Mercy Expert: Public Health Encompasses More than Pandemics

When the world was seized by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, all eyes fell to Public Health professionals to lead. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health department officials have provided data and guidance to understand the causes and most vulnerable populations affected by this contagious virus. Epidemiologists are regular commentators on television, and the language of epidemiology such as incidence, mortality rate, herd immunity, and vaccine efficacy, has become commonplace in our daily news and conversations.

While epidemiology is a primary focus for many public health practitioners, the public health domain is expansive and covers a wide range of fields from community health to policy to administration. All are dedicated to preventing disease and promoting wellness. Below are a few public health careers you may not have thought about previously.

1. Health Policy & Advocacy

Some of public health's greatest impacts have come through changes in policies and laws. Examples of these efforts are the Affordable Care Act, seat belt laws, regulations related to air pollution, and indoor non-smoking policies. Public health professionals involved in health policy develop evidence-based and policy-driven solutions to positively impact the health of populations. They also analyze the effectiveness of existing policies and advocate for expanding or discontinuing those policies.

Examples of Public Health jobs in Health Policy & Advocacy:

  • Program Officer for a private grantmaking foundation
  • Policy Analyst for a federal department such as Health and Human Services
  • Health Policy Advisor for a think tank
  • Health Care Advocate for a non-governmental advocacy organization

2. Emergency Preparedness

The news this year has highlighted the health impacts of emergencies such as hurricanes, wildfires, and pandemics. Being prepared for natural disasters and contagious disease is important, as is preparation for chemical or radiation emergencies or potential terrorist attacks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works with federal, state, and local organizations to ensure a well-trained and prepared public health workforce ready to address any emergencies that may impact the community's health. Visit CDC's website for stories of how public health professionals led efforts to protect communities from events ranging from flooding to toxic exposure at a local pool to preparing for the Superbowl.

Examples of Public Health jobs in Emergency Preparedness:

  • Contact Tracer with a city health department
  • Public Safety Information Officer for a county or state government
  • Epidemiology Field Officer with the federal CDC
  • Public Health Advisor for an international development organization

3. Environmental and Occupational Health

Addressing the impact of our environment on the health of populations is a major area of public health work. Examples of these impacts include the discovery and mitigation of lead in a city water supply, safety and compliance inspections of food services and swimming pools, and monitoring and improving workplace safety related to risks ranging from chemical exposures to ergonomic injuries. Some of these jobs may require additional certifications based on potential exposures or job duties.

Examples of Public Health jobs in Environmental Health:

  • Hazardous Materials Specialist for a town health division
  • Environmental Specialist (Groundwater Protection) for a county government
  • Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Manager for a private corporation
  • Environmental Health Specialist for an international non-governmental organization

4. Health Promotion

Most deaths in the United States are due to chronic illnesses and accidents. Many of these deaths and illnesses can be prevented, or the health impact reduced, with changes in behavior, for example, smoking, nutrition, or physical activity. Public health practitioners working in health promotion might be involved in developing health education or interventions to help people make these changes. Keep in mind that health-promoting environments such as access to healthy foods and safe areas to exercise are not equal for all people. To address this fact, health promotion activities also address structural factors to promote active living such as developing community gardens or green spaces to promote physical activity. Health promoters can work with broad populations such as cities or neighbors, or smaller groups such as breastfeeding women or homeless veterans.

Examples of Public Health jobs in Health Promotion:

  • WIC Public Health Educator for a state health authority
  • Empowerment Coordinator for a community-based organization
  • Onsite Health Coach for a private healthcare group
  • Community Impact Director for a national non-governmental organization

5. Health Administration

Public Health Administrators coordinate, manage and lead health organizations of all types from clinics and hospitals to local and state health departments. They are responsible for the management of both personnel and budgets as well as the day-to-day operations of their organizations. They direct and help develop policies for the health programs developed to reach their communities.

Examples of Public Health jobs in Health Administration:

  • Public Health Director for a city health department
  • Environmental Public Health Division Chief for a county health department
  • Chief Operating Officer for a health clinic
  • Population Health Administrative Manager - Ambulatory Care for a university medical center