What Can You Do With a Master’s in Public Health?

Career Paths and Salaries for MPH Graduates

While doctors and nurses work one-to-one with the patients they serve, public health professionals look at communities and populations as a whole. Pursuing a master’s of public health (MPH) allows individuals to take part in meaningful and life-saving work in a variety of settings and industries. If you’re considering an MPH but want to learn more about potential career opportunities before taking the leap, this guide is for you. Read on to find information on industries, concentration areas, and top jobs in the field.

Public Health Industries

Before getting into individual jobs and career paths, it is helpful to understand that the public health field consists of different industries. Each industry offers a variety of jobs for MPH graduates. While reviewing the industries highlighted below, consider how your skills could be best used in each and whether you can see yourself working in these spaces.

Types of Careers for MPH Graduates

In addition to the high-level industries reviewed above, individual public health careers can be categorized into different focus areas. The following section gives prospective students a sense of common MPH concentrations and how those translate to real world employment after graduation.

Health Policy

Analytical individuals who enjoy combining science with creative solutions often pursue health policy careers. Using their skills in communication, policy analysis and statistics, these professionals work to develop effective and beneficial health policies that create better outcomes for individuals, workplaces and communities. Some individuals may work at the state or federal government, crafting legislation that improves existing laws or creates new health guidelines that affect entire systems or specific demographics. Others may develop new health and wellness programs and policies for large corporations. Individuals may work for a single entity or pursue consultancy roles that allow them to work with a spectrum of clients.

Health Education and Outreach

This concentration area is all about spreading or increasing awareness and promoting preventive behaviors. These professionals often work for the government or nonprofits and seek to create interactive and innovative programs to educate the public. Individuals pursuing this path will have robust knowledge of models that help improve health behaviors, the tools needed to create effective programming, data and analytic skills to evaluate program effectiveness, advocacy skills to fight for health improvements, and strong communication skills to engage with communities as well as to seek grant funding for future health promotion projects.

Research and Analysis

Individuals who pursue public health roles in research and analysis typically enjoy delving deeply into topics to understand them from all sides. They may work for a government organization such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a research-focused college or university, or for a company focused on creating products or innovations that improve the health of the greater population. Some of these professionals, such as epidemiologists, focus on the scientific side of research while others, such as public health historians, study the more social and cultural aspects.

Health Program Planning and Evaluation

While individuals in health education and outreach develop and execute public-facing initiatives, those in health program planning and evaluation do more of the behind-the-scenes work. These individuals hone skills in qualitative research methods, social marketing, and marketing research to better understand how to create programs and resources that will benefit communities. Many work as market research analysts to understand public health trends, while others may function in a consultative role to organizations and companies. Still, others work more on the research side of things to evaluate past resources and study what did and did not work.

Top 10 Careers for Master’s in Public Health Grads

Master’s in public health degrees provide graduates with a wide spectrum of career prospects, catering to interests ranging from research and data analysis to public education and program management. Many of these positions offer opportunities for career progression in the form of leadership and management. A few popular options are highlighted below.


Epidemiologists research human disease and injury for patterns. The overarching goal of their research is reducing occurrences and encouraging a healthier populace. Specific responsibilities include designing and overseeing research projects, gathering and analyzing data, translating that data into accessible information for the public, and presenting findings to stakeholders, other public health professionals and academic conferences. They also oversee technical and clerical staff.

Annual Salary: $69,660


As the name implies, these individuals help interpret data collected by biologists, public health officials and medical professionals. They use various statistical models to understand how variables such as populations, communities and individuals influence the information collected. Biostatisticians may also develop new statistical models that can be used in clinical trials, spatial studies and human genetics to help create frameworks for understanding and interpreting the findings.

Annual Salary: $75,587

Research Scientist

A perfect fit for public health professionals who enjoy the scientific aspects of the field, research scientists gather raw data and analyze findings to draw conclusions about specific populations, diseases, infections or chronic illnesses. They may work primarily in a lab with other research scientists, or they may work for a nonprofit, think tank or organization that focuses on creating solutions to public health epidemics. After completing a research project, they share their findings with the public health and scientific communities.

Annual Salary: $77,703

Public Health Educator

This position may appeal to individuals who like working with and teaching others how to best care for themselves. Public health educators get to know the communities they serve by assessing health needs, developing educational programs and events, teaching individuals how to care for themselves and making referrals for appropriate health services. They also evaluate programs for effectiveness, train other staff and write grant proposals to receive funding for ongoing outreach initiatives.

Annual Salary: $45,360

Public Health Microbiologist

Working within a lab, public health microbiologists detect, identify and attempt to contain diseased organisms that could spread to the general population. Standard responsibilities include analyzing samples brought into the lab, discerning whether they contain contagions, reporting findings to others in the lab and public health community, creating antibodies and strategies for containing and eliminating harmful microorganisms, and managing lab technicians working on similar projects.

