What Can You Do with a Public Health Degree?

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A community health worker sits at her desk.Many lessons can be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and from the various responses offered and enacted by world and local governments. One of the most obvious takeaways is that public health is a crucial field, and that an investment in public health initiatives can have wide-ranging effects for diverse communities.

The pandemic is an obvious example of the importance of public health, and specifically the significance of promoting accurate public health information, advocating for healthy lifestyle decisions, and taking collective action to suppress and contain the spread of disease. Those with an interest in public service and advocacy may consider pursuing a career in public health.

A common question is, what can you do with a public health degree? There are multiple career paths available. Among the five most popular are:

  • Social and community service manager
  • Community health worker
  • Social services manager
  • Emergency management specialist
  • Environmental health specialist

What Does a Social and Community Service Manager Do?

Social and community service managers coordinate and supervise social programs in a particular community. Often, this role involves recruiting and supervising volunteers.

There are a number of ways in which social and community service managers can work.

  • Organizing and managing programs to meet the basic nutritional or health care needs for homeless or underserved children in the area
  • Creating social programming for local veterans, including residents of veterans’ shelters
  • Providing free medical supplies, treatments, or testing for a particular community (for example, free COVID-19 testing for senior citizens or for members of a disadvantaged neighborhood)

Some professionals in this field will focus their efforts on a particular population, such as children, senior citizens, or members of a specific community (veterans, immigrants, etc.). Others organize their work around a particular issue, such as substance abuse, homelessness, or a mental health disorder. Social and community service managers may work in public health clinics, shelters, vocational rehab centers, nursing homes, or more traditional office settings.

Social and Community Service Manager Responsibilities

This is a complex and multifaceted role that comes with a range of responsibilities. Some examples include the following:

  • Writing proposals. Social and community programs typically depend on public support, and a manager must be skilled at writing proposals to solicit grants and donations.
  • Planning events. Event planning is a crucial part of the job, whether it’s preparing for a large fundraiser, a day of free medical testing, or a social function for a represented group.
  • Promoting awareness. A significant part of the job involves educating the public about issues in question. For example, the job might entail creating a public awareness campaign to alert people to the dangers of substance abuse or about opportunities to receive free medical testing.
  • Meeting with community members. Interpersonal skills are vital, as social and community service managers regularly meet with members of the community being served.
  • Overseeing volunteers. The ability to supervise volunteers and delegate core responsibilities is another key part of the job.
  • Analyzing effectiveness. Finally, the individual in this role must know how to monitor and measure the effectiveness of their programming, amending programs as needed.

Social and Community Service Manager Salary

Before pursuing a career in this field, individuals should consider the expected salary range. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for this role was $67,150 in 2019. A number of factors can impact the salary range, including geographic area, because some markets have a greater demand for social and community service professionals. Additionally, more experience can often lead to a higher salary.

What Is a Community Health Worker Salary and Job Description?

Another potential career path for those with a background in public health is to become a community health worker. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at what the role entails and provide some data about the average community health worker salary.

What Is a Community Health Worker?

Community health workers provide medical services to a particular population; these are truly the frontline workers of public health.

Generally, they provide their services in public clinics, though some may work in more traditional medical offices, government agencies, or hospitals. Community health workers are usually placed in locations to serve marginalized or underserved communities, including very rural areas as well as highly urbanized ones.

Community health workers actively communicate with members of their community, both one-on-one and through public awareness campaigns, providing helpful information about wellness promotion and disease prevention. They may also help connect people with resources to address physical and mental health problems, manage outreach programs, offer social support, and share reports with other health care professionals.

Community Health Worker Responsibilities

The role of the community health worker entails a number of distinct responsibilities.

  • Informing patients. One key responsibility is providing individuals and families with information about available social services, such as food stamps or health insurance, and ensuring they know how to fully access these resources
  • Serving as a liaison. Community health workers are also tasked with facilitating communication between individuals/families and pertinent social services or programs
  • Sharing feedback. These workers provide feedback to social services and program directors, helping them make their services more culturally relevant to the populations they serve
  • Educating the community. An essential part of the job is educating individuals and communities about developing and maintaining healthy lifestyles
  • Managing cases. Community health workers are responsible for translating or interpreting for their clients as they pursue other social services

Through these responsibilities, community health workers can help to build stronger communities, one client at a time.

Community Health Worker Salary

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for community health workers was $46,910 in 2019. This number can vary depending on a handful of factors, including geography and experience level. Those who have a longer tenure in community health work will typically command a more competitive salary.

Social Services Manager Salary and Job Description

Another option for those with a public health education is to become a social services manager. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at what the job entails and what kind of salary can be expected.

What Is a Social Services Manager?

Social services managers provide guidance and oversight for specific social programs, which may be enacted by either the government or a private community outreach organization. Generally, the programs seek to address the needs of a specific community, such as veterans, children, the elderly, or those battling mental illness.

Social service managers carefully analyze the populations they serve, researching pain points and most common needs, and developing their programming accordingly. They may also supervise a team of employees or volunteers as they implement this programming.

The ultimate goal for social services managers is to make a positive impact on the health and well-being of the communities they serve.

Social Services Manager Responsibilities

The role of the social services manager is sophisticated and comes with a number of unique responsibilities.

