Public Health Career Settings

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In addition to looking at career opportunities by discipline, a person can consider the type of work setting/environment in which they might want to work.

Work environment will influence the salary, type of work, roles and responsibilities that you have in your job.


Careers in Government

Government work is often referred to as "public service," because the work you do is serving the public. As a government employee, you work for the agency, and for the political leadership of that jurisdiction (e.g., county board, governor or president). Public service often does not pay quite as well as the private sector, but offers other benefits.

Public sector jobs are often seen as having a higher level of job security, and include good retirement and health benefits. Individuals who work in the public sector are employees of the existing political leadership. This can sometimes create challenging dynamics to address the public health goals of a community and the political wishes of the public and the political leadership of a community. For some this provides an exciting and challenging opportunity, for others it is a point of frustration.

Any public service employee is responsible for serving the public and fulfilling government’s responsibility to assure the health of the public. Government has a critical role in providing many different types of services, and is charged with caring for the most vulnerable in our society. At the local level, working for government can be an especially rewarding experience, knowing that you have made a difference to your own community.

Careers in the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit sector is made up of a large group of organizations that have a common interest in and desire to address unmet needs in the community. The term “nonprofit” is a legal term that the Internal Revenue Service uses to define tax-exempt organizations whose money or “profits” must be used only to further their charitable or educational mission, rather than distribute profits to owners or shareholders as in the for-profit sector.

Attempting to classify all the organizations that make up the nonprofit sector is difficult. Nonprofit organizations come in a range of sizes. In Minnesota, HMO’s and other health plans are nonprofits and have hundreds of employees. While other nonprofits are small, community-based organizations, which only employ a few people.

Some nonprofits address a single-issue or single disease, for example the American Diabetes Association, or the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco. Others are broader in scope, like the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, which serve the interests of all health plans, ranging from disease prevention to chronic care.

Working in a small nonprofit organization will often allow you to develop a broad range of skills and provide a certain level of autonomy in the workplace. Depending on the size of the organization, pay may be lower, but the rewards of getting “on the job training” and “hands on learning” can offset the lowered compensation in the long term.

To learn more about Minnesota's nonprofit community, visit the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Careers in the Private Sector

The private sector, also referred to as the “for-profit sector,” is comprised of businesses or organizations that have owners. Generally these “owners” are individuals, or others who own stock in the organization. The profits from these organizations are ultimately passed through to the stockholders, usually by dividends on shares of stock.

Private organizations offer a slightly different work environment than the public sector. Often, the private sector offers opportunities to generate ideas and act on them quickly in a competitive environment. The ability to perform is measured in “bottom line production” and in net profits.

Health care is the largest private industry in Minnesota. Many cutting edge jobs exist in the private sector in Minnesota, especially in the health field. Companies like Medtronic, 3M, and other smaller organizations are focused on research, design and other prevention efforts. In the area of biotechnology, Minnesota is an emerging leader, and jobs will continue to be available for epidemiologists, biostatisticians, administrators, public health nurses and others.