What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?

| TBS Staff

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Public health workers have been at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including direct care and behind-the-scenes data analytics.

Professionals with a public health degree can work as epidemiologists researching diseases, health educators informing the public about public health risks, and biostaticians tracking population health. Even before the pandemic, public health officials were promoting wellness, researching health inequities, and encouraging healthy choices in communities.

This page explores career and salary data for public health professionals, along with professional certifications and options for earning a public health degree and pursuing a career.

Public Health in a Pandemic

COVID-19 created a major public health crisis for the entire world, and public health officials have played a central role in our national response.

At the CDC, epidemiologists are researching the disease to understand its potential impact. Working with international agencies, public health officials try to determine the best response to changing situations, while health educators conduct outreach in communities to encourage social distancing, mask-wearing, and other public health responses. During the vaccine roll-out, public health officials are working with government agencies to determine priorities and vaccinate people.

The pandemic shined a spotlight on the valuable work of public health professionals. Even after the pandemic, our national reliance in public health will continue.

Careers in Public Health

Public health professionals educate people about infectious diseases, research the spread of infections, and assist patients recovering from illnesses. Within the public health field, professionals specialize in areas like laboratory research, community outreach, and epidemiology. This section explores careers in public health.

Associate or Bachelor's Degree Required

Medical and Health Services Managers
Median Salary: $100,980 Projected Job Growth: 32%


Medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare administrators, oversee departments and facilities in the healthcare system. In public health, they manage agencies and direct outreach plans. Medical and health services managers also supervise staff, set long-term goals for their facilities, and monitor budgets.

Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
Median Salary: $53,120 Projected Job Growth: 13%


Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians perform tests in laboratory settings. Also known as medical laboratory scientists, most of their work revolves around analyzing substances. For example, cytotechnologists study cells to understand diseases and abnormalities, including viral infections or cancer. They use their training in public health to conduct research into diseases.

Health Educators and Community Health Workers
Median Salary: $46,910 Projected Job Growth: 13%


Health educators and community health workers educate the public about health and wellness. They create strategies to improve health across communities, connect the community with healthcare professionals, and research the impact of public health outreach programs. Health educators and community health workers also collect data on health and wellness.

Master's or Doctoral Degree Required

Epidemiologists
Median Salary: $70,990 Projected Job Growth: 5%


Epidemiologists research the causes of diseases and trace infectious disease outbreaks, including for new diseases, like COVID-19. They use data to create community education plans and new health policies. Epidemiologists often specialize in an area like environmental health, chronic diseases, maternal and child health, or public health emergency response.

Medical and Health Services Managers
Median Salary: $100,980 Projected Job Growth: 32%


Medical and health services managers, also known as healthcare administrators, oversee departments and facilities in the healthcare system. In public health, they manage agencies and direct outreach plans. Medical and health services managers also supervise staff, set long-term goals for their facilities, and monitor budgets.

What Kinds of Public Health Degrees Are There?

Colleges award public health degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Each degree prepares graduates for different careers. For example, epidemiologists typically need a master's degree in public health with a concentration in epidemiology. Other roles, such as health educator or clinical researcher, require at least a bachelor's degree.

Associate Degree in Public Health

An associate degree in public health offers foundational training in public health principles, research methods, and healthcare system. Learners also complete general education requirements to strengthen critical thinking and analytical skills.

Graduates qualify for roles like community outreach worker or research assistant. With an associate degree, students can also transfer into a bachelor's program. Many associate degrees meet the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree, meaning transfer students can earn a bachelor's degree in around two years.

Bachelor of Public Health Degree

A bachelor's degree in public health introduces undergraduates to topics like epidemiology, public health education, and population health. Majors study effective public health strategies, social justice and health disparities, and public health communications. During a bachelor's program, public health majors may need to complete an internship, practicum, or capstone project, where they can apply the knowledge gained during their courses.

Earning a bachelor's degree in public health typically takes four years for full-time students. The degree meets the requirements for many entry-level careers, such as clinical researcher, health educator, and public health officer. Graduates can also go on to pursue a graduate degree in public health.

What Is the Difference Between a BA in Public Health and a BA in Health Sciences?

