Now is an exciting time to pursue a public health career in public, private, and nonprofit organizations.

Nutritionist goes over a plan with patient.It may surprise you how many doors will open once you’ve earned an online public health degree. Public health professionals share a desire to make positive changes in the health and well-being of individuals and communities—but specific career paths and contributions can vary significantly. With so many options, it’s easy to align your personal strengths and interests with specific public health jobs.

Starting with a bachelor’s degree in public health, you can begin concentrating your studies on the skills and knowledge needed for the career you desire. For instance, earning a BS in Public Health online can help prepare you to work in a range of public health-related settings. You can choose a specialized curriculum in diverse areas such as child development, health communication, and disaster and emergency management.

Public Health Careers in the U.S.

“The timing is perfect right now for choosing a public health career, especially in the U.S.,” says Dr. Michelle M. Burcin, PhD, MPH, MCHES (Master Certified Health Education Specialist), program director for Walden University’s undergraduate online public health degree programs. “The average age of public health workers was 46.8 years in 2011–2012, so we’re going to see an abundance of openings specifically due to retirement of the large population of baby boomers. In federal and state public health offices alone, 50% of employees are due to retire soon.”

Another factor creating new career opportunities in public health, Dr. Burcin explained, is the Affordable Care Act, with its landmark emphasis on preventive care. Health insurance companies must provide preventive care coverage for their policyholders, resulting in a greater demand for public health professionals such as:*

  • Nutritionists, exercise physiologists, diabetes educators, and behavior modification therapists, which are all in demand as a result of the current obesity epidemic. Public health professionals are particularly valuable in teaching heathier lifestyle habits to obese and overweight adults and children.

  • Prenatal health educators, lactation consultants, obesity educators, and diabetes educators; these roles may be available in a wide variety of settings across public, private, and nonprofit sectors, including insurance companies, the American Red Cross, Planned Parenthood, health nonprofits, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Program directors who manage wellness programs at businesses, universities, and colleges.

Global Heath Careers

Often partnered with the United Nations, nongovernment organizations (NGOs) are not-for-profit groups organized on a local, national, or international level to address issues in support of the public good. Graduates of a BS in Public Health online degree program may choose to work with a global NGO in the U.S. or abroad. Professionals in the global health field often help research and identify major medical issues within distinct regions of countries, or may work with influential persons or groups locally to educate and facilitate positive change with community health education programs such as HIV/AIDS awareness programs.

Public Health Career Advice

Throughout her 15-year career as a public health educator, Dr. Burcin has learned valuable lessons regarding the differences between being a public health student versus actually working as a public health professional. “When you are in a classroom, everyone usually believes in the same types of principles such as healthy eating, smoke-free environments, or the importance of breastfeeding. But when you get a job, you realize the real world isn’t the utopian environment in which you studied.”

Instead of nodding in agreement with your ideas for public health initiatives, Dr. Burcin said, others around the conference table challenge and disagree with your recommendations. “That’s when you realize you have to be patient. You have to collaborate and compromise with all the stakeholders involved. You have to respect the politics of the situation and work to find a happy middle ground. Those are the high-level skills that will make you an effective public health professional.”

The lesson? Use your time as a student in an online degree program (where your peers may also be working professionals) to challenge commonly-stated beliefs and ideas—including your own.

Explore Walden University's online public health degree programs for undergraduates and graduates. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

*Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of a degree program.