Public health professionals are leaders in charge of implementing programs that provide opportunities to teach, develop policies, and administer services, as described by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. They work in research, clinical settings, and education. If you are considering this rewarding career path, here are some of the public health basics you need to know.
1. Public Health Service is a Scalable Profession
By definition, public health specialists work within and for a population. Populations exist on many levels, though, and many job opportunities are available in each one. Public health professionals work with:
- Individual medical facilities
- Cities, states and regions
- Federal agencies
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the job outlook is promising in this field. It estimates the number of jobs available for health educators and community health workers will grow 21 percent in the next decade.
2. Public Health Covers Different Disciplines
A career in public health allows you to choose among many different opportunities. There are public facing careers in the public health field such as health educators and nurses. But behind the scenes, epidemiologists, public health surveillance technicians, and professionals in other disciplines make up much of the public health workforce.
Epidemiology is the study of health-related conditions in a population. A public health career in this discipline includes examining dispersion patterns within a demographic. Epidemiologists develop evidence-based methodologies to target diseases that affect a community. Epidemiology is the cornerstone of the public’s health on a large scale.
Public Health Surveillance
Public health surveillance is the systematic collection and analysis of health-related data used to plan and implement public health practices.
A significant part of this career role involves creating databases related to critical diseases, such as AIDS and SARS, and evaluating risks from the collected data. Here, the scope goes beyond infectious diseases, also covering chronic illnesses and, in some areas, social problems such as domestic violence.
Public Health Laboratories
Public health laboratories perform diagnostic testing and disease surveillance for a specific population. They work with larger labs such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health labs are instrumental in emergency response and applied research, as well.
Public Health Administrator
Public health administrators manage public agencies and their programs. They work to understand the underlying issues surrounding community concerns, such as:
- Climate change
- Food and water safety
- Mental health
- Global diseases
- Global concerns (such as starvation and poverty)
- Health education and advocacy
- Urban healthcare
3. Public Health Has Made an Impact
Working together on a global scale, public health professionals have changed the world. They made life better, eliminated infectious diseases such as smallpox and polio and implemented procedures that have increased the life expectancy. The National Institute on Aging reports that global life expectancy in 1900 was 50 years, but today the average lifespan is 80 years or more in many countries.
4. Public Health Continues to Matter
A study titled “Public Health in the Age of Health Care Reform” makes the important point that effective public health infrastructure is the keystone supporting healthcare reform. In 2009, there were 39.6 million Americans over the age of 64. By the year 2030, that number is expected to grow to 72.1 million. This projected demographic shift over the next 15 years or so shows the importance of supporting a robust public health sector.
The overall population continues to expand, as well. The CDC estimates that the U.S. population will increase by close to 30 percent in the next 15 years, but the number of people between the ages of 20 to 64 will shrink by 5 percent. That means fewer working adults and more retirees. This represents a massive population that will require patient care by trained healthcare professionals. By developing an effective public health infrastructure, the aging population can receive the type of quality care they need, while developing training programs for those entering the workforce.
Expect greater demand for public health careers. Pursuing a master in public health degree requires at least a bachelors or higher degree and a strong interest in public service. Most of these courses are available online, so a master’s program can be completed while you work. Individuals who think ahead toward new job opportunities and an advanced degree will find that public health service is a rich and rewarding choice that improves the lives of the people they serve.
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