If you’re interested in building a healthier future for others through a rewarding career in health science, a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree can help you get there. An MPH can help you gain the necessary science-based expertise to solve complex health challenges, as well as qualify for public health roles in a variety of industries upon graduation.
What Is the Role of Public Health?
To make an informed decision about the career path that’s right for you, it’s important to understand what public health is and why it’s important. The primary focus of public health is developing strategies that promote health and wellness — encouraging people to think about their health proactively — and protect the health of communities and individuals.
Public health professionals play a key role in educating the public about large-scale health concerns, from global issues like pandemics and the importance of vaccination to more individual concerns such as smoking cessation. The work of public health professionals can reduce health care costs and improve quality of life, providing the opportunity for communities and their residents to thrive.
Consider these popular career profiles for MPH graduates.
Biostatistician Role in Public Health
If your background is in biology, an MPH can complement your scientific expertise with knowledge of statistics — a foundational skill for biostatisticians. Biostatisticians analyze population data to facilitate scientific research for the public and private sectors. An MPH degree can teach you to use data to examine environmental and behavioral impacts on living organisms.
Earning your MPH is also an investment in the emerging area of big data and data analytics tools, a knowledge base that is becoming vital for modern biostatisticians.
Demand for biostatisticians is high. Employment of medical scientists — a common classification for biostatisticians — will increase by 17% nationally between 2020 and 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Statisticians as a whole are projected to see 33% job growth in that same time frame.
The role of biostatistician can also be financially rewarding. The median salary for a biostatistician was around $77,600 as of May 2022, with a salary range between $60,000 and $117,000, according to the compensation data source Payscale.
Biostatisticians work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, academic institutions and pharmaceutical research companies. Given the nature of their work — which involves collecting, coding and analyzing data — much of the job takes place in office or clinical settings, with occasional data-gathering fieldwork.
The practical application of biostatistical research varies based on the organization. For example, biostatisticians working for pharmaceutical companies may examine how specific chemical compounds affect segments of the population, while those in the public sector may study the health outcomes associated with environmental hazards.
Behavioral Scientist Role in Public Health
Behavioral scientists — commonly known as social scientists or sociologists — play a vital role in public health. Blending psychology, cognitive science and biology to study human behavior, these scientists examine larger social structures to discern trends that govern how people react to stimuli in specific environments.
Their work consists of two interconnected focus areas: population behaviors that impact health outcomes and external factors that influence and shape human behavior.
Public health takes a proactive approach to improving behavioral health through education and health promotion, with the goal of preventing and reducing health risks. An MPH can teach you how to improve health for individuals and communities by shaping public policy.
This well-rounded skill set, and the diversity of behavioral science careers, gives MPH graduates an advantage in a robust job market. Consider the following benefits of earning an MPH:
- Broader opportunity: Life, physical and social science careers are projected to grow 8% between 2020 and 2030, resulting in 113,800 new jobs, according to the BLS.
- Higher earnings: The median salary of social scientists was approximately $90,000 as of August 2021, according to Payscale.
- Strong lifetime salary projections: Entry-level professionals can start at $56,000 and senior-level roles can earn upwards of $125,000, Payscale reports.
While focused on health outcomes, behavioral scientists often find work in a variety of organizations and positions that may only be tangentially related to health. These can include roles as social workers, mental health counselors or criminologists, in addition to positions with educational and government entities.
Government agencies may also employ behavioral scientists to study topics such as gang violence and the risk of drug addiction in the U.S. population. Additionally, corporations may hire behavioral scientists who can use data to guide human resources and organizational decisions, which companies can then use to create better work environments.
Epidemiologist Role in Public Health
From the global elimination of deadly pathogens to battling health challenges rooted in behavioral issues like smoking or obesity, epidemiologists are on the front lines of important research and advancements. These professionals study data in laboratory and clinical settings to design research methodologies that aid in the development of life-saving medicines and vaccines.
Epidemiologists are highly trained and sought after in public health, with organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regularly seeking their expertise.
Epidemiology can also be a lucrative career path. Professionals in this field earned a median salary of $78,830 in 2021, according to the BLS, with top-earning epidemiologists making more than $130,000 annually. The BLS projects the number of epidemiologist positions will increase by 30% between 2020 and 2030.
Nutritionist Role in Public Health
As the American obesity epidemic reaches crisis levels — with two out of every three adults considered overweight — nutritionists fill an increasingly important public health role. These professionals are being called on to help teach healthier, more conscientious eating habits and advocate for nutrition policy reform.
Those seeking nutritionist roles are entering a burgeoning field. Employment of nutritionists and dietitians is expected to grow 11% between 2020 and 2030, faster than the national average for all occupations. Nutritionists earned a median salary of $61,650 in 2021 according to the BLS, while top earners made more than $93,640.
Some career options for nutritionists include the following:
- Clinical dietitians oversee the nutritional needs of patients in hospitals and other direct care settings.
- Research nutritionists study the health effects of certain diets and foods on the population.
- Management dietitians apply the most current data and insights to meal planning for private and public sector organizations.
- Consultant nutritionists work independently or under contract with health care facilities to provide nutritional evaluations and education.
Outside of these roles, there are also career opportunities with organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which guides public policy as it relates to diet.
Like other public health roles, nutritionists must communicate clear and accurate information that is rooted in data and science. To this end, MPH graduates can make effective nutritionists, in that they use data in meal preparation, calorie counting and food portioning to create clear, actionable guidance. For public health nutritionists, 27 states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed, while 21 require statutory certification and one requires registration.
An MPH provides a vital first step toward advanced licensing, as well as a deep understanding of nutritional knowledge, policy and high-level research on critical issues affecting modern health.
Policy Law Role in Public Health
One way public health professionals can make an impact is by shaping the laws and mandates that govern public health itself. This can cover topics from mental health and substance abuse, to health equity and health pertaining to a specific demographic, such as children of military veterans.
An MPH program can help you develop expertise in public health law, public health emergency preparedness and program development, which all inform public health policy.
The BLS categorizes public health policy professionals with health education specialists and community health workers, a profession projected to grow by 17% between 2020 and 2030. A common career path in this field is the public health administrator role, which had a median annual salary of approximately $65,000 as of April 2022, according to Payscale.
Leadership Roles in Public Health
The scope of public health can evolve quickly during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health crises can create fertile ground for confusion and misinformation, which can have dangerous consequences. Those in public health leadership roles can apply their public health knowledge and leadership skills to guide populations through rapidly changing health crises.
Leadership roles are often found within government entities, from local and state agencies to federal agencies governed by organizations like the CDC. They can address overall public health conditions or focus on a specific area, such as children’s health policy.
Leadership roles often represent the top tier of public health career paths, including epidemiologists, behavioral scientists and biostatisticians. Public health analysts can also fill leadership roles. These professionals look for vulnerabilities in public health policy and create solutions.
The BLS categorizes the role under medical and health services, which they project will grow by 32% between 2020 and 2030. The median annual salary for public health analysts was approximately $68,000 as of May 2022, Payscale reports, with a salary range between $49,000 and $99,000.
Build Healthy Futures. Earn Your MPH Degree
A Master of Public Health degree can prepare you to become more than an effective practitioner; it can equip you with in-demand knowledge to help save lives on a wide scale. Its specialized curriculum touches on the full spectrum of public health, which can be critical to your career development.
See how the University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice program can help you meet your career goals.