Hack College Presents: How To Begin A Career In Public Health

Public Health

Part I. What is Public Health?

The global community is connecting faster than ever before. Cities are getting denser, travel is becoming faster — and public health issues like obesity, food contamination, and super-bugs that once were contained to one community or another are now shared by all of us. This has serious implications for global welfare, and it’s turning public health policy making into detective work.

On both local and global levels, public health officials are responsible for identifying and neutralizing threats to the health and well-being of their communities. Sometimes that means identifying the patient zero of a flu epidemic, and other times it means pulling potentially contaminated French fries from public school lunch menus. If you’re passionate about improving health and healthcare access in your community, consider pursuing your degree in public health.

Public Health: What, Where and How

Put simply, the work of public health officials contributes to the best efforts to improve access to health care, control infectious disease, and reduce the incidence of violence, abuse, injury, and environmental hazards in our communities. Public health strategies are developed from the collective input of a wide range of professionals, including medical researchers, lab scientists, teachers, journalists, public officials, environmentalists, social workers, and attorneys all contribute their own unique expertise and efforts.

Specifically, public health workers are employed (and often trained) by local, state or federal government agencies. Health departments employ public health specialists like food safety inspectors, policy analysts, or health educators. If you’re interested in working in non-profit, you could also pursue employment for local chapters of national agencies like the American Red Cross. Health insurance companies also offer positions related to public health.


Public health workers should earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field and plan to attend a master’s program in public health. While you may be employable with just a undergraduate degree, a master’s degree will offer more chance for advancement. In order to research at the university level, an advanced degree will be required.

Educational backgrounds vary for students of public health. Prior to a master’s degree, biology and mathematics are examples of helpful coursework for a career in biostatistics or epidemiology (the study of disease). Sociology, psychology, education, or anthropology will be good undergrad choices for work in behavioral sciences, global health or health education. For administrative work, a business background is helpful. Communication skills are also crucial throughout the public health field, so use your undergraduate time to take electives that will help you to develop strong writing and speaking abilities.

Tailor your education to equip you for the challenges you’ll meet in the public health position that you want most. You can receive professional or academic degrees. For example, a Master’s of Public Health (MPH) is applicable to a professional career, while a Master of Science or Ph.D. is more geared toward a consulting or teaching position. Some schools also offer dual programs to earn an undergraduate degree and MPH in one effort.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public health social workers earned a median salary of $45,650 in 2010. Health Educators earned a median salary of $47,940, epidemiologists earned $63,010, and public health environment scientists and specialists earned $68,920.

According to the BLS, employment in public health is expected to increase. Jobs for epidemiologists are expected to increase 24% while health educator positions are expected to grow 37%; both of these predictions are much faster than the average for all industries.

Part II. Schools of Public Health

Working in a public health career can be extremely rewarding, but don’t forget the importance of finding a program that best fits your current circumstances. You’ll need to do some serious research to find the undergraduate or master’s degree program that is the right fit for you. Here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Tulane University

New Orleans boasts an impressive public health infrastructure, so it stands to reason that the city’s largest university is an ideal place to study this subject. Tulane’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine offers a B.S. in Public Health, as well as graduate studies in various subjects.

  • Accreditation: Tulane University is accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health (CEPH).
  • Course Requirements: Required course work, electives, and summer internship opportunities are typical requirements for most students.
  • Specialized Degrees: Three joint-degree programs prepare graduates for careers in public health. Choose from BSPH/MPH, BSPH/MSPH, or BSPH/MHA for different career tracks.
  • Cost: As a private university, undergrads should expect to pay $59,000 per year, including tuition, fees, room and board. Commuters can reduce that by roughly $7,000. Tulane will pay, on average, 40% of the actual cost of educating each student through an extensive merit-based and need-based scholarship program.
  • Financial Aid: Merit scholarships and need-based awards help defray the costs, in addition to federal and state funding. Louisiana residents can qualify for additional aid.

The George Washington University

The George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services offers a cutting-edge undergraduate degree in public health.

  • Accreditation: The school is accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health (CEPH).
  • Course Requirements: The program guide details courses, options, and program admissions.
  • Specialized Degree: GW offers a major or minor in Public Health or Exercise Science, or the five-year BS/MPH dual-degree program.
  • Cost: Plan to spend about $60,000 per year to cover tuition, fees, room and board, and transportation as an undergrad at GWU.
  • Financial Aid: Merit scholarships and need-based awards help defray the costs, in addition to federal and state funding. Student employment and work study positions are also available. Recent financial aid awards for entering students averaged $35,789. The George Washington Guarantee Grant is based solely on financial need and once awarded will never decrease.

The Ohio State University

Ohio State’s College of Public Health is part of one of the most comprehensive health science centers in the United States.

  • Accreditation: The school is accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health (CEPH).
  • Course Requirements: Undergraduate program sheets for public health sociology or environmental public health detail all major requirements. General education courses are listed as well.
  • Specialized Degrees: OSU has seven specializations, four graduate degree programs, and five divisions and scores of practice placement and residence opportunities.
  • Cost: Tuition and fees for the Columbus campus will cost roughly $10,000 for Ohio residents and $25,500 for nonresidents. Room and board costs approximately $10,000. The regional campus runs a little lower.
  • Financial Aid: CPH offers scholarships for those accepted in the program in addition to federal and state grants and loans. Non-residents attending the Columbus campus are eligible for the National Buckeye Scholarship, worth $12,000 per year.