  • Building a team. Social services managers are typically responsible for recruiting, training, and supervising employees and volunteers. In some cases, managers oversee counselors and social workers. These are highly trained professionals tasked with sensitive work.
  • Another key duty is monitoring and managing budgets, making sure each dollar is allocated in a way that maximizes its community impact.
  • Community engagement. Social services managers are typically tasked with increasing participation in their programs, something they might accomplish through community outreach and educational efforts.
  • Determining program requirements. Success in this field requires a careful understanding of the local community and programming that’s tailored to meet its needs.
  • Creating and implementing policies. To assist counselors and social workers in fairly and efficiently meeting client needs, the manager may also be called upon to draft policies and parameters for programming.

This is another field in which a background in public health can be invaluable, providing the skills to think analytically about improving health and wellness on a large scale.

Social Services Manager Salary

The median annual social services manager salary was $52,170, according to June 2020 data from the compensation website PayScale. Experience level can be a determinative factor in salary, with more seasoned managers typically commanding higher salary ranges.

The Role of an Emergency Management Specialist

A background in public health can also provide the skills to succeed as an emergency management specialist. In this section, we’ll consider the role’s core duties and discuss average salary expectations.

Emergency Management Specialist Job Description

Something the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear is that large-scale disasters can happen at any time — we are always one day away from a potential pandemic, earthquake, wildfire, intense storm, or even an act of terrorism or cybercrime. Such disasters can have a ruinous effect on communities’ health and wellness. Emergency management specialists help communities prepare for these disasters and put policies and procedures in place that minimize negative fallout while expediting recovery.

The emergency management specialist is best understood as a behind-the-scenes organizer, helping create a proactive, community-wide response to potential threats. The role also entails serving as a point of contact between federal, state, and municipal agencies.

Responsibilities of an Emergency Management Specialist

There are several responsibilities that these specialists must attend to as they pursue the safety of their community.

  • Assessing potential hazards. While some catastrophic events may be impossible to foresee, emergency management specialists can analyze their geographic areas and develop reasonable predictions as to the most likely threats.
  • Establishing processes and procedures. What steps can be taken in the event of a savage storm, wildfire, or other natural disasters? Specifically, what can be done to safeguard human life? Emergency management specialists create plans to address these questions.
  • Sharing plans. After creating plans, emergency management specialists meet with public officials — which might include both local and state governments — to share the details.
  • Organizing response teams. Should a disaster or emergency unfold, emergency management specialists will need a team to make sure their plan is carried out. This may mean enlisting public health workers to assist in evacuating the community, providing medical triage, etc.
  • Assisting in recovery. Finally, a large part of the role is working to assess the damage brought by a catastrophic event, and then lead the community into taking steps toward recovery. This means restoring essential provisions such as utilities, roads, and access to medical care.

Emergency Management Specialist Salary

According to the BLS, professionals in this field made a median annual salary of $74,590 in 2019. Salary ranges can be impacted by multiple factors, including experience level as well as geographic area. Emergency management specialists in larger municipalities will often command higher salary ranges.

Environmental Health Specialist Salaries and Responsibilities

Another career path for those with a solid background in public health is working as an environmental health specialist. This section will provide an overview of this critical position, including basic salary range.

Environmental Health Specialist Overview

An individual’s health is determined not only by their genetics and lifestyle factors, but also by their environment. Indeed, the ambient environment can have a critical impact on a community’s overall health and well-being. Environmental health specialists enforce rules and regulations that safeguard the environment, making it a place where people can live healthy lives.

This work can entail the enforcement of regulations connected with food, water, waste, sewage, dairy, pollution, and more. The goal is always to promote the physical and mental health of a local community.

Environmental Health Specialist Responsibilities

Successful environmental health specialists must manage a number of core responsibilities.

  • Collecting and analyzing data on potential environmental health hazards. Environmental health specialists carefully and methodically study local environmental threats, such as unsanitary water or harmful emissions fouling the air.
  • Disposing of hazardous materials. As potentially dangerous or toxic materials are found, environmental health specialists must coordinate their safe removal from the community.
  • Managing sanitization facilities. In many communities, environmental health professionals oversee sanitization facilities, ensuring proper health and safety guidelines are being upheld.
  • Discussing key issues with medical experts. Success in this role may also require communicating about environmental health concerns with members of the local medical community.
  • Educating community members. Sometimes, the role of environmental health specialist will involve raising awareness about local environmental concerns.
  • Creating regulations. These specialists may also be given the authority to create community guidelines and regulations that promote public well-being.

Environmental Health Specialist Salary

Before pursuing a career in this profession, it’s crucial to consider the typical environmental health specialist salaries. Data from the BLS shows that the mean annual salary in 2019 was $77,940. Several factors can influence this salary range, including experience level as well as geographic area. Advanced health or health-adjacent degrees may also lead to more commanding salaries.

Pursuing Careers in Public Health

There are a number of ways that a formal background in public health can lead to professional opportunities that make a real-world impact on the health and prosperity of a community. A good way to begin building this knowledge is to enroll in an advanced degree program.

Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Public Health degree, and take your first step toward a fulfilling career.

Recommended Readings

What Is Epidemiology? Key Terms in Public Health

Medical and Health Services Manager Salary and Job Description: An Important Role in Public Health

MPH vs. MHA: Discovering the Difference Between Two Degrees


CDC Foundation, “What Is Public Health?”

Paths Inc, “Discover a Career as an Environmental Health Specialist”

PayScale, “Average Social Services Manager Salary

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

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Health Educators and Community Health Workers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social and Community Service Managers