Public Health Majors: Salary and Career Facts
Would you like to help people improve their quality of life? Would you like to be responsible for ensuring that underserved communities have access to health care? If so, then a career in public health might be right for you. Majoring in public health at the bachelor's degree level will give you the basic knowledge and skills in the field to pursue a career in a variety of settings. Read on to learn more. Schools offering Public Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
What Jobs Can I Qualify for if I Major in Public Health?
Public health encompasses many specialty areas, including epidemiology, policy, environmental health, health education and global health, among others. With a bachelor's degree in public health, you can seek immediate entry-level employment in any of these areas. You may choose a career in administration, policy development, research, teaching, community outreach or health services. The area you concentrate on within your program will likely determine your career path.
Many private and nonprofit organizations - such as hospitals, corporate wellness programs, health maintenance organizations, nursing homes and pharmaceutical companies - hire public health professionals. In a hospital or other medical facility, you might work to promote community health programs, such as those concerning parenting, cancer prevention or fitness. You may also work for government agencies, such as the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps - part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services - or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additional employment opportunities are available in private research and development organizations, as well as areas of business.
Many public health majors pursue careers in health education. Health educators often work for state departments of health to develop new programs and distribute information and educational materials to the public. You could also become a public health social worker in a health care facility or nonprofit organization to help communities deal with disease and illness. Other job titles you can hold are health policy practitioner, public health management analyst, epidemiologist, health planner, health program analyst and public health consultant.
What Will I Need in Addition to My Degree?
Requirements vary according to the type of occupation you pursue. For instance, public health social workers must meet the licensing, certification or registration requirements in their state of practice. Most states require a minimum of two years supervised experience to become a licensed clinical social worker and be eligible to work in a social service agency or department.
If you want to become a health educator, you may consider earning the Certified Health Education Specialist credential administered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc. In fact, some states require health educators working in public health departments to be certified. In addition to a bachelor's degree, you must pass an examination covering basic health education responsibilities to be eligible for certification. There are many occupations in the public health field that do not require certification or licensure; however, obtaining professional credentials or an advanced degree may help you move up in your line of work.
What Is the Job Outlook like?
Graduates holding public health degrees have many career paths available to them and, therefore, typically enjoy good job prospects. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for medical and public health social workers are expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations over the period 2008-2018 (www.bls.gov). This job growth is due in part to a rise in the elderly population, which will drive demand for these workers in nursing homes, long-term care facilities and senior living communities.
Health educators will also see faster than average job growth over this same period. With rising health care costs, health educators will be needed to teach people how to make healthy lifestyle choices to avoid costly medical procedures and treatments. Public health jobs will also grow with the continued rise in global population. For instance, epidemiologists will continue to be needed in developing countries to help ward off disease and improve quality of life.
How Much Can I Expect to Earn?
Salaries for public health professionals vary by industry, occupation, level of education and experience. According to the BLS, the median annual wages of medical and public health social workers were $46,300, and the median annual wages of health educators were $44,340 in May 2009 (www.bls.gov). Salaries also vary considerably within each specialty area of public health. According to the Association of Schools of Public Health's latest survey of graduates, the starting salaries of individuals working in epidemiology ranged between $38,175-$136,237 within one year of graduating (www.asph.org). In addition, individuals working in environmental health had salaries ranging between $44,550-$143,700, also within one year of graduating.
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