An Introduction to Health Policy and Management

Published on: Nov 5, 2023

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment in health-related occupations is projected to grow much faster than in other fields, with almost 2 million new job openings annually.1  Specifically, medical and health services manager positions are one of the highest paying fields in healthcare, and they are projected to grow by almost 30% this decade.2 Health policy and management is a field ripe for individuals seeking leadership roles in health organizations. Health policy influences everything in our lives, whether we know it or not. If you live in the United States, fluoride is likely infused in your water to keep your teeth healthy, and mass transit systems are maintained by your local government to keep our environment healthy. In essence, health policy influences our contemporary public health systems and touches everything we do.

In this article, we’ll cover the key concept in health policy and management, the significance this field has in public health, and expert guidance for what to consider if you plan to pursue a career in health policy and management.

Key Concepts in Health Policy and Management

Understanding Health Policy Development

Public health research is essential to health policy development. Researchers and policy experts will identify issues that need consideration, test evidence-based or new interventions, and let the data inform the policy construction. Once implemented, experts will test policy rollout and efficacy through policy analysis. For example, there are federally regulated health policies to ensure our food is safe, individuals cannot drive after a certain amount of alcohol, and employees cannot work over a certain amount of hours per week. These policies were heavily researched and are evidence-based solutions to common public health issues. 

The Role of Health Management in Service Delivery

Health systems often have multi-billion dollar operating budgets and a massive influence in their local communities. There is a bidirectional influence between health systems and local and federal policies. When policies change, health systems and health managers in service delivery can be the first to feel the effects. For example, numerous health policies ensure patients have unbarriered access to their personal health information.3

There are various policies to ensure the protection and privacy of patients’ personal health information.4 Besides privacy, considerable policies regulate the quality, accessibility, and availability of service delivery. Aside from regulations and policies, healthcare management has autonomy over service delivery. Hospital leadership can decide, with stakeholder input, of course, which insurance they want to accept, if they will operate with a lean Six Sigma model, and the health services they provide (i.e., adding telemedicine, home health, or advanced diagnostic testing).

In addition to their operating autonomy, large health systems can also affect local, state, and federal public policy. For example, health care providers can contribute to the advocacy efforts for Medicaid to cover certain services, like street medicine.6 This all culminates in public health management playing a large role in service delivery. 

Navigating Healthcare Systems and Structures

The United States has a notoriously complex health care system.5 We have multiple options for insurance - public insurance that is publicly funded, such as Medicaid and Medicare; private insurance that is publicly funded, through the state or federal marketplace; and private insurance that is privately funded, which is often through an employer or directly through the insurance company. There are multiple ‘tiers’ or levels to insurance, supplemental plans, separate dental and vision plans, and the list goes on. Healthcare management organizations can ease the burden of navigating these complex systems by providing case managers, patient navigators, and community health educators to guide folks through the system. 

The Influence of Socio-Economic and Political Factors on Health Policy

Health policy continuously changes and iterates with our evolving socio-economic and political environments. Each new political administration, at the local, state, and federal levels, usually tweaks health policies to their liking. Large-scale policy changes, like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, to smaller-scale policy changes, like Pennsylvania transitioning from a Federally Facilitated Marketplace to a State-Based Marketplace, both significantly impact their respective constituents. As the country continues to evolve, research, and learn more, public health policy will continue to iterate and develop to meet constituents’ wants and needs. 

Significance in Public Health

How Health Policy Shapes Public Health Initiatives

The CDC defines health policies as “formal or informal written statements designed to protect or promote health”.7 Health policies are formulated through careful research and shape public health initiatives. Two examples of recent health policies that shaped public health initiatives were the COVID-19 vaccine mandate and subsequent public health campaigns and the cigarette tax and subsequent tobacco cessation funded programs and anti-smoking campaigns.   

Impact on Healthcare Access and Equity

Health policy and healthcare management play significant roles in health care, access, and equity. Healthcare providers play a major role in communities. They are often large, staple organizations that have relationships with local government, small businesses, and non-governmental organizations. The federal government mandates all non-profit hospitals to complete community health needs assessments and implementation plans to address the needs of their surrounding communities.