Both public health and health sciences majors study infectious diseases, the healthcare system, and health sciences research. However, a health sciences degree focuses on nonclinical healthcare work, including administrative and logistics challenges, while a public health degree blends clinical and nonclinical approaches with a broader scope by looking at health promotion, public health policy, and enforcement.

Both degrees prepare graduates for entry-level roles in public health. Learn more about online bachelor's programs in health sciences with our guide.

Master's Degree in Public Health

A master's degree in public health (MPH) trains students in public health practice, research methods, and common public health problems. During a master's program, graduate students often choose a specialty, such as epidemiology, environmental health, or biostatistics. Some programs offer public health degrees with an administrative focus. MPH students also commonly complete a practicum capstone.

Most master's programs in public health take two years. After earning a master's degree, graduates pursue careers as epidemiologists, biostatisticians, public health administrators, and public health educators.

Explain the Difference: Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) v. Master of Public Health (MPH) v. Master of Health Science (MHS)

Both a master of public health and a master of science in public health offer graduate-level training in public health with the option to specialize in areas like epidemiology, public health administration, and biostatistics. The main difference is that a MSPH often includes more research-heavy courses. Either degree leads to a variety of public health careers.

A master of health science degree, by contrast, emphasizes research much more heavily, training graduates for specialized, research-focused roles.

Doctoral Degree in Public Health

At the doctoral level, graduate students can pursue either a doctorate in public health (Dr.P.H.) or a Ph.D. in public health. The Dr.P.H. emphasizes practical skills for leadership roles in public health organizations, while the Ph.D. focuses on research and academic career paths.

While a Dr.P.H. can take as little as three years, a Ph.D. in public health typically takes 4-6 years.

Certification and Licensure

Public health professionals can demonstrate specialized experience and stand out on the job market by pursuing professional certifications. For example, the certified in public health credential recognizes professionals with a combination of academic and experiential training in public health. This section cover public health certificates and the requirements for earning each.

Certified in Public Health (CPH)

The National Board of Public Health Examiners offers the certified in public health credential. Candidates need a combination of public health education and relevant experience to apply. For example, applicants with a bachelor's degree need five years of public health work experience. Candidates must complete a 200 question exam to earn their credential.

Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)

Offered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, the certified health education specialist credential has educational requirements and requires a competency-based multiple-choice examination. The 165-question exam tests candidates on their ability to plan health promotion activities, implement plans, and evaluate health education programs.

Once certified, professionals must meet continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials.

Public Health Professional Organizations

World Health Organization
A specialized agency within the United Nations, WHO promotes health across the globe. The organization researches communicable diseases, monitors environmental safety, and encourages health and wellness. WHO provides fact sheets on health topics and data through its world health data platform, and it also hosts a newsroom.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A U.S. health agency, CDC promotes the country's health security. The agency conducts scientific research, provides health information to the public, and promotes emergency preparedness. CDC also offers data and statistics on public health, disease control, and health threats. Public health professionals can visit the CDC website to learn more about job opportunities.
American Public Health Association
APHA represents a community of public health professionals and advocates for science-based public health policies. The association offers fellowships that help professionals advance public health research, hosts events and meetings where members can find networking and mentoring opportunities, and provides career resources. Members can also access public health news and research to help them stay current in the field.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Public Health?

With an associate degree in public health, graduates can find work as community outreach workers and research assistants. Many public health careers require a bachelor's degree.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Public Health?

A bachelor's degree in public health meets the entry-level requirements for careers in clinical laboratory research and health education. Graduates can also apply to master's programs in public health.

Is Public Health a Good Career?

Public health professionals play a central role in protecting and improving communities. In roles such as health educator, epidemiologist, and public health scientist, they protect communities from public health crises.

What Is the Highest Paying Job in Public Health?

The highest paying public health jobs include epidemiologist, biostatician, and public health administrator. In these roles, some professionals earn six-figure salaries, though exact pay rates vary by location and role.

Are Public Health Jobs in Demand?

Yes, public health professionals in a variety of careers are in high demand, including epidemiologists, health educators, and community health workers.

Header Image Credit: Westend61 | Getty Images

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