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Public Health Overview

  According to the Institute of Medicine’s publication, The Future of Public Health, public health professionals’ mission is to “fulfill society’s interest in assuring conditions in which people can be healthy.” Public health professionals carry out this mission through a variety of organized, interdisciplinary efforts that “address the physical, mental and environmental health concerns of communities and populations at risk for disease and injury.” They accomplish this goal through the promotion of disease prevention technologies and interventions. Public health professionals encompass three main functions: (1) assessing and monitoring the health of communities and populations at risk in order to identify health problems and priorities; (2) formulating public policies in collaboration with communities and governments to solve the local and national health problems; and (3) assuring that all populations have access to appropriate and cost-effective care.

   Public health careers are different from clinical health professions in that they serve entire communities and populations (on the local or national level) rather than individuals, emphasize prevention and health promotion rather than diagnosis and treatment, focus on the social sciences as well as the hard sciences, and that the clinical sciences are peripheral to professional training. Ultimately it is the goal of public health professionals to prevent health problems from happening or re-occurring through “implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services, and conducting research.”

Who They Serve:

  Public health professionals work to serve local, national, or international populations, but they do this through work in both the public and the private sectors. “Many public health graduates will find work in the public sector in local, state, or federal health departments.

  The jobs available at health departments range from Food Safety Inspectors to Health Educators, from Policy Analysts to Epidemiologists. Other public health professionals will find work in university systems as researchers. Those interested in working for a non-profit organization can find jobs in health advocacy, policy, or research for organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Red Cross, or a local non-profit that focuses on specific health issues. Still other health professionals will find work in the private sector- working in randomized control trials for pharmaceutical companies or for health insurance companies.”

Public Health Specialties

  Public health professionals work in a variety of fields to best prevent health problems in a number of populations.

  In the past century, public health professionals were responsible for such achievements as vaccinations to eradicate smallpox or polio, improvements in motor-vehicle safety, safer workplaces, control of infectious diseases such as HIV, decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke, safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies as a result of better hygiene and nutrition, family planning, the fluoridation of drinking water, and the recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard. Below is a list of the major areas of specialization for public health professionals.

  Environmental and Occupational Health - These professionals are responsible for administering and evaluating environmental and occupational health programs. They recognize environmental and occupational hazards, assess the social, economic and health impacts of those hazards, interpret existing and new regulations which affect the field at local, state, national, and global levels, explain enforcement procedures and processes in the law, and develop and interpret policies.

  Principles in this field design, implement and manage environmental health programs to control and modify work and living environments to prevent illness or disability. Various job titles in this field include environmental biologists, research entomologists, air quality engineers, research scientists, water lab supervisors, consumer health directors, as well as many others. Environmental and Occupational health professionals tend to serve at universities, government agencies, hospitals, research firms, as well as consulting firms. Review the Public Health Resume Packet for example resumes.

  Community and Family Health - These professionals research and educate in order to enhance the health promotion and disease and disability prevention status of individuals, families, and communities.

  Principles in this field design and conduct mental health needs assessment and research, conduct health communication and health education outreach, study behavioral and social aspects of genetics and genetic counseling, and coordinate provision of mental health educational services. Community and Family Health professionals may be mental health research scientists, mental health evaluation specialists, program planners, education consultants, health educators, as well as many other titles. These professionals work at a variety of local, state, federal, and private agencies, including research development agencies, international agencies, non-profit agencies, etc.
Click here for examples of a Public Health Advocacy Resume and a Community Service Resume or review the Public Health Resume Packet for more examples.

  Global/International Health - Global / International health professionals evaluate disease control interventions for diseases of global public health importance, research the performance of health systems, including understanding and intervening in their organization, financing, and management, and develop and implement social and behavioral interventions in developing countries.

  Principles in this field design, implement and plan international health related programs, design intervention strategies for disease prevention, and coordinate multi-center, national and global health programs. These professionals serve under the titles of program officers, health officers, global health specialists, researchers, as well as under many other titles. They tend to work for international organizations such as WHO or PAHO, Federal and State Agencies, Universities, Immigrant and Migrant Health Services, or Philanthropic Organizations.

