Choosing Your Path: 9 Public Health Concentrations

November 17, 2020

Public health keeps families healthy and communities strong. It provides health services in rural areas, immunizes children, and promotes on-the-job health and safety. Public health also saves lives. As a result of public health efforts, the death rate of U.S. adults who smoke decreased from 42% to 25% between 1964 and 1997, according to the American Public Health Association (APHA).

While public health professionals are united by a singular goal — to promote better health for individuals and communities — their work spans a broad spectrum, from community health and epidemiology to disaster management and health policy.

9 Public Health Concentrations

Public health professionals tend to specialize in a single area of interest. For example, epidemiologists track outbreaks, health education specialists promote healthy living, and health systems managers improve healthcare systems. Professionals with public health training have work options in multiple fields. With knowledge in science and health care, as well as skills in such areas as community outreach and policy development, public health experts can qualify for a wide variety of roles. Public health students exploring potential concentrations should consider how their areas of interest align with the expertise required for various career paths. Learning about different work environments and industries can also help narrow the selection. Aspiring public health professionals can review the following nine concentrations to gain a better sense of the path they want to pursue.

1. Community Health

Community health professionals build relationships with clients, connect individuals to healthcare providers, eliminate barriers for health care, and advocate for change in the healthcare system. Working specifically with marginalized, underserved communities, they advocate for people’s rights within health care, helping individuals make connections and receive care. Professionals in this concentration may pursue advanced degrees in medicine and social work. Career paths within community health include community health advisor, wellness coordinator, and community outreach specialist.

Description: Community health advisors collect health data and work with members of a population to promote wellness. They create reports for healthcare providers and health educators, as well as provide health-related counseling and support to community members. Other duties include educating community members about housing, food, and mental health services, in addition to the availability of healthcare services such as cancer screenings. They also facilitate access to health services; for example, a community health advisor might help a client get enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare.

Typical workplace environments: Community health advisors’ employers include healthcare facilities, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, private companies, and public health agencies.

Areas of expertise: Community health advisors are well versed in community and public health, healthcare administration, and government services.

2. Disaster Management

Disaster management focuses on relieving communities who are in crisis. Disaster management professionals help communities address an array of disaster scenarios, from fires to hurricanes to human-made disasters. They prepare and refine emergency response plans in four phases: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Potential disaster management roles include emergency management director, general and operations manager, and social and community service manager.

Description: Emergency management directors are responsible for creating the plans and procedures that communities use to prepare for disasters and emergencies. Their duties include leading response efforts during a natural or human-made disaster, which often requires them to collaborate with public safety and health officials. They also organize training, perform damage assessment, and coordinate federal funding applications.

Typical workplace environments: Emergency management directors commonly work for local or state government agencies. Other potential employers include private corporations, healthcare providers, and colleges and universities.

Areas of expertise: Emergency management directors coordinate emergency response, disaster planning, and public administration.

3. Epidemiology

Epidemiology is very much in the spotlight of public health today. Epidemiologists research factors that determine the presence or absence of diseases, according to the National Institutes of Health. In the case of COVID-19, they collect data, determine how many people have been affected, and investigate the virus’s patterns and causes. Epidemiology is a broad career path, offering subspecialties such as infectious diseases, environmental health, and injury. Additionally, epidemiologists typically work as academic or clinical researchers or as applied epidemiologists.

Description: Epidemiologists study causes of diseases and investigate patterns in their occurrences and spread. They lead public health studies and strategize ways to prevent and treat diseases. Specific duties include collecting and analyzing data, communicating with the public, coordinating health and safety plans with public officials, managing public health programs, and communicating disease threats to the public.

Typical workplace environments: Epidemiologists work in offices and laboratories. Employers include health departments of local and state governments. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and more specifically the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a major employer.

Areas of expertise: Most epidemiologists have a master’s or doctoral degree in medicine or epidemiology and specialize in an area such as infectious disease or environmental health.

4. Health Education and Communication

Health education and communication professionals educate communities about wellness, supporting behaviors that benefit long-term health. Additionally, they develop strategies to improve individual and community health. They serve families, young adults, and working professionals. This public health concentration allows professionals to focus on education, communication, or a combination of both. Examples of health education and communication roles include health education specialist, technical writer, and public relations specialist.

Description: Health educators assess the health needs of the populations they serve and develop educational programs to address those needs. They teach individuals and communities about potential health threats and strategies for managing existing conditions. They also help individuals gain access to health services and provide training programs.

Typical workplace environments: Health education specialists work for healthcare facilities, colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, private companies, and public health agencies.

Areas of expertise: Health education specialists apply their knowledge of health behavior and education, and they are skilled in the development of educational materials and programs.

