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Public health is about prevention, protection, and the kind of public policy that ensures those things happen; about reducing both human suffering and the impact that natural and manmade disasters have on people. Public health is about improving the quality of life for everyone by ensuring people have access to basic health services and resources, and the knowledge they need to live healthy, productive lives. While the field of public health is vast and includes a large number of disciplines, they all share a common purpose: to protect the health of individuals and communities. It’s a field with a long legacy of making impactful contributions, but with the 2020 outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, it was thrust into the spotlight and is expected to maintain a whole new level of prominence forever.
Public health professionals at the highest levels are focused on everything from public information campaigns designed to promote healthy behaviors, to building and maintaining public health infrastructure through community clinics and other resources, to research and survey work to better determine what services are needed for different communities and populations. With the public health professional community largely comprised of skilled professionals with the Master of Public Health (MPH) on their resume, top-level public health scientists, researchers, practitioners, educators, and policymakers enjoy outstanding professional opportunities and salaries that reflect their advanced level of education and expertise.
Maybe it’s issues related to climate change, gun violence, health equity, maternal and child health, emergency preparedness, or another important issue that’s sparked your interest in the field. Whatever drives you to want to make a difference, an MPH with the right concentration is the educational path that can lead you to any number of high-paying jobs in the field.
There is a number of exciting career choices open to you with an MPH Degree with a concentration that lines right up with your career goals. You can see 10+ Online MPH Options right here! Do you need to brush up on your skill set? Interested in learning more about a particular field? Try comparing our monster list of 200+ free Online Public Health Courses & Training options.
Keep reading to learn more about some of today’s hottest careers in public health and the salaries that accompany them:
The following salary statistics were provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), unless otherwise noted:
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Is a career in public health right for me?
People with various jobs in the public health industry describe their positions.
In the COVID era, epidemiology is typically associated with tracking and understanding the spread of communicable disease, and those sorts of diseases are most certainly of primary concern to epidemiologists, but it’s actually not limited to that alone. In broad-stroke terms, it’s the study of any public health-related event or condition and how they impact different populations. Epidemiologists are responsible for investigating current public health events and their effect on the public. They’re often referred to “disease detectives” because they aren’t holed up in a laboratory somewhere; they’re actually on location, at the site of the public health threat. Their work helps everyone from physicians to policymakers better understand the cause of such events, their risk to people, and how to prevent them from occurring again. Just some of the contemporary topics epidemiologists study include environmental exposure to toxins like lead and air pollutants…domestic violence rates in certain populations…natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires…and, of course, infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Epidemiologists earn an average, annual salary of $70,990. The top earners in the field earn an average of $119,290. In senior positions with scientific research companies, they can earn an average salary of $112,610, while those in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing companies earn an average of $102,460.
#2 Disaster and Emergency Specialist
Disaster and emergency specialists assemble disaster response plans and train other professionals on the best ways to respond to emergencies and disasters. Many of these specialists work for state and federal governmental agencies, including the U.S. military.
Disaster and emergency specialists (categorized by the BLS as emergency management directors) earn an average, annual salary of $74,590, with the top 10% in the field earning an average salary of $141,230. The federal government remains the top-paying industry among disaster and emergency specialists, reporting a mean, annual salary of $155,450.
#3 Natural Science Manager
Natural science managers keep scientific research programs and initiatives moving along in the most effective, efficient fashion. Natural science managers are responsible for assembling the team of research professionals and assistants, overseeing the budget of the program, monitoring the progress of the research, and working closely with executives and researchers to develop goals and strategies.
Natural sciences managers earn an average, annual salary of $118,970, while those in the top 25% earn an average salary of $159,750. Grantmaking foundations supporting charitable activities are the highest paying industry for natural sciences managers, reporting an average, annual salary of $208,720.
#4 Public Health Nurse
Public health nurses focus on population health, which includes the promotion of health and the prevention of diseases and disability. Public health nurses which, according to the Association of Public Health Nurses, comprise the largest segment of the professional public health workforce, provide care in settings like public health departments, schools, homes, community health centers, clinics, correctional facilities, and more. Their work includes determining the healthcare needs of a population and planning and implementing interventions and activities that contribute to the population’s health and the prevention of illness, injury, disability, and premature death.
According to October 2020 stats from PayScale, the average salary for a public health nurse is $59,709. Public health nurses within departments of public health—one of the largest employers of public health nurses—earn an average salary of $58,240.
