Public health is an extremely rewarding field to work in!
Life-saving decisions are made by public health professionals around the world. Decisions that influence populations and hopefully make the world a better and healthier place.
An MPH is often the starting point for a career in public health, although work experience can lead you down alternative pathways to full-time careers.
Let’s explore some roles that an MPH might qualify you for!
Public health analyst / Intelligence professional (£28,000 – £35,000 pa)
An analyst is the main entry level role that public health graduates can expect to find right after graduating.
An analyst simply deals with intelligence on public health matters and contributes to management strategies, having analysed routine data collected at the population level.
An MPH degree is typically the gateway into such a role, and while a maths or statistics background is desirable, most of your technical knowledge and experience with statistical software will come from actually being on the job and learning as you go!
Depending on where you work, you could be creating graphical representations of data for a report, performing data analysis in collaboration with a statistician or you could even be involved with developing new public health programs for schools and communities.
Employers can range anywhere from Public Health England (PHE) to your local council, or even in the health IT sector.
A background in data science is also desirable but not compulsory. Employers do however like to see evidence of proficiency in data management.
Undertaking a small project in the software package R will certainly boost interview prospects.
Public Health Nurse (£22,000 – £28,000 pa)
As the role suggests, public health nurses must first complete their nursing degree and have some experience working as registered nurses.
Once they have some experience, nurses no longer have to stay in the wards looking after individual patients.
They can undergo further public health specialist training that allows them to oversee whole communities and be more research oriented.
Most people who choose to do this will get their nursing degree first, and have an organization pay for their MPH.
Being an academic public health nurse may involve carrying out research and conducting analysis into various public health indicators, and why a community might be disproportionately affected by something.
They may also follow a more traditional path that means working in underserved populations and catering to their needs.
Public health nurses primarily work in arenas such as school nursing, counselling, and occupational health.
Public Health Doctor (£35,000 – £60,000 pa)
As expected, public health doctors are medical doctors first. This can be a very long and arduous undertaking, so if your goal is to work in public health, note that you don’t need to become a doctor to do so.
Most qualified doctors won’t study the full MPH degree, but rather undertage postgraduate certificates to boost their resume and open doors into working as researchers and epidemiologists.
Combining public health with a medical degree allows you to apply your medical knowledge to the wider population and hopefully develop innovative management strategies for current public health issues.
The pay reflects the role, and often doctors will choose to go into research, policy development or even management.
A regular MPH graduate might not be able to go straight to management positions however a medical doctor with the appropriate knowledge and experience in public health can climb the ladder quickly!
Statistician for academic and Commercial Research (£28,000 – £45,000 pa)
Everyone needs a statistician! They are an incredibly crucial part of research in any aspect. Public health graduates with a core understanding of maths and statistics typically have no issues finding work wherever they go.
Statisticians work as part of randomised trials and epidemiological studies to assist analysts with the interpretation of health data.
Ideally you would have first studied a maths or statistics undergraduate degree before completing the MPH and becoming a biostatistician.
Alternatively, if your undergraduate degree had a focus on statistical research methods, you might be still able to work as a statistician, so long as you understand the core principles of statistics!
Public Health Consultant (£38,000 – £75,000 pa)
Public health consultants are senior scientists with expertise in health protection, health improvement, and healthcare.
They are responsible for leading teams that gather and interpret public health information in order to develop intelligence and come up with management strategies.
Public health consultants are typically doctor’s first, and public health experts second.
Public health is however the only medical specialism that doesn’t require a medical degree, so as long as you have sufficient experience in any public health role, you may apply to specialist training via the same portal as junior doctors.
Public Health Surveillance Expert (£25,000 – £35,000 pa)
Public health surveillance is all about detecting and informing health authorities about public health events in their communities, in order to inform disease prevention and implement necessary control measures.
First, there must be a reporting of a public health concern before any further investigation is conducted. This can be through monitoring of routinely collected data or by looking at trends in screening data.
Once the issue is established, further investigation as to why a certain community might be suffering from a specific public health issue must be conducted.
Field researcher, usually epidemiologists or public health doctors might create a team to collect data.
This will allow them to investigate the origins of the problem and start to come up with solutions.
Once the data has been collected, it must be analysed and made into health intelligence through analysis and drawing of conclusions. This is usually the job of a public health analyst.
Conveying Health Intelligence to wider authorities
Once the raw data has been processed, the information can then be widely distributed to the relevant authorities and propagated to public health management groups to decide how management strategies may be implemented.
Epidemiologist (£30,000 – £100,000 pa)
Epidemiologists are the central branch of public health.
They are tasked with exploring the distribution, patterns, and determinants of health and disease in a defined population.
They are responsible for analysing data and finding patterns to hopefully give an accurate overview of the health status in a defined population.
Epidemiologists have various roles and depending on what type of epidemiology you practice, you may be doing more of one thing than another.
Academic epidemiologists are often based in universities and conducting research in the hopes to publish an academic study.
They may also be heavily involved in taught studies which could include both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.
Academic epidemiologists typically have strong foundational training, and likely would’ve completed an MPH or an MSc in Epidemiology themselves, alongside getting a PhD in their field of epidemiology.
The typical path is to study a BSc in Biology, an MSc in Epidemiology, then a PhD in Mathematical Biology/Epidemiology.
You may also wish to pursue a research fellowship during your post-doctoral studies which allows you to further demonstrate your competency and understanding in the field of epidemiology.
One thing is for certain though, you must be well read to even embark on a journey to become an epidemiologist!
The years of study are long, and while you can focus on other branches of epidemiology like clinical, environmental or cancer epidemiology, you still have to know the fundamentals.
Below is a highly recommended book to study epidemiology and to get a solid foundational grasp of public health.
Of course there are much more books you can read, you just have to start somewhere!
That’s where I personally started before registering my own interest in epidemiology!
While public health can sound like an incredibly broad field, there are many clearly defined roles you may do after studying an MPH degree.
Graduate analyst role are ideal for entry level candidates with little field experience, but with good knowledge of data science and using computer software.
Epidemiology is for the true public health scientist who wish to pursue a career in research and health control management.
Statistics is for the pure mathematicians who simply want to analyse data and convert raw inputs into meaningful descriptive statistics.
There are many times you may be unsure of what options you have, but they will broadly fall underneath epidemiology, analyst roles, health policy, and statistics.
Most employers cherish real-world experience, usually within a public health setting such as volunteering in epidemic outreaches, and contact tracing etc.
If you’re tech-savvy you could even build a website and educate people on public health matters or demostrates competency in data science and graphical output! If an employer sees that you are a competent person, there’s no reason why you couldn’t get an interview!
The vast majority of graduates are able to find work at an entry level and work their way up, or they pursue doctoral research.