Master of Public Health Career Options and Opportunities

Published on: Aug 28, 2023

Prior to starting Master of Public Health coursework or even applying to programs, it is important to have a sense of what you might do post-graduation. Choosing an exact career path isn’t essential or potentially even fully possible in advance of starting a degree program, but learning what options might be open to you after completing a public health program may help to answer a few questions likely on your mind: “Is an MPH worth the cost and time?"  "What are common public health career options?" or "What companies might be hiring recent MPH graduates?".

All are worth exploring early in your MPH decision-making process. Similarly, reviewing employment trends and labor statistics prior to initiating graduate program applications is a worthwhile endeavor.

Will I find a job?

In short, our field is booming. That does not mean finding a job will be without effort, but the projected rate of growth for public health jobs is more than double the rate of growth expected for other fields in the coming years1. Many of the anticipated job openings are expected to be entry-level, which is ideal for someone just starting their career1. These are positions likely to stem from the COVID-19 pandemic, and may be related to disease control to prevent further spread, or global health to understand how one country's policies impact citizens of other countries nearby.

To work in the field of public health, a masters degree will give you an advantage over other applicants with only professional experience. The rigor of an accredited MPH program tells potential employers that you have training in key areas and would be likely to hit the ground running as a new employee. In fact, a recent survey of over 50,000 MPH graduates found that almost three-quarters of graduates were employed with the majority of those not employed choosing further education or internships2. Of those employed, slightly over a quarter were employed in health care and slightly less than a quarter were working for corporations. Only six percent of the over 50,000 graduates surveyed were unemployed. 

Types of Jobs

The general population sees public health as vaguely related to medicine or assume that the work available would be limited to activities like organizing health fairs. While both of those beliefs hold merit, the career options are far more extensive and have grown since the field's initial conception with disease control. Since the late 1980s, the World Health Organization defines public health as promoting health and well-being, improving health-related services, and reducing inequalities. The American Public Health Association has a few short videos explaining what public health really is and lists common jobs that someone working in public health might have, including public health nurse, health policy maker, and social worker. 

Breaking down the specific public health jobs that might fall within the wide-ranging goal of improving health and quality of life is one of the things we'll explore in this section. There are a variety of types of jobs available to someone considering a master's in public health, making the prospect of a career in the field both filled with options and harder to define from an outside perspective or before you begin graduate school. 

An entry-level public health job is often in support of a larger team. Examples of the types of jobs for recent graduates include: 

  • Qualitative research interviewer (conducting interviews and focus groups)

  • Study recruiter (helping to find participants for a study)

  • Community health worker (providing health center clients with connections to resources, such as mental health services)

  • Data assistant (running analyses for review by primary investigators, summarizing data for reports)

  • Field coordinator (providing training support to schools and childcare centers related to health and safety measures)

  • Health educator (working with the local community to provide education on a specific health issue)

Where to look for a job?

One of the advantages of an accredited public health graduate program is that many include practicums (i.e., internships) as a graduation requirement. In a typical two-year program, students will be required to complete a specified number of hours of practical experience within a public health organization during the summer between their first and second years of coursework. More than just a box checking requirement to graduate, these internships are a great opportunity for students to test out a sub-field of public health while also making networking connections. Some internships may also lead to a position following graduation, making the transition from student to employed public health professional seamless.

Most graduate programs will also have a career services center that can serve as a resource for learning where other recent graduates have found positions. Career services offices have varying levels of support for students, so it’s worth looking into what a given program offers while you’re deciding where to enroll. Some career services offices have extensive alumni information to help you network and find a position while other career services offices may only have general resources. Some programs may not even have a career services office. Regardless of the extent of the resources that a career services office has, the only way to make sure you’re getting the most of out these resources is to actively pursue what’s offered: try to set up a meeting with someone in that office, read through available information on alumni, and ask if they have a list of companies that have hired recent graduates. 