University of California Irvine

UC Irvine offers a B.S in Public Health Sciences and a B.A. in Public Health Policy, two interlocking degree tracks with promising career options. Plus, students interested in pre-med can fulfill entrance to a medical school program with just a few additional courses.

  • Accreditation: University of California Irvine are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
  • Course Requirements: Requirements differ between the B.A. and B.S. programs.
  • Specialized Course: A double major is possible, but only seven courses overlap.
  • Cost: Residents should expect to pay $14,000 in tuition and fees. Nonresidents should expect to pay near $37,000 per year. These figures do not include room and board. California residents whose families earn less than $80,000 per year, the Blue + Gold Opportunity Plan will cover tuition and fees. Check on your residency status.
  • Financial Aid: Aid is available for undergrads, incuding work study. UC Irvine scholarships are merit based. The scholarship resource center can help with scholarship opportunities.

Johns Hopkins University

The Public Health Studies (PHS) undergraduate program is part of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. The PHS undergrad program provides top-notch preparation for advanced study in public health, medicine or law. If you are academically competitive, Johns Hopkins can defer the cost of college, and you can study at one of the most prestigious research institutes in the nation.

  • Accreditation: John Hopkins University is accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health (CEPH).
  • Course Requirements: PHS majors take five PH core courses in epidemiology, environmental health, health policy and management, social and behavioral aspects of public health, and biostatistics. Other requirements include two introductory social science courses, two introductory courses and one lab in Biology, and four upper-level courses in PH. An 80 hour applied experience practicum is required.
  • Specialized Degrees: The BA/MHS and BA/MSPH programs are a coordinated collaboration between the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. These dual programs take five to six years to complete.
  • Cost: Tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates is around $46,000 per year. Room and board is about $13,300 for on-campus students including a meal plan. ROTC scholarships are available that help with tuition and a living stipend.
  • Financial Aid: Merit- and need-based scholarships are available. JHU also provides a resource for private/outside options.

Colorado School of Public Health

Colorado School of Public Health is the only graduate program offered in the Rocky Mountain region. University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and University of Northern Colorado work together to provide a collaborative program for advanced public health studies. The collaborative program gives you access to way more faculty and courses. Plus, if you want to be in Colorado, this is your only option.

  • Accreditation: Colorado School of Public Health are accredited by the Council on Education of Public Health (CEPH).
  • Course Requirements: The MPH program curriculum will inform your choices between campuses. Either way, the Center for Public Health Practice will manage your practice-based learning.
  • Specialized Course: Three campuses provide endless options.
  • Cost: For residents, tuition is $639/credit; for nonresidents, $1,152/credit. Other nominal fees apply. The MPH is a 42-credit program. For Colorado residents, the cost for an MPH and flexibility of three campuses is unbeatable.
  • Financial Aid: Many scholarships are available to pay for your graduate studies including specific public health and global studies scholarships.

Part III. Breaking Into the Field

Once you’ve decided that a career in public health is the right choice for you, here’s a look at how to prepare yourself for the job market.

  • Resumes: Your resume should contain any of your relevant work experience. For instance, include any practicums or internships you completed while working on your degree. Remember that each hiring manager or HR supervisor is looking for specific job skills for a specific position, so be sure to tailor your resume for each application.
  • Cover Letters: Show off your personality and highlight anything specific to the job you’re applying for. Expand on the reasons you feel you are a perfect fit for any position.
  • Portfolios: Careers in public health can be recorded in a personal portfolio. Keep a record of the jobs you’ve completed that highlight your skills and abilities. You can keep the portfolio as a hardcopy or online. An online portfolio will help you to more easily reach out to jobs outside of your local travel area. A hard copy portfolio is useful to carry along to interviews. A thorough and sharp portfolio will help you beat out the competition.

Top 5 Public Health Hits

  1. Be Equipped: A public health toolkit will help you tell the story about local public health. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) aids local health departments educate its communities.
  2. Go Global: Find a program or project through the World Health Organization. The WHO provides an array of choices that affect the global community from immunization projects to tobacco-free initiatives.
  3. Kids Count: The Environmental Protection Agency offers games, stories, and photos to help kids understand why and how to help the environment. They have teacher resources, too.
  4. Green is Good: According to whatispublichealth.org, our changing environment will utilize public health care workers. “As the public has become better informed about the effects of toxic wastes and pollutants on their health, greater emphasis is being placed on assuring the safety of our communities as well as worker health and safety. As a result, there is growing demand for experts in environmental health and industrial hygiene.”
  5. Tech Time: BrainPop.com offers a multitude of information including animated movies on health and other disciplines for students and teachers.

The Rewards of Public Health

Working with infirmed populations is not for the faint of heart, but if you think you’ve got what it takes to protect and serve, a career in public health is for you. Whether you sit at a microscope, present public health initiatives to community members or work in the field to protect the environment, public health is a necessary component in maintaining our global safety.