For an example of a Global /International Public Health Resume click here or review the Public Health Resume Packet for more examples.

  Health Policy and Management - Health Policy and Management professional seek to improve our capacity to identify policy options that promote and protect the health status of populations; they work to create strategies that improve access to health and preventive services, particularly among the most vulnerable. For an example of a Policy Public Health Resume click here or review Public Health Resume Packet for examples.

  Epidemiology and Biostatistics - Biostatistics involves the application of statistical procedures, techniques, and methodology to characterize or investigate health problems and programs. They use data analysis to determine the cause of disease and injuries, as well as to identify health trends within communities. This field entails collecting and studying information, forecasting scenarios, and making reliable conclusions. Epidemiology involves the systematic study of the distribution and determinants of disease or disability in population groups. Epidemiologists do fieldwork to determine what causes disease or injury, what the risks are, who is at risk, and how to prevent further incidence. They understand the demographic and social trends upon disease and injury. The initial discovery and containment of an outbreak, such as West Nile virus, often comes from epidemiologist. For an example of a Epidemiology Resume click here or review the Public Health Resume Packet for more examples.

  Behavioral Science/ Health Education - “Behavioral Science/Health Education focuses on ways that encourage people to make healthy choices. This includes the development of community-wide education programs that range from promoting healthy lifestyles in order to prevent disease and injury, to researching complex health issues.” Health Education Professionals use their skills to help populations choose healthier lifestyle, to make more efficient use of health services, to adopt self- care practices and to participate actively in the design and implementation of programs that affect health. For an example of a Health Education resume click here or review the Public Health Resume Packet for more examples.

  Health Services Administration - “The field of health services administration combines politics, business, and science in managing the human and fiscal resources needed to deliver effective public health services.” Professionals in this field can specialize in health planning, organization, poly-formulation and analysis, finance, economics, or marketing. Review the Public Health Resume Packet for example resumes.

  Maternal and Child Health - “Professionals in maternal and child health improve the public health delivery systems specifically for women, children, and their families through advocacy, education, and research.” Review the Public Health Resume Packet for example resumes.

  Nutrition - “This field examines how food and nutrients affect the wellness and lifestyle of population. Nutrition encompasses the combination of education and science to promote health and disease prevention.” Review the Public Health Resume Packet for example resumes.

  Public Health Laboratory Practice - “Public health laboratory professionals perform tests on biological and environmental samples in order to diagnose, prevent, treat, and control infectious diseases in communities to ensure the safety of our food and water, to screen for the presence of certain diseases within communities, and to respond to public health emergencies, such as bioterrorism.” This field encompasses a diverse number of specialists such as bacteriologists, microbiologists, and biochemists. For an example of a Public Health Research Resume click here. or review the Public Health Resume Packet for more examples.

Public Health Breaking In

What Employers Want:

  Public health careers require a variety of different skills depending on the area of specialization—there is something for everyone. For example, epidemiology and biostatistics involve mathematics and modeling, environmental health includes a wide range of science skills, health administration and community health sciences are people oriented careers, while health education requires teaching abilities and health policy requires political knowledge. Employers look for graduates who have gained some sort of experience in the public health field, whether through work at hospitals or health clinics, volunteering at non-profit organizations such as the Red Cross, or work at a local health department. While it is possible to gain experience in the field without an advanced degree, such as through the outlets just mentioned, many public health professionals need at least Masters degree for career advancement.

  A graduate degree provides a competitive edge over other professionals. Employers look for individuals who will thrive knowing that they are working to improve the lives of others.

  Employers look to hire students with a variety of degrees, whether it is a Bachelors in Public Health, a Masters in Public Health (MPH) for those who intend to apply their training in a professional setting and provide leadership in a specific health specialty, a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) which provides a focus in research design, data collection, and analysis and application of research, a PhD, or a Master of Science in Health Administration which helps students develop an understanding of organization models and management principles, health care financial management and economics, health policy and policy analysis, and health laws and ethics.

