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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, immunizations for children, and promotion of 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 percent to 25 percent between 1964 and 1997, according to the American Public Health Association.

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. There are many public health concentrations to choose from, all of which can provide formational skills. Pursuing the right training is a crucial first step toward a long-lasting and meaningful career in the field of public health.

9 Public Health Concentrations 

Public health encompasses a wide scope of activities and services, from education and awareness raising to vaccination programs and health screenings. The overarching goal is to help communities become healthier. This can include monitoring health trends and increasing health literacy in communities through education.

Public health education may involve any number of skills that can be useful in the field, from data analysis to communication abilities. Pursuing a Master of Public Health ensures advanced training in relevant core competencies and can prepare graduates for public health positions with competitive salaries and high-level responsibilities.

Public health concentrations can help students choose an area of study to meet specific community needs or focus on a type of public health service. Each concentration may be geared toward a specific career path or area of public health. Choosing the right concentration is essential, especially for those with a specific public health position they hope to achieve. Prospective public health professionals may also choose to pursue a Master of Health Administration, which differs from an MPH in that it focuses on the business aspects of health care. 

Below are examples of popular public health concentrations, along with the roles that accompany them.

1. Community Health               

Community health professionals build relationships with clients, connect individuals to healthcare providers, eliminate barriers to 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, public health analyst, and community outreach specialist.

Featured Role: Community Health Advisor

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.

Learn more about pursuing a concentration in community health.

2. Disaster Management               

Disaster management focuses on supporting communities in preparing for and mitigating crises. Disaster management professionals help communities address many disaster scenarios, from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, to human-made disasters, such as chemical spills. 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.

Featured Role: Emergency Management Director

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; this often requires them to collaborate with public safety and health officials. They also organize training, perform damage assessments, 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.

Learn more about pursuing a concentration in disaster management.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MPH Program

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3. Epidemiology               

Epidemiology is one of the best-known public health concentrations. 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 patterns and causes of the virus. 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.

Featured Role: Applied Epidemiologist

Description: Epidemiologists study the causes of diseases and investigate patterns in their occurrences and spread. They lead public health studies and strategize ways to prevent and treat diseases. Their 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. Their 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, one of its agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — 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. The health education and communication concentration allows professionals to focus on education, communication, or both. Examples of health education and communication roles are health education specialist, technical writer, and public relations specialist.

Featured Role: Health Education 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 are skilled in developing educational materials and programs.

5. Health Policy               

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

Featured Role: Medical and Health Services Manager

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, providing 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 finances, and improving the quality of services. Aspiring health systems managers can pursue roles as nursing home administrators, clinical managers, and health information managers.

Featured Role: Nursing Home Administrator

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               

Another one of the most popular public health concentrations is international health. This field 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.

Featured Role: Laboratory Scientist

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations, as well as nongovernmental organizations focused on health care.

Areas of expertise: Clinical science and field research expertise is 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 parents; infants; children, adolescents; and the families of these infants, children, and adolescents. Professionals who choose this path educate patients 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 this public health concentration center on research and education. Examples include administrative researcher, maternal and child health educator, and behavioral scientist.

Featured Role: Maternal and Child Health Educator

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

Featured Role: Industrial Hygienist

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.

Pursue a concentration in environmental public health.

Public Health Degree Options 

An undergraduate degree in public health provides students with a broad knowledge of the foundational aspects of public health, such as epidemiology and biostatistics. It also allows 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 doors. 

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, an 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 

An advanced education with the right public health concentration can be an important gateway toward career success.

Explore Tulane University’s Online 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.

Advance Your Public Health Career with an MPH Program

Pursue Your Degree Online From Tulane University
Find Out More

Recommended Readings:

Emergency Response Team: Roles and Responsibilities

Public Health Workforce Training and Development: Tips for Leaders

What Is a Global Health Professional?


American Public Health Association, What Is Public Health?

CDC Foundation, What Is Public Health?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Essential Public Health Services, Global Health

Hospital Careers, Maternal & Child Health

HubSpot, “Healthcare Consulting: What It Is & How to Succeed in It”

National Health Care for the Homeless Council, Community Health Workers

Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Industrial Hygiene

The BMJ, “Chapter 1. What Is Epidemiology?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergency Management Directors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Epidemiologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Education Specialists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics: Health Education Specialists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Political Scientists

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

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Technical Writers

World Health Organization, Maternal Health

Zippia, Community Health Advisor Skills for Your Resume and Career

Zippia, What Is a Clinical Manager and How to Become One

Zippia, What Is an Environmental Protection Officer and How to Become One