Public health is an extremely diverse field where many disciplines come together to serve the community on health, wellness, education, social justice, policy etc. Public health professionals can have undergraduate and graduate degrees in public health, health administration, medicine, statistics, technology, epidemiology, psychology, etc. While there is a place in public health for many different skillsets, certain majors lend themselves better to a career in public health.
The most popular health related majors that lead to a career in public health are:
Heath Services, Health and Physical Education, Health Administration and Management and Public Health are among the top 100 majors in the country. The above majors in our grid graduated nearly 50,000 students in 2017-18. Just to keep it in perspective nearly 244,000 students graduated in health and health related majors in 2017-18. Public health and its majors make up nearly one fifth of all the graduates in health related majors. That just indicates the level of interest in public health.
What do public health majors study in college? The students have to take a varied set of core courses spanning humanities, math, chemistry, biology and social sciences. Depending on their exact concentration, the students may study electives in environmental engineering, biostatistics, global health, health administration, management of patient data, nutrition, maternal healthcare…an ever growing list.
Where are public health majors offered? Both public and private universities offer majors in the various public health related majors. Here are a few examples:
Depending on the exact major, there are a lot of choices of colleges that students can make across the reach, target, safety college spectrum. Students also have their choice of the size of college which makes this a good major for an undergraduate degree.
While a major might be a good option for an undergraduate degree, it is very important that the major offers a good post graduation path of many possible employment options and/or graduate school. According to a survey by UC Berkeley of their 2017 class, 46% of their graduates found employment in profit/non profit/government jobs and 23% of the graduates went on to graduate school. The average beginning salary quoted was over $54,000. A similar outcome is mentioned by University of Washington, Seattle. Most of the graduates looking to enter the workforce find positions in multiple areas:
Graduates in health related majors find employment in hospitals, clinics, public health agencies, government agencies, insurance companies, healthcare compliance firms and regulatory agencies.
The positions can be fairly dependent on the focus and concentration of the public health major. Public health data analysts are usually required to have skills in statistics and statistical programming in addition to their health sciences skills. Health informatics managers, record specialists, program coordinators draw their employees from various fields of study in public health such as health services, health administration and management, public health etc. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects these occupations will grow at 18% over the next 10 years (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm#tab-6). Public health also has many nursing employment opportunities, which require a registered nursing certification. COVID-19 has enhanced the need for contact tracers which while in the public heath arena, currently does not require a degree in public health, though that could change in the future. Contact tracers can have a bachelors degree in any discipline, though some of the employers would prefer a year or so of experience in public health.
Additionally, many of these positions also require a master’s degree which is reflected in the 2019 graduates in these majors. Students who are looking at medical school, epidemiology, microbiology also go on to do a MD or a masters and doctoral degrees.
This chart clearly shows that administrative and management positions require a masters degree as its requirements which is also reflected in job postings.
This rise in popularity of health related majors has been going on for the last decade and continues to be fueled with many more colleges offering these majors.
We anticipate that public health related majors will be even more in demand in the post COVID era as contact tracing, testing, data collection and analysis become mainstream.