Careers in Public Health

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States in August 2005, severe flooding and high winds displaced more than 1 million people from their homes. More than 1,800 died and the damage to homes, schools, roads, and businesses was catastrophic, leading to injuries and illnesses in the weeks, months, and years after the Category 3 storm.

Public health professionals stepped in to help communities affected by Katrina, coordinating and providing a variety of resources, including temporary safe housing, nutritious food, clothing, medical care, disease prevention training, sanitation services, and clean-up efforts. Like all public health professionals, their focus was on improving the health and well-being of the many people whose lives were impacted by the disaster.

But public health experts do more than contribute when times are tough, they work every day in jobs across the country and around the world serving populations in a wide range of settings, from school districts to humanitarian organizations to local, state, and federal government health agencies. These professionals may be responsible for small communities and rural towns, or they may attend to or study the health and wellness of whole countries.

Public health jobs may entail any of the following:

  • Educating local groups about disease prevention
  • Monitoring air quality and drinking water
  • Tracking mosquito-borne illnesses
  • Analyzing prescription drug data
  • Addressing substance use problems in communities
  • Creating new health policies
  • Responding to humanitarian crises related to war, disease, or natural disasters

Individuals who earn a master’s in public health (MPH) are often motivated by a desire to help others and to uphold basic human rights. They fight for health care equity and accessibility and ultimately work to find solutions to health problems or to prevent them from happening.

The Future of Public Health

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment rates for health educators and community health workers to grow by 16% by the year 2026, much faster than the rate for all other occupations.

There is no shortage of issues that require the expertise of public health professionals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified important public health concerns in the Prevention Status Reports, which highlight by state the status of public health policies and practices related to public health issues, including: 

  • Alcohol harms, tobacco use, and prescription drug overdose
  • Food safety
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • HIV
  • Motor vehicle injuries
  • Nutrition, physical activity, and obesity
  • Teen pregnancy

There are a number of macro trends that are likely to affect the current and future practice of public health. These "forces of change" include health reform, accreditation issues, climate change, and demographic transitions.

Why Pursue a Master’s in Public Health?

Some people who pursue a master’s in public health are motivated by personal experience. They may desire to improve health conditions and access to medical care in their home states or the community where they grew up. Others may be interested in studying and addressing specific health issues such as obesity, tobacco or alcohol use among youth, infant mortality, diabetes, or health disparities.

Pursuing a master’s in public health can also enhance the career of someone who already has a degree in a health-related field, including physicians and nurses who may wish to deepen their understanding of a specific area, including: community health, global public health, determinants of health equity, environmental health, health disaster management, biostatistics, urban health, or epidemiology.

Individuals in the MPH online program from Baylor University's Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences can specialize in community health. The program is designed to prepare public health professionals to serve communities in need and improve the quality of life across populations. Collaborating with faculty and building a rich professional network is a key aspect of the program, as well.

There are a range of classes in the master’s in public health curriculum. MPH programs often require courses in five core areas: epidemiology, environmental health, biostatistics, health services administration, and behavioral science/health education. Here’s a glimpse at what else is involved when it comes to earning an MPH degree:

  • Choosing a specialization in one core area, such as community health education, school health education, public health education, or health promotion.
  • Completing a practicum at a site in the community that lets you apply your classroom education in the real world.
  • Considering an accelerated public health degree as part of a dual degree program in areas such as dentistry or medicine.
  • Learning a second or third language to expand job options.

While earning an MPH, individuals should look into certifications in their states or wherever they hope to work. Some employers may require certain certifications, and voluntary certifications may likewise boost chances of being hired. You may wish to contact your state’s board of health to explore opportunities and get more information.

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Public Health?

Though some MPH grads shape the world’s future by teaching, people with MPH degrees hold jobs in other settings, including healthcare facilities, community organizations, pharmaceutical companies, private businesses, colleges, government agencies, religious organizations, and volunteer health groups.

Master’s in public health jobs include the following (in alphabetical order):

Biostatistician

What causes cancer? Is a new drug effective? Does using a health app reduce obesity? These are the types of questions biostatisticians try to answer by collecting and analyzing health data. They then apply statistical techniques to address real-world health problems that affect populations.

Community health educator

Teaches individuals, families, and communities about healthy behaviors (e.g., nutrition, exercise, vaccines) and disease prevention. Develops health-related programs and campaigns. Connects people to local health services and information. Addresses barriers to care and provides referrals for services.

Epidemiologist

Studies patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans and applies what they’ve learned to reducing disease and illnesses in populations, and to change and create health policies.

Health education specialist

Promotes healthy lifestyles and environments that enhance health, wellness, and quality of life for individuals and communities.

There are many other job options for those with a master’s in public health, including health program manager, outreach coordinator, patient or treatment adherence educator, community organizer, safety engineer, and environmental scientist.

With an MPH, individuals are able to put their education and experiences into action on the job. The benefits include the chance to help promote healthy lifestyles and environments that enhance life.

Learn More About Baylor’s MPH Online

With Baylor’s Master of Public Health online, you can develop the skills needed to serve others and improve quality of life in populations at the local, national, and global scale. Request information to learn more about the program and hear from our admissions team today.