Exploring Popular MPH Jobs and The Skills You Need

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Environmental health technicians compare notes

 

The field of public health is full of exciting career opportunities for those with the right combination of skills, knowledge and experience. Whether you’re interested in hands-on roles at the local level or high-impact positions with large organizations, a Master of Public Health from the University of Nevada at Reno can provide the insight and expertise you need to tackle some of the world’s most pressing health challenges. This MPH program can help you discover how professionals in the field affect real change through health research, policy and public outreach, and offers an in-depth look at key topics such as biostatistics, epidemiology, health informatics and more. However, since the public health field is highly integrative and multifaceted, it can be difficult to pin down a career path that aligns with your personal and professional interests.

To help you narrow down your search, we’ve put together a useful list of MPH jobs you might want to consider. Keep in mind, the public health field is constantly evolving — this adaptability allows professionals to confront emerging health challenges and capitalize on new, innovative technologies. For example, social media platforms have enabled health researchers and educators to keep the general public informed about critical global issues, from the spread of diseases to breakthrough medical treatments. So before you settle on a trajectory for your public health career, it’s important to think about your ideal work environment and the types of responsibilities you’re hoping to take on.

Before we dive into specific MPH jobs and the skills you’ll need to stand out from the competition, it may be useful to quickly recap what public health actually is and why it’s so important.

A brief overview of the public health field

One of the best definitions of public health comes from Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, a renowned American bacteriologist and key historical figure within the field. According to Winslow, public health is “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities, and individuals.”

What makes this definition so powerful is that it highlights the important link between individual and community health, which is foundational to modern perspectives within the field. Whereas doctors work with individual patients to treat specific medical issues, public health professionals work to prevent people from becoming sick in the first place through public awareness campaigns, research studies, healthcare services and more.

At its core, public health is all about promoting healthy behaviors, educating people about risk factors and ensuring everyone has access to high-quality healthcare. The public health sector also plays an essential role in setting occupational safety standards, developing health programs and working with lawmakers to create effective and compassionate policy decisions. Of course, these initiatives often require close collaboration between professionals with very different backgrounds.

Ultimately, the success of any public health campaign is built on experts with different specializations who are united by a common goal. As such, understanding where you fit into the bigger picture is one of the best ways to discover which MPH jobs may be right for you. Whether you’re an optimistic student or a mid-career professional, a master of public health can offer the technical expertise and real-world perspectives you need to truly make a difference. What that in mind, let’s take a look at some popular MPH jobs and the core skills that can help you excel post graduation.

Biostatistician

Biostatisticians play a crucial role in modern healthcare settings by collecting, analyzing and interpreting data related to specific public health issues. Professionals in this line of work use applied and theoretical statistics to study how determining factors, such as genetics and social environments, impact the health and well-being of people around the world, according to the FDA. They also conduct research on the effects of new medical treatments, disease outbreaks, chronic illnesses and more. Nearly all of the compelling statistics used by health organizations and nonprofits come from biostatisticians, which makes them pivot to the success of public outreach campaigns.

In terms of their daily routine, most biostatisticians work in office settings and utilize computer programs like SPSS for statistical modeling and predictive analytics. After collecting and analyzing all the relevant information, professionals in the field may design research studies to further validate their findings and conclusions. For example, biostatisticians working for pharmaceutical companies often analyze the results of clinical trials to determine the efficacy of experimental drugs and treatment methods. However, since new information is constantly being created, biostaticians frequently reevaluate historical data on the topics they’re studying, such as risk factors for cancer, causes of workplace injuries and other pressing public health issues.

Core skills

Since most of their work is rooted in statistics and deep research, biostatisticians usually have an aptitude for mathematics and/or a background in the natural sciences. They use their critical thinking skills to make correlations between different data points and solve complex problems. For example, a biostatistician studying diabetes must consider a variety of isolated risk factors to create an accurate predictive model, from genetics and environmental health to diet and nutrition. Communication skills are also crucial, as biostatisticians often work alongside epidemiologists, health educators and other public health professionals on large research projects. Some other key skills include:

  •       Experimental design
  •       Survey methodology
  •       Data management
  •       Report writing

Job outlook

The demand for biostatisticians continues to grow thanks to modern innovations in data gathering and analysis technologies, according to a press release from Kolabtree. As such, professionals in this field have a range of employment options throughout the public and private sectors. While most biostatisticians find work at pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and nonprofit groups, some are able to partner with research facilities or educational institutions that focus on specific topics of interest. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for this and other statistician roles typically falls around $84,000, though employers tend to offer different pay rates depending on a candidate’s knowledge and experience.

Epidemiologist

Epidemiologists actively investigate chronic illnesses, infectious diseases, occupational injuries and other public health risks through scientific research and field work. This branch of public health is responsible for studying (among other things) the behaviors of diseases and noninfectious medical conditions, including their root causes, population distribution and possible treatment methods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ultimately, epidemiologists work to reduce the severity and frequency of negative health outcomes by understanding the underlying risk factors and developing preventative strategies. The research they produce is often used to improve existing medical practices and develop new, innovative treatments.

