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How to Become a Healthcare Public Affairs Specialist

October 7, 2021

Public affairs specialists play an important role in helping companies communicate their services, support key policies, and build partnerships. These responsibilities are especially crucial in the field of health care, where organizations share information that can save lives and influence the health outcomes of their communities.

Public health experts have tied mixed messages (in the media, for example) about masking, social distancing, and vaccinations to new outbreaks of COVID-19. They have called on local, national, and global agencies to improve their communication strategies with the general public. Clearer and more transparent communication helps people safely and effectively navigate the challenges of this complex and ever-changing pandemic. Public affairs specialists have the expertise to help deliver clear messaging.

Healthcare public affairs specialist careers are unique — located at the intersection of two complex, high-impact fields: health care and public policy.

Professionals interested in building careers in this role can gain the knowledge and skills they need with an advanced degree, such as the Online Master of Health Administration offered by Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

What Is a Public Affairs Specialist?

Public affairs specialists build and manage relationships with government officials at the local, state, and federal levels. Through these relationships, specialists can advocate for their organizations and clients, helping to ensure that public policy reflects their needs and protects their interests. In this role, a public affairs specialist serves as a spokesperson for their company, clearly communicating their goals. They connect policymakers with subject matter experts.

Public affairs specialists are different from public relations specialists. While the two roles are similar, they do have different goals and responsibilities. Public relations specialists build marketing and advertising strategies to forge an organization’s public image. Public affairs specialists, on the other hand, build community partnerships that support and develop policies and legislation.

A hospital public relations specialist, for example, might create a social media campaign about its new services during COVID-19. Meanwhile, a healthcare public affairs specialist might work with local government officials to create and promote effective guidelines around COVID-19 prevention and protection.

The Intersection of Health and Public Affairs Decision-Making

From their vantage point at the intersection of health and public affairs, specialists can serve a range of organizations, such as pharmaceutical companies, healthcare insurance firms, and different types of care providers, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, and community care centers. They are responsible for developing relationships with government officials and influencing public healthcare policies on behalf of patients, providers, and their organizations.

A public affairs specialist may also communicate with the public about why their organization is backing certain policies and why patients should make their voices heard to influence government decisions.

Examples of policies that public affairs specialists advocate for include:

  • Lower market prices for medication
  • Quicker and more effective approval processes for certain drugs
  • Widespread education about community health risks
  • Targeted investments in healthcare technology for accessible care
  • Healthcare equity for underserved and vulnerable patient populations
  • Improved work environments and compensation for healthcare providers

How to Become a Public Affairs Specialist in Health Care

The steps for how to become a public affairs specialist are straightforward. Public affairs specialists should hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a field such as communications, journalism, or public relations. Undergraduate students interested in health care, specifically, might major in health administration while also ensuring they build skills in communications.

Professionals pursuing this role can also gain advanced knowledge and experience by earning a master’s degree, such as a Master of Health Administration. According to career research company Zippia, 64 percent of public affairs specialists have a bachelor’s degree, but only 13.3 percent of public affairs specialists have a master’s degree. Earning a master’s can help professionals get ahead of the competition and become leaders in their field.

Future healthcare public affairs specialists can also gain real-world experience through internships for organizations in the healthcare space or public affairs and communications departments in companies across industries.

Healthcare Public Affairs Specialist Salary

The median public affairs specialist salary is around $63,000 per year, according to June 2021 data from PayScale. Similarly, the median salary for health communications specialists is approximately $64,300 per year.

Healthcare public affairs specialists can increase their earning potential by gaining advanced skills in areas such as:

  • Public speaking
  • Legislative policy
  • Strategic planning
  • Project management
  • Technical writing

Any skills that help these professionals communicate their messages and become leaders in impacting policy can contribute to more rewarding careers.

Build a Career as a Healthcare Public Affairs Specialist

Tulane University is a leader in health education, having established the first public health school in the U.S. over a century ago. Through its Online Master of Health Administration (MHA) program, professionals across the country can access the knowledge and leadership skills they need to build impactful careers in health care.

Courses in areas such as healthcare economics, communications, and strategic management help prepare students to lead healthcare transformation and create meaningful change for their communities.

Learn more about how Tulane’s Online MHA program can help you pursue a career as a healthcare public affairs specialist.

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Flushing Hospital Medical Center, Public Affairs

McKesson, Public Policy at McKesson

Morning Consult, “Healthcare Public Affairs: A Unique Industry That Needs a Unique Narrative”

PayScale, Average Public Affairs Specialist Salary

PR Week, “Public Health Experts Call on CDC to Improve Comms Strategy”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Public Relations Specialist

Zippia, Public Affairs Specialist

ZipRecruiter, “What Is the Difference Between Public Affairs and Public Relations?”