  Employers tend to look for undergraduates with a background in biology, engineering, chemistry, nursing, medicine, or the social sciences. For epidemiology or biostatistics coursework in biology and mathematics is a plus. For behavioral sciences, Health Education or Global Health, courses in sociology, psychology, education or anthropology are beneficial. Health Services Administration professionals find a business background helpful, while Environmental Health professionals look for a background in biology or chemistry. Competence in written and verbal communication skills is a must for all professionals.

What They Hire Undergraduates to Do:

  Employers hire undergraduates for a variety of different positions. Many are hired to become health educators, program mangers or coordinators, researchers, lab techs, field workers, statisticians, information specialists, or public outreach. While graduate degrees are usually required for career advancement, there are a number of positions available for students with a Bachelors in Public Health. Employers look for undergraduates with relevant coursework, and who have done some sort of previous work in the field. Research and internship experiences are vital for students preparing for careers in Public Health.

Public Health Alumni

Herb Dorsey- Retired, US Public Health Service FDA, General Engineering, Public Health, Class of 1962, Master’s in Systems Mgt, 1971 George Washington University

  1. How did you get interested in your field? Was it your original goal when you started at Hopkins? - Started as chem e ,then civil, then operations research due to poor grades in first two but also summer industrial eng and it summer internships.
  2. What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today? - Ibm jr-sr summer, then US Navy then Bell System then consulting then GWU Med Center IT manager then USPHS commission
  3. What was your first job after college? - Was it in your current field? US Navy Supply Corps: closer to IT mgt than first glance since lots of personnel management (40 bodies) and contracts (>$50M)
  4. What advice do you have for current students? - Get a summer job that is not in a JHU lab. Real world work on a team is invaluable. Apply in DEC of sophomore year for USPHS COSTEP summer Program
  5. What is your typical day like? - Now I play tennis and volunteer. When I worked : 10% personnel mgt, 25% strategic planning; 25% trouble shooting; 25% contract management; 15% idle time ("social networking, PT, "mental health, trip planning, etc)
  6. What’s most rewarding about your industry and/ or job? What's most challenging? - It's always rewarding to accomplish a goal and even know you are progressing. If goal is a big public health benefit, all the better. Most challenging is priority changes from on high and contractor management.
  7. What are typical entry-level positions for this field? What tips do you have for students to be successful in these positions? - Entry level is at best team leader of 3-5 people. Try consulting first, lots of responsibility and exposure and chance to take risks. Success is reward for hard work AND team play
  8. Where do you see the field going in the next 5-10 years? - IT and public health both expanding
  9. What skills and out-of-class experiences are ideal for entering your industry / career field? - Summer internships a must (see above) lots of campus clubs (EWB, Baja, etc. offer lots of management/leadership experience
  10. Where can someone in an entry-level position expect to be in two years? Five years? Ten years? - 2: Team leader (3-5 people) 5: Branch (15-20) 10: Division (50-100)
  11. Which professional organizations and resources should students look into or get involved with? - Look outside JHU if there is no professional org w/ a student chapter since all have national student memberships and often big city chapters. Ask dean for recommendations
  12. What related occupations and industries would you recommend students explore who are interested in your industry or career field? - Take a Bloomberg School of Public health course or two

Additional Alumni Profiles

    Networking with alumni and other professionals who work in these fields can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Use Johns Hopkins Connect to contact alumni to ask for their advice. You may also find professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family.

    If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.

  LinkedIn Hopkins Alumni in Public Health - LinkedIn is a professional networking site where you connect with and identify alumni and other professionals by industry, geographic location and organization

Public Health Resources


Industry Websites:


  Networking with professionals who work in this field can help you learn very specific information about a career field. Professional contacts through professional associations, faculty, friends and family can be very helpful. You may also explore career opportunities by talking with employers at career fairs, and company presentations.

  Internships - research positions and summer employment are highly effective ways for you to try out a field, gain experience and skills and make professional contacts.

Public Health Related

  If you would like to talk about how your search is going, we invite you to make an appointment with a Career Counselor by calling 410-516-8056.