This requires healthcare providers to become aware of and address their community’s needs in an equitable and accessible way. If the community health needs assessment depicts a lack of access to mental health services in a certain neighborhood, the health system must either provide those services or help connect individuals to an institution that can provide them. 

The Role of Health Management in Optimizing Healthcare Delivery

We know that health systems play a primary role in health care delivery. There are many ways to optimize this delivery, including taking a holistic approach to care, integrating additional service providers (i.e., social workers, case managers, etc.), and addressing needs identified by the community. Health administration leaders are obligated to optimize their healthcare delivery in an equitable, high-quality, and accessible way. 

Addressing Health Disparities Through Policy Interventions

Public health research highlights, and subsequently, through policy interventions, helps eliminate health disparities. Research assistants and healthcare policy experts study health outcomes across demographic groups at the population health level to identify disparate outcomes, unequal access, and ineffectual interventions. They use these findings to change policies that hopefully improve health equity.

Considering a Career in Health Policy and Management

Educational Pathways and Qualifications

  • Undergraduate Education:

    Most health policy and management jobs require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree in public health, health sciences, or health promotion. Many undergraduate programs will allow students to complete a fieldwork project to gain practical health policy and management experience. Students interested in becoming policy or health care management professionals should utilize students’ services, associate professors, and faculty members to maximize their educational experience.

  • Graduate School Education:

    There are hundreds of accredited Master of Public Health programs in the United States. Within MPH programs, there are various concentrations or specialties that prospective students can choose from, including health services research, health care leadership, health services administration, and health economics. Most health policy and management leadership positions will require a graduate degree in either public health (MPH), public policy (MPP), health administration (MHA), or business (MBA). Additionally, most graduate school programs will require students to complete a capstone project.

    These capstones allow graduate students to gain real-world experience in healthcare leadership or public policy. Some entry-level policy positions may not require graduate degrees, but higher-level policy and management positions will likely require one of the aforementioned graduate-level educations.

  • Doctorate Programs:

    There are also various doctoral programs in health policy and management. While having a PhD isn’t required for most management or policy roles, this educational pathway is great for people that want to go into academia or pursue a career in research. Harvard University offers a PhD in Health Policy with a variety of concentrations, including decision science, economics, political analysis, methods for policy research, and management. If you are interested in bioethics, Johns Hopkins offers a PhD in Health Policy and Management with a concentration in Bioethics.

    There are also Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) programs for people who are more interested in public health leadership roles than in academia or research. Drexel University offers a DrPH in Health Management and Policy that focuses research on topics such as climate change, reproductive health, data informatics. If you are interested in pursuing a doctorate, take a look at this list of accredited public health programs and explore what looks interesting to you.

Preferred Skills

First and foremost, you will often need years of experience to land a healthcare management position. This could be working at a hospital, non-profit, government entity, etc. That being said, some preferred skills for health policy and management positions are listed below.

  • Analytical skills (including research), policy analysis, communication, leadership, health economics (micro and macro economics), negotiation, advocacy, and cultural humility.

Diverse Roles

There are many potential roles within the health policy and management field.

  • Health Policy Analyst

    A health policy analyst's title is intuitive - they essentially study health policies. Health policies can be evaluated for various factors, including affordability, access, and quality. In addition to analysis, health policy analysts will often make policy recommendations to government officials and stakeholders.

  • Health Economist

    Health economists study the finances and economics related to our healthcare system. This could include the efficacy of insurance systems, financial implications of health programs and policies, or analyzing general country healthcare expenditures.

  • Health Care Administrator

    Health care administration can range from being a program manager at a clinic to becoming the CEO of an extensive health system. You can come in as an entry-level employee with excellent growth potential, and a significant opportunity for community-level impact.

  • Government Health Official

    There are various government entities you can work for to influence policy. You can work in an elected position or an appointed position. Local positions, like governor or city commissioner, or federal jobs, like the secretary of Health and Human Services, are all influential roles that will impact policy.

Challenges and Rewards

Challenges → Complexity

In addition to a complex health system, policy is also incredibly complex and constantly changing. Navigating the social, political, and legal landscapes to create effective policy and provide high-quality, affordable, accessible healthcare is difficult, albeit not impossible.