While every epidemiology job is different, most professionals work in laboratories or head out into the field to collect data firsthand. They closely examine blood samples and other bodily fluids to monitor how diseases evolve over time, allowing them to create predictive epidemic models that can be applied at the individual- and population-levels. Epidemiologists also conduct descriptive studies on important public health issues to better inform the general public about chronic illnesses, mental health, environmental hazards and more. Their work is foundational to community health initiatives and the development of public health programs, policies and outreach campaigns.

Core skills

Epidemiology typically revolves around collecting and analyzing health-related information from field studies, scientific research and historical data. Professionals in this role often come from scientific backgrounds, as much of their time is spent in laboratory settings. Depending on the organizations they work for, epidemiologists may actively design and implement clinical trials and research studies focused on key public health issues, such as the spread of Zika, rising drug abuse rates in specific populations and the frequency of workplace injuries within industrial environments. They must also be able to effectively present their findings and make succinct recommendations for improving existing medical treatments and preventative strategies. Other core skills in epidemiology include:

  •       Statistical analysis
  •       Systems evaluation
  •       Critical thinking
  •       Clinical methodologies

Job outlook

Although this profession is highly specialized compared to other public health roles, epidemiologists can find gainful employment in a wide range of settings, including local and state governments, medical facilities and large health organizations. For example, the CDC relies on epidemiologists to tackle some of the biggest domestic and global health challenges, from the recent resurgence of measles to the impact of natural disasters on small communities. Professionals in this field can expect to earn upwards of  $70,000 per year, according to the BLS, though advanced research positions often benefit from higher salary caps.

Emergency management specialist

While most popular public health professions are grounded in scientific research and public outreach, some roles are much more active in their local communities. Emergency management specialists work in the field alongside state and federal agencies to develop effective emergency response plans. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this branch of public health is critically important to protecting citizens from natural and manmade hazards, from natural disasters to chemical leaks and more. This is achieved by creating viable evacuation and medical response plans for every threat scenario, ensuring local government officials can take decisive action when disasters strike.

Since emergency management specialists spend so much time in the field, their daily responsibilities run the gamut between administrative work and hands-on disaster relief activities. Generally speaking, professionals in this role are responsible for developing and updating policies, regulations, and guidelines that help emergency response personnel effectively respond to a range of scenarios. They also dedicate ample time to studying past emergency situations to ensure local communities have the necessary resources to support citizens in times of crisis. Keep in mind, every emergency management position is unique, so some roles may require you to visit disaster sites in person. Furthermore, severe emergency situations may call for management specialists who can spend days or even weeks working at a single disaster site.

Core skills

Emergency management specialists are often highly organized and have a knack for operational planning. They must be able to think through the complexities of chaotic emergency response scenarios and adapt to changing conditions when necessary. This typically requires close collaboration with first responders, local medical facilities, and even federal officials in charge of deploying aid to disaster sites. The ability to coordinate recovery efforts between several distinct agencies and organizations is crucial, as crisis management activities usually depend on a range of different resources. For example, responding to a high-category hurricane might require specialists to set up public shelters, send out weather alerts, and inform residents in specific areas to evacuate. Collaboration is essential in these types of high-pressure situations, which is why communication skills are so important for emergency management professionals. Other key skills include:

  •       Risk assessment
  •       Data analysis
  •       Interpersonal abilities
  •       Time management

Job outlook

As a whole, the field of emergency management and disaster relief is projected to expand over the next several years, as employment more than doubled between 1990 and 2017, according to BLS data. Emergency management specialists often work for nonprofits, state and local governments and private sector companies focused on community building and outreach. While this public health profession is highly multifaceted, most professionals work toward director roles that allow them to have the biggest impact on response and recovery efforts. According to O*Net Online, the median salary for high-level emergency management positions stands around $74,420.

Public health analyst

Public health analysts exist in the gray area between research and administrative environments, helping to evaluate the impact of existing health and wellness initiatives. They closely collaborate with scientists and policymakers to spread awareness of key public health issues on a local, state, national, and even global scale. Some common areas of focus include chronic illnesses, industrial hazards, mental health, and substance abuse. Generally speaking, public health analysts are responsible for gathering relevant research data and partnering with a range of medical experts to improve healthcare policies and community-level programs. Professionals in this field also brief lawmakers about new clinical studies, create engaging content on pressing health topics, and draft detailed reports and policy recommendations.

In a sense, public health analysts are the problem solvers of the healthcare field. They use data analysis tools and their knowledge of healthcare reform to find practical solutions to specific health challenges. For example, combating infectious diseases in underserved communities may call for new health programs or policies at the local level, which often require the support of both nonprofit groups and government agencies. As such, public health analysts spend much of their time networking with health experts and organizations, learning about new innovations in patient care, and speaking with members of their local community in person. While there can be a lot of variability between positions, the overarching goal of this profession is to promote healthy behaviors and advocate for the medical resources real people need.