#5 Water Quality Planner
Water quality specialists study water ecosystems like rivers and estuaries, as well as manmade water systems like wastewater treatment plants and drinking water supplies. These environmental specialists often focus on specific efforts such as the protection of coastal waters, the management of watersheds, and other ecosystem protection efforts. Their work largely involves studying water systems, performing scientific studies, and writing reports that are used by governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private companies.
Water quality specialists (categorized by the BLS as environmental scientists and specialists, including health) earn an average, annual salary of $71,360, while the top earners in this profession earn an average salary of $124,760.
Remediation and waste management services companies are among the highest-paying industries for this profession, reporting an annual, average salary of $81,440, followed closely by scientific and technical consulting services companies, at $79,650. At the federal level, water quality specialists work for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
#6 Healthcare Manager
Healthcare managers (also referred to healthcare administrators) oversee hospitals, medical facilities, and even entire healthcare systems to ensure their efficient, effective, and cost-effective operation. It’s up to healthcare managers to ensure the healthcare facility they oversee is properly staffed, is meeting specific operational goals, and is staying within budget.
Healthcare managers earn an average, annual salary of $100,980, with the top earners in the profession (top 10%) posting an average salary that’s nearly double the median salary – $189,000. The largest employer of healthcare managers are general medical and surgical hospitals, which are also the highest-paying, reporting an average salary of $124,180.
#7 Public Health Educator
Public health educators develop public health campaigns and programs designed to address specific health and safety issues within certain populations. While their title suggests they educate the public directly, these public health professionals operate more at an administrative level, collecting information and developing programs that are implemented by federal, state, and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and private companies.
Public health educators (categorized by the BLS as health education specialists) earn an average, annual salary of $75,050. Large employers of public health educators include general medical and surgical hospitals, state and local governmental agencies, and social advocacy organizations.
#8 Environmental Health Scientist
Environmental health scientists study how environmental factors affect human health and disease. They seek to understand what happens to our bodies and our health when chemicals, pollutants, stress, mold, or other triggers are introduced. These scientists spend much of their time in the field, observing and collecting samples, which are then analyzed and used to promote policies, legislation, regulation, and environmental protection efforts.
Environmental health scientists (categorized by the BLS as environmental scientists and specialists, including health) earn an average salary of $71,360. The top 10% in this profession earn an average salary of $124,760. Some of the top-paying states for environmental health scientists, according to mean, annual salary, include Washington D.C. ($112,450), California ($92,320), Washington ($85,870), and Virginia ($85,660).
Biostatistics is a branch of statistics focused on medical and health applications; therefore, biostatisticians focus on applying mathematical and scientific methods to determine the causes of diseases and injuries related to public health. Their work helps identify public health trends in communities and populations. While biostatistics is often mistaken for epidemiology, these two fields are quite distinct. Epidemiologists provide the data needed to study diseases in populations, while biostatisticians provide the methodologies used by epidemiologists in their investigations and research.
Biostatisticians (categorized as statisticians by the BLS) earn an annual average salary of $91,160, while those in the top 10% in this profession earn an average salary of $146,770. Some of the highest-paying industries for biostatisticians, according to mean, annual salary, include scientific research and development companies, at $106,760 and federal governmental agencies, at $108,700.
#10 Infection Preventionist
Infection preventionists are public health professionals who oversee the medical staff of a healthcare facility to ensure that all medical professionals are taking the proper precautions to prevent infection and the spread of infectious diseases. Many times, observation is an important part of this job, as these professionals must observe practices and look for patterns of infection within the facility. They also gather and analyze infection data and partner with local public health agencies to develop policies and procedures.
Infection preventionists (categorized as occupational health and safety specialists by the BLS) earn an average, annual salary of $74,100, with the top 10% in the field earning an average salary of $111,130. The top-paying states in the nation for this profession include Washington D.C. ($92,380), Rhode Island ($91,070), and California ($90,560).
#11 Public Health Consultant
Public health consultants provide consulting services to state and local public health officials and other healthcare providers. Their work includes reviewing and analyzing the effectiveness of the programs and services they offer. Some of the programs they analyze include maternal and child health, substance abuse services and programs, health screening, and health education.
According to an October 2020 PayScale report, healthcare consultants earn an average salary of $74,932. The average salary for healthcare consultants with 1-4 years of experience is $71,000… $85,000 with 5-9 years of experience…and $103,000 with 10-19 years of experience.