Rewards → Impact

Public health professionals who work in policy and management positions have a huge potential for large-scale impact. As described before, policy touches every aspect of life. Healthcare managers also work at the community and population level, so all positions have the potential to impact national and global health policy, environmental health, and social determinants of health. It can be an incredibly rewarding field to pursue a career in.

Health Policy in Action: Case Studies

According to the CDC, some of this century's greatest health policy achievements have been related to vaccine preventable diseases, motor vehicle safety, and tobacco control.9

  • Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

    Over time, researchers have found inoculative cures to many diseases that plague our society, such as meningitis, HPV, and tetanus. Accompanying these scientific discoveries have been policies, such as public schools requiring children to be vaccinated against many preventable diseases, that have saved many lives.9

  • Motor-vehicle Safety

    Wearing a seatbelt may seem like a no-brainer to you now, but 30 years ago the concept was more foreign. Policy changes and legislation led to a significant decline in both death and injury rates during motor vehicle accidents.9

  • Tobacco Control

    Besides cigarette taxes, many states passed ‘smoke free’ policies to limit where and when people can smoke. This resulted in decreased smoking rates among all age groups.9

Individuals Making a Difference in the Field

If you are interested in pursuing a career in policy, take a look at some of the inspiring professionals making a difference in the field. 

  • Ezekiel Emanuel is a health policy expert and bioethicist. He has served as an advisor to politicians and contributed to many instrumental and historical public policies.

  • Atul Gawande is a renowned surgeon, public health leader, and author. He currently serves as the Assistant Administrator for Global Health for the Biden-Harris administration, where he contributes to policies related to global health.

  • Leana Wen is an accomplished doctor and public health leader. She served as Baltimore’s Health Commissioner and helped create policies to improve the health and wellness of her community.

Advocacy and Implementation

Advocacy is imperative to effect health policy change. It takes action, insight, and advocacy to transform an idea or research into political action effectively. To ensure effective policy implementation, use strategies such as clear communication (low literacy level, in multiple languages, and through multiple channels (i.e., online, radio, social media, print)), being transparent and accountable for the policy suggestions, and monitoring and evaluation of community and constituents interests.

It’s important to balance public interest with political realities; we want the policy changes to align with most of the public’s interest, or, at least, as close as we can get it.


Health policy and management plays a vital role in society and is a ripe field for public health professionals. As there are endless policies that can be researched and enacted, consider exploring a career in this growing field. Whether or not you decide to become a policy expert or healthcare manager, all public health professionals are responsible for supporting effective health policy initiatives that will improve the daily lives of our communities.

About the Authors

Written by:

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML, is a program manager at one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. In her current role, she aligns and expands programming with needs identified in the federally mandated community health needs assessment, and deploys organizational resources to support community health improvement. Prior to this role, she was a community health educator for an advocacy nonprofit organization in Philadelphia. She has co-authored multiple research papers on criminal justice and substance abuse, and will be presenting on law enforcement assisted diversion at the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Ms. Henkin holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master in Law (ML) from the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Health Sciences from Ithaca College.

Opinions and information published by the author on are of her own and do not necessarily represent the views of opinions of her employer.

Kerra Henkin headshot

Kerra Henkin, MPH, ML

Program Manager

Education: University of Pennsylvania

Knowledge: Community health education

Reviewed by:

Katherine Paul, MPH

Katherine Paul, MPH is a senior project manager at a leading medical communications and publications organization. She supports multidisciplinary teams handling large-scale accounts, the deliverables of which improve health outcomes and patient well-being. Ms. Paul holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree in Health Promotion from Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health and passed the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after graduation. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Dickinson College.

Ms. Paul previously worked at a public health non-profit where she managed all aspects of diverse health-related projects, including the implementation of a randomized controlled clinical trial on sexual health for teens with developmental disabilities, as well as the evaluation of a statewide tobacco cessation program with more than 20,000 annual cases. She has developed and delivered posters and presentations at national conferences including the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting. 

Opinions and information published by the author here on are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer or other organizations for my designated roles.

Katherine Paul

Katherine Paul, MPH

Editorial Lead

Education: Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health

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