Core skills

Unlike many research-focused positions in the public health field, this role typically requires exceptional communication and interpersonal skills. Public health analysts must be able to effectively collaborate with medical professionals and everyday citizens from a diverse range of backgrounds, as conducting on-site visits is relatively common. Depending on their role and employer, analysts may also need to have some experience with budgeting and finance, as many in this field are responsible for calculating healthcare costs for specific programs. Professionals in more public-facing positions should have a strong aptitude for public speaking and digital communications, which are crucial for engaging the general public on key health issues. Some other important skills include:

  •       Statistical analysis
  •       Content development
  •       Survey methodologies
  •       Health policy reform

Job outlook

Depending on their occupational goals, public health analysts can pursue a variety of specialized career paths throughout the healthcare sector. For example, candidates with a strong interest in healthcare policy often take on roles within state or federal health agencies, while those who are passionate about community outreach may prefer to work for a nonprofit organization or local hospital. In terms of compensation, nearly all public health analyst positions come with different salary expectations. According to data from Indeed, policy analysts typically make close to $73,101 per year, whereas program analysts earn $88,686 on average.

Environmental health technician

Environmental health technicians investigate the link between public health and the environment to better understand how industrial practices and natural hazards impact people on the individual and community levels. Professionals in this line of work conduct on-site tests to monitor pollution levels and ensure companies adhere to best practices for hazardous waste disposal and other important regulations. They also collect soil, water, and waste samples to help minimize the impact of large construction projects on the surrounding environment. Once collected, environmental health technicians closely study the samples for potentially dangerous contaminants and share their findings with the appropriate regulatory officials.

Much like epidemiologists, professionals in this role often split their time between the field and laboratory environments. Many environmental health technicians also work in office settings, though these positions tend to be more administrative compared to the boots-on-the ground work the profession is known for.  In terms of employment opportunities, job seekers can choose to work for federal agencies like the FDA and CDC, nonprofit groups, or private companies that are committed to protecting the environment. Ultimately, environmental health technicians act as preservationists who help ensure that diverse ecosystems and human populations are safeguarded from natural and manmade hazards.

Core skills

Most environmental health technicians have a background in one of the life sciences, usually in biology, botany, or chemistry. While expertise in these areas can help MPH job candidates stand out from the competition, it isn’t always required. That said, environmental health technicians should have a strong grasp of the scientific method and at least some experience in lab settings, as most will be responsible for collecting, storing and analyzing samples. Some roles in this field may also call for strong communication and interpersonal skills, especially those that deal with regulatory compliance and investigation. When a complaint is filed against a company, environmental health technicians will often visit the worksite in person to validate whether safe environmental practices are being upheld. Other key skills include:

  •       Data management
  •       Lab equipment experience
  •       Attention to detail
  •       Report writing

Job outlook

This career field is rapidly expanding thanks to increased public interest in environmental preservation and climate change. According to data from the BLS, environmental health technician jobs are expected to grow by 19% by 2020, which is well above the national average for all occupations. Although entry level positions do not offer the most competitive salaries, mid-career professionals can earn up to $80,130 per year. Keep in mind, this estimate tends to fluctuate between employment sectors, as roles in local and state government typically come with higher salaries.

How a Master’s Degree in Public Health can help kickstart your career

What makes the public health sector so unique is that it unites professionals with a diverse range of educational backgrounds and specializations under a single, unified charter – to improve the lives of people everywhere through scientific research, compassionate health policies and public outreach. No matter where your career aspirations lie, a Master of Public Health from the University of Nevada at Reno can provide the real-world perspectives and technical expertise you need to make a real difference.

This MPH program is entirely online and can be completed in as few as 24 months, allowing you to balance your education and professional commitments. Through the comprehensive MPH curriculum, students can develop both foundational and specialized knowledge on a range of key topics, including:

  •       Biostatistics
  •       Research methods
  •       Finance and budgeting
  •       Public health law, ethics and policy analysis
  •       Information systems management

Since MPH careers are often multifaceted, many students benefit from broad coursework that offers insight into a variety of important public health topics. With a concentration in public health practice, you can assemble translatable skills and experience that can help you pursue the MPH degree jobs that appeal to your personal interests. To find out more, explore the online MPH degree page or reach out to an admission representative today.

 

Suggested Readings

Public Health vs. Global Health: Understanding The Difference

Key Issues in Advertising that Impact Public Health

University of Nevada, Reno Online Master of Public Health

 

Sources

Introduction to Public Health – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Rise of The Freelance Biostatistician – Society for Scholarly Publishing

What is Epidemiology? – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mathematicians and Statisticians – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Epidemiologists – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Careers in disaster relief – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Emergency Management Directors – O*Net Online

Public Health Analyst Salaries in the Unted States – Indeed

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics