While many people begin their public health careers directly out of college, others enter the field with prior professional training and experience. The list of public health careers is long and varied, but some examples include epidemiologist, public health nurse, public health physician, statistician, health educator, sanitarian, microbiologist, behavioral scientist and researcher and administrator.
There are many paths to a career in public health. There are also continuing educational resources and support available for practicing public health professionals through a variety of professional associations.
A public health career is often a blend of physical sciences and social sciences. Physical sciences and math are necessary foundation for almost all advanced education in public health. High school students can begin by making sure they are completing a strong high school academic program.
Kids can get excited about the world of public health by learning about the environment, health and nutrition, how our bodies work, and more—all important areas of public health.
Explore different parts of the public health world in a fun and interactive way.
- BrainPOP: Health: Your Body and How it Works
- Environmental Protection Agency: Students
- National Institutes of Health:
LifeWorks: Explore Health and Medical Science Careers
If you are in high school and are thinking about pursuing a career in public health, the best advice is to plan early for your college career. High school offers you the opportunity to take classes that will help you become better prepared for college and for life. Taking the basics is a first step, but challenging yourself, and taking harder courses, especially in science and math, will build your confidence and skills so you will be more prepared for college.
Learn more about public health careers and options for undergrad studies.
While it's possible to work in some areas of public health without a master’s degree, there are clear benefits to getting an advanced education. In order to pursue a master’s degree you must first obtain an undergraduate or bachelor's degree. Yet, there is no one direct route into an advanced education in public health. The wide variety of paths people take to a career in the field of public health is what provides the field with its great diversity and experiential richness. To get a feel for some of the many background of current public health professionals, visit Who Works in Public Health?
When considering an advanced education (e.g., master’s or doctoral degree) it is important to be familiar with the prerequisites you will need to complete as an undergrad in order to apply to an advanced degree program. So, it’s a good idea to get a sense of what area you are interested in, and to work with your college academic advisors to help you plan a strong academic program.
Learn more about public health careers, graduate programs, and undergrad requirements.
- University of Minnesota: Careers in Public Health
- What is Public Health? Information for Prospective Students
- Association of Schools of Public Health: For Prospective Students
- British Medical Journal Careers: Careers in... Public Health
Many experts agree that in the future, many of the major advances in improving health will be achieved using public health strategies. Meeting the ever-growing challenges facing the health of our nation will require more and more people to be trained in the principles and practices of public health from a school of public health.
Schools of public health around the country offer degree programs in biostatistics, epidemiology, health administration, environmental health, and health education. Additional programs are available in nutrition, maternal and child health and other areas as well.
Advanced education can include a professional degree such as an MPH (Master’s of Public Health); a DrPH (Doctor of Public Health); or an MHA (Master’s of Health Administration). These degrees are designed for people who want to work in organizations in any of the three sectors described on What Kinds of Careers are Available in Public Health?
Academic degrees like the MS (Master’s of Science), PhD (a doctoral degree, generally in a sub-specialty area like epidemiology) are for people who have an interest in research. Professionals with doctoral degree will be needed as faculty at schools of public health to teach the next generation of professionals.
Some programs require you to have work experience before applying to an advanced degree program. This is particularly true in the professional degree areas, because having experience to draw from will be help you to apply the theoretical concepts you will learn.