Annual Salary: $58,893

Infection Control Practitioner

These individuals conduct investigations into infectious diseases to better understand how and why they affect individuals and populations. They dig deeper into the research by looking at how the disease translates differently within target communities. After gathering this information, they consider how to develop effective control strategies based on disease behaviors and risk factors. This information is then translated into reports and disseminated to other public health and medical professionals.

Annual Salary: $72,836

Public Health Administrator

Whether working for a local government, in a hospital or another type of health care institution, public health administrators work to make sure the populations they serve have access to information that help them make informed health decisions. They give health presentations at community events, communicate with other public health officials to set goals, train staff to carry out departmental plans, set and oversee budgets, and develop new awareness-raising campaigns.

Annual Salary: $66,056

Public Health Program Manager

Working more on the business side of public health, these professionals typically oversee public health programs to ensure they meet their end goals. They may hire qualified staff, set and maintain budgets, create timelines, liaise with the client to ensure the project runs smoothly, evaluate initiatives along the way, develop procedural guidelines, manage all program documentation, conduct reviews and carry out quality assurance checks.

Annual Salary: $57,000

Public Health Emergency Preparedness Manager

Public health emergency preparedness positions appeal to individuals who like to think creatively about how to develop solutions for future problems. These professionals consider possible emergencies (e.g. natural disasters, epidemic or infectious disease outbreaks) and create detailed plans for what to do if/when they happen. They also train other staff, disseminate emergency plans, test for flaws within the plan and host drills to ensure individuals understand their roles.

Annual Salary: $66,112

Public Health Nurse

Rather than focusing their efforts on the day-to-day care of patients, public health nurses work to educate patients and their families in health maintenance and identified risk factors. These professionals may work in a hospital or for a local government. They may work one-to-one with patients while in the hospital or offer group classes at community centers or health clinics. In addition to creating training materials, they evaluate programs to ensure they resonate with patients and groups.

Annual Salary: $56,614

Interview with an MPH Graduate

Expert Insight

Renyea Colvin

Renyea Colvin holds an MPH from Georgia State University and has used her education in inspiring and innovative ways. Below she provides thoughtful answers to some of the questions prospective and current MPH students most frequently ask.

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Why did you decide to pursue a master’s in public health?

While interning as a health educator at a clinic, I realized everyone who had the kind of job I wanted had an MPH degree. I had never even heard of public health before that internship, but I absolutely loved the work I was doing and knew I wanted to continue my education in a related area. Once I started learning more about the degree, I quickly saw that it perfectly merged my passion for health with my interests in social justice and human behavior in very practical ways. From there, it was a no-brainer.

Do you have to get a master’s degree in order to work in public health?

In my current role, I work with doctors, nurses, social media and communications experts, educators and statisticians who are all doing public health work. Certainly, an MPH degree prepares you with a particular set of knowledge and skills. But, the beauty of public health as a field of study is its interdisciplinary nature. There are many aspects of our daily lives that directly and indirectly affect our ability to have good health. Public health harnesses the expertise of them all.

How did you figure out what type of public health career was right for you?

I focused on the areas where I had a natural talent and curiosity. That led me to health promotion and behavior. I tried many things along the way including policy and research. But my aptitudes and interests always led me back to understanding and influencing human behavior in a way that promotes and sustains good health.

How did your MPH degree prepare you for your career?

I attended graduate school at an urban research university and my MPH program was practice-based. So, by the time I graduated I had a real-world understanding of the complex health issues affecting the urban populations I intended to serve. Aside from a thorough knowledge of theory and public health history, my MPH program helped me become a skilled writer, public speaker and advocate for my own health and that of my community. I knew how to assess community health needs and plan programs to meet those needs. I had applied work experiences in a variety of settings including a community-based clinic, a grant-making nonprofit and a county health department. Everything I learned by navigating those systems prepared me for my current role in program management at a major health sciences university.

If MPH students aren’t sure what to do with their degree after they graduate, what advice would you give them?

I would encourage students to research the career trajectory of others who have an MPH degree and interests and skills similar to their own. Talking with faculty in your program is a great place to start. An MPH gives you many options if you know what your skills and interests are and how to leverage them.

I would also advise students to utilize the resources available to them while in school. Outside of school, it's difficult to find access to free services like career advisement, mental health support, fitness opportunities and a community of hundreds of faculty, staff and students who have the answers to all your questions or can point you toward the right direction. Utilize all of those resources to direct your path. You don't have to be certain. The truth is, few people are as certain as they seem. You just need to figure out the next best step. As a student, you have access to people who can help you do that if you have the courage to ask.