. Some of these include:

Health and Medical Professionals

Careers in the health care industry ranging from nurses and physicians to administrators and public health officials rely on graduates with advanced education to make measured decisions on behalf of others. Following are some of the various degree programs, licensure exams and certifications required for some of these positions.

  • Nurses: Nursing is a multi-tiered profession. Individuals must first become registered nurses (RNs) by earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Those interested in becoming nurse practitioners (NPs) must earn an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing, Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice and pass the relevant exams.
  • Physicians: Physicians must earn a doctorate-level medical degree, complete a medical residency and pass board certification examinations prior to becoming a practicing physician. Physicians who go on to pursue a master’s in public health can combine expertise in public health policy with their medical training to make a notable impact in the lives of underserved patients worldwide.
  • Public Health Advocates: With a foundation in science as well as advanced business and administrative skills, many public health advocates choose to complete a Master of Public Health or Master of Business Administration to compete for leadership roles in health advocacy.

Law, Policy and International Relations

The decisions of lawyers, policy makers and international relations experts can have a long-lasting and significant impact.

  • Lawyers: Governments and organizations must ensure they abide by the law in order to be effective. Many programs face legal challenges, and it is often up to lawyers to pave the way for health care initiatives. Lawyers must complete a doctorate level or professional level law degree specializing in international law from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association as well as pass the bar by completing a board certified examination to practice. Law school graduates who did not originally specialize in international law can complete additional certification courses after graduation.
  • International Relations and Policy: Global health leadership relies on passionate individuals who are educated on the challenges facing vulnerable populations. While some may enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, leadership roles often require a master’s or doctoral degree in a field such as public health, law, business or international relations.

Research Sciences

Conducting research that forms the basis for the care strategies and policies of other global health careers, research professionals dedicate several years to advancing their education and learning how to perform scientifically sound investigations. In fields such as epidemiology, roles that offer autonomy and the authority to make health recommendations require at minimum a master’s degree and often a doctorate.

The Future of Global Health

In the modern world, technology and ease of transportation have made the world smaller than ever, with governments, organizations and citizens of all nations interacting on a daily basis. In many ways, these factors have turned the wide world into a single community, benefitting from improvements in care and the eradication of diseases — but also vulnerable to fast-spreading pandemics.

Working to improve the health of others is at the heart of many careers pursued by graduates of programs such as an MPH in global health leadership. While an increase in employment opportunities is promising for those looking to pursue a future in global health leadership, the World Health Organization has estimated a projected shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030, hampering progress.

Both nationwide and internationally, the demand for skilled physicians capable of meeting the need for universal care and coverage is growing, making it more difficult for nations to provide comprehensive care or battle the rise and spread of new and communicable diseases.

After the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is evident that nations around the world can benefit from public health professionals that are knowledgeable, qualified and capable of negotiating and representing their country in health policy. For passionate and driven students, a career in global health leadership is an opportunity to make a positive impact on an international level and influence future health policies.

Become a Leader in Global Health

Careers in global health can be both challenging and incredibly rewarding. For professionals who are passionate about improving the lives of others, global health careers are an opportunity to take an active role in health leadership. Working in coordination with scientists, physicians, lawyers and advocates, global health professionals can make a positive difference in the lives of others worldwide.

Playing an active role in health care and care policy requires an advanced education such as the online Master of Public Health program at the USC Keck School of Medicine. The only Master of Public Health program offered by a top-ranking medical school, USC’s program is delivered by a world-renowned faculty and designed to prepare graduates with the practical skills they need to succeed. Discover how you can make a positive impact with a career in global health.