5. Health Policy

The health policy concentration entails seeking top-level solutions to health and social problems. Through research analysis, policy briefs, presentations, and petitions, professionals in this field shine a spotlight on the effects of existing policies across numerous demographics and propose reforms to improve those policies. Health policy includes career paths in both government and the private sector. Political scientist, medical and health services manager, and healthcare consultant are among the potential roles in this concentration.

Description: Medical and health services managers coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers. Their responsibilities include developing organizational goals and objectives, monitoring compliance with regulatory requirements, training and supervision, creating work schedules, managing facility finances and budgeting, coordinating cross-department communications, and organizing and maintaining facility records.

Typical workplace environments: Medical and health services managers work in hospitals, nursing homes, group medical practices, and other healthcare facilities.

Areas of expertise: Medical and health services managers oversee healthcare and administrative functions. Some roles may require clinical experience.

6. Health Systems Management

Health systems management focuses on the administrative side of public health. Professionals in this concentration plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their tasks include developing goals, managing finance, and improving the quality of services. Aspiring health systems managers can pursue roles as nursing home administrators, clinical managers, and health information managers.

Description: Nursing home administrators support standards of care at nursing home facilities. They plan and direct facility operations and management, hire and train workers, create and oversee standards and policies, ensure compliance with state and federal regulations, administer budgets, provide reporting to regulatory agencies, and work with clients who are seeking admittance.

Typical workplace environments: Administrators with this specialization work in nursing homes, independent living facilities, and retirement communities.

Areas of expertise: Nursing home administrator roles require knowledge of administrative functions, general health care, and elderly care.

7. International Health

International health focuses on communities in low-income countries, including displaced populations. Professionals in this concentration work to find solutions to problems pertaining to mental health, gender-based violence, and age-related conditions, for example. Virtually all public health roles are relevant to the international health focus. Examples include emergency management director, laboratory scientist, and health information manager.

Description: Health scientists perform field and laboratory research focused on global health issues. They also conduct field interviews and surveys. Typically, they specialize in a particular area such as epidemiology or virology.

Typical workplace environments: Employers of health scientists include governmental and intergovernmental health agencies such as the CDC and the United Nations, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused on health care.

Areas of expertise: Clinical science and field research expertise are required for many laboratory scientist positions focused on international health.

8. Maternal and Child Health

The maternal and child health concentration focuses on health care for women, infants, and children, adolescents, and their families. Professionals who choose this path educate women on reproductive services and family planning. To reach the proper audience, they monitor areas for health concerns, implement policy changes, and provide outreach services. Careers within the concentration center around research and education. Examples include administrative researcher, maternal and child health educator, and behavioral scientist.

Description: Maternal and child health educators provide health education and counseling, addressing such issues as child nutrition, maternal health, hygiene, and child disease prevention. They also create educational programs and work with families with limited resources to secure financial support.

Typical workplace environments: Local and state government health agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, commonly employ maternal and child health educators.

Areas of expertise: Educators in this area have broad knowledge of public health and disease prevention, in addition to maternal and child health.

9. Occupational Health

Occupational health professionals analyze work environments and ensure employees are using safe practices. They inspect workplaces, design procedures, evaluate programs, and educate employees about workplace safety. Individuals in this concentration focus on either the indoor workplace or the outdoor environment. Examples of occupational health roles include industrial hygienist, environmental protection officer, and ergonomist.

Description: Industrial hygienists identify, measure, and assess workplace health hazards. They protect workers from exposure to dangerous substances such as toxic chemicals and air contaminants, as well as biological and physical hazards. They perform worksite assessments to find potential dangers and recommend corrective actions if they discover hazards.

Typical workplace environments: Common employers of occupational health specialists include local, state, and federal government agencies; industrial manufacturing facilities; and construction companies.

Areas of expertise: Industrial hygienists typically have training in physical sciences and knowledge of environmental law.

Public Health Degree Options

Undergraduate public health degree programs provide students with a broad knowledge in foundational aspects of public health such as epidemiology and biostatistics. They also allow students to build expertise in areas of personal and professional interest. For example, elective studies might educate them in areas such as global health, maternal and child health, environmental health, or data science. Completing an undergraduate degree in public health opens several options. For some students, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for their career goals, because many of the roles held by public health professionals require only an undergraduate education. Other students choose to pursue graduate degrees in public health, medicine, or allied health. For those who continue to study public health, a Master of Public Health (MPH) program offers opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of public health concepts while building valuable leadership skills that help qualify them for more advanced roles in the field.

Pursue Your Passion for Public Health

Explore Tulane University’s Online Master of Public Health (MPH) to learn more about career options in the public health field. Through coursework spanning a range of topics, from mental health to local and global health issues, students learn how to address health risks to create meaningful change. Choose a concentration and deepen your public health knowledge at Tulane University.

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Zippia, Clinical Manager

Zippia, Community Health Advisor

Zippia, Environmental Protection Officer