#12 Public Health Nutritionist
Public health nutritionists develop nutrition programs, systems, and policies designed to improve or maintain the health of specific groups or populations. Their work often involves creating and implementing programs that help change behavior, attitudes, and knowledge about nutrition to improve health outcomes.
Nutritionists earn an annual, average salary of $61,270. Top-paying states for nutritionists, according to annual, mean salary, include California ($77,040), Alaska ($72,640), Massachusetts ($72,610), and Hawaii ($71,230).
#13 Health Policy Analyst
Health policy analysts research and track changes in public health, prepare written briefs and journal articles, and track pending legislation. Everyone from nonprofit organizations to trade associations to think tanks to healthcare delivery systems rely on the work of health policy analysts to make critical decisions.
Health policy analysts (categorized as market research analysts by the BLS) earn an annual, average salary of $63,790. The top earners in the profession (top 10%) is $122,630.
#14 Biomedical Researcher
Biomedical researchers examine ways to prevent and treat diseases that cause illness and death in people. The ultimate goal of biomedical researchers is to develop effective treatments, therapies, and cures. Biomedical researchers use clinical trials to study the effectiveness, usefulness, and safety of the interventions they develop.
Biomedical researchers (categorized as medical scientists by the BLS) earn an annual, average salary of $88,790, with the top 10% in the profession earning an average, annual salary of $159,650. Some of the popular industries in which biomedical researchers work include medical and diagnostic laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, scientific research and development companies, and colleges and universities.
#15 Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
Occupational health and safety specialists gather data, conduct tests, perform measurements, and learn as much as they can about a work environment in order to make recommendations designed to reduce hazards and protect the health of workers, people, and/or the environment. Their work also includes ensuring that companies are adhering to local, state, and federal regulations.
Occupational health and safety specialists earn an average salary of $74,100, with the top 10% in the field earning an average salary of $111,130.
#16 Clinical Research Coordinator
Clinical research coordinators are specialized research professionals who are responsible for directing the work within clinical trials. Clinical research coordinators manage and direct the daily activities of the clinical trial under the direction of the clinical principal investigator.
According to an October 2020 PayScale report, clinical research coordinators earned an average salary of $50,566. Clinical research coordinators with 1-4 years of experience earn an average salary of $49,000, while those with 5-9 years of experience earn $56,000, and those with 10-19 years of experience earn $61,000.
#17 Research Assistant
Research assistants collect and analyze data, maintain records, analyze survey and trial data, and prepare detailed reports. Research assistants in public health help researchers study diseases, illnesses and environmental problems that have an impact upon public health.
Research assistants (categorized as clinical laboratory technologists and technicians) earn an average salary of $53,120. The top-paying field for research assistants is general medical and surgical hospitals, where they earn a mean, annual salary of $55,780.
#18 Nonprofit Coordinator
Nonprofit coordinators oversee the public health projects of nonprofit organizations, private companies, and federal agencies. Their work may include leading a campaign to help fight childhood obesity or to raise awareness for domestic violence or designing a public health initiative aimed at emergency preparedness, air pollution, or COVID-19.
Nonprofit coordinators (categorized as market research analysts and marketing specialists) earn an average salary of $63,790. The top-paying states for nonprofit coordinators, according to mean, annual salary, include New Jersey ($91,360), Washington ($88,290), Delaware ($84,990), and Washington D.C. ($82,300).
#19 Nonprofit Executive Director
Nonprofit executive directors hold a similar role as CEOs in private corporations. These top-level executives, who work alongside the board of directors, are responsible for articulating the vision and mission of the nonprofit through fundraising, financial management, recruitment and retention of staff and volunteers, and industry/legal compliance.
Nonprofit executive directors (categorized as top executives by the BLS) earn an annual salary of $104,690. The annual, average salary for nonprofit executive directors in healthcare and social assistance organizations is $166,410, and in governmental agencies, it’s $110,230.
#20 Social and Community Service Manager
Social and community services managers work for nonprofit and governmental agencies to collect statistics on specific public health programs and initiatives to ensure their effectiveness. The information they gather and evaluate is then used by the organization to measure the impact that their efforts had on their intended target audience.
Social and community service managers earn an average, annual salary of $67,150. Social and community service managers earn an average salary of $85,550 in local governmental agencies…$70,380 in religious, grantmaking, civic, and professional organizations…and $61,920 in individual and family services organizations.
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which public health professionals work. BLS salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.
Salary and employment data compiled by PayScale in October 2020. Figures represent accumulated data for all employment sectors in which public health professionals work. Salary data represents average and median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.
All salary and employment data accessed October 2020.