Networking during your public health program is an often under-utilized way to make connections that could lead to a full-time position. Many people find the concept of networking cold and forced, but having a public health degree in common or sharing a conference experience can make this less awkward and give you an easier way to initiate a conversation. An excellent way to meet people working in public health outside of your locality is by attending conferences as a student registrant, often for a reduced fee, like the American Public Health Association's (APHA) Annual Meeting.

There are several other conferences and events that unlock networking opportunities. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement hosts several annual conferences focused on health and patient safety that would provide chances to meet people employed in public health nationwide, and may be most suitable for someone interested in healthcare management or health administration. The National Network of Public Health Institutes comprises public health nonprofits across the country along with 10 regional training centers for public health, also hosts an annual conference. This conference could be a good opportunity if you’re interested in a career as a public health program manager.

Following a conference, you should reach out to people you met to continue the conversation started in person. Even if they don't know of an immediate opportunity, periodically keeping in touch keeps you at the forefront of their mind when an opportunity in their network does arise. 

Nationally, there are a variety of resources to help with a job search. One resource available is the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health fellowship and internship program. This is a unique program designed only for recent (within five years of graduation) graduates and has both domestic and global health placements. APHA also has an online career resource center that can provide resume review support and training opportunities to build out your resume. The Society for Public Health Education has an online resource center with webinars, conferences, and volunteer opportunities that could be used to gain more relevant experience while searching for a job. Given the Society's focus on health education, the resources offered are suited for early career exploration. 

Health departments, nonprofits, and the private sector

While an obvious place to begin your job search is with your state or local health department, the breadth of potential organizations that hire individuals with public health degrees is much greater. Many nonprofit organizations focused on societal issues have positions open for someone with a masters degree in one of the social sciences, including both public health and social work. 

Hospitals and health care organizations employ MPH program graduates with opportunities both for those with traditional health service backgrounds, such as a nurse practitioner who has now completed a public health degree, and public health graduates with little prior professional experience. 

Perhaps because "private" is in the name, the private sector is a frequently overlooked employment area for public health graduates. Pharmaceutical companies regularly hire public health graduates as data analysts and statisticians. These positions could be an ideal fit for someone who concentrated in biostatistics or epidemiology. Other positions that pharmaceutical companies often hire for are in medical affairs and publications, supporting the development of conference submissions and manuscripts related to the products developed by the pharmaceutical company. Consulting firms are another private sector employer of public health graduates, either within a company that focuses on a specialized health-related subject matter area, or as part of a large organization within which health care or public policy are areas of focus.


While there are public health opportunities around the country, certain areas have historically been known for excellent opportunities in public health. New York City has one of the largest health departments in the world with over 6,000 employees. New York City has frequently been the first city to adopt now well-established and tested public health measures like banning tobacco use in restaurants and bars, and proposing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Across the country, California has also been known for innovative public health measures with state universities offering public health degrees. Similar to New York, most major cities in California have unique health departments. 

For those interested in global health and focusing on the specific health needs of refugees, Minnesota’s Refugee and International Health Program offers programming and employment related to screenings, epidemiology through tracking disease, and community outreach. The nationwide transition to higher rates of remote work in recent years following COVID-19, living within a certain geographical area may be less of a necessity than in the past. An exception to this is within the field of environmental health, as certain parts of the United States offer differing opportunities depending on local geography. 

Uncovering Salaries & Salary Ranges

Often hidden in job descriptions or not posted publicly with labor statistics, salary information is likely at the forefront of your mind especially given the cost of a graduate degree. The salary range for public health positions can vary drastically and depend chiefly on the type of organization where you find employment, but multiple sources estimate that the national average for all public health salaries is $67,000 annually3, 4. While this is useful information, you need to put it in context. Is $67,000 low or high? And compared to whom? Ziprecruiter compiles salary information across fields and reports that the average salary offered to those with any type of master's degree is $66,908. This means that having an MPH should mean your starting salary will be similar to others with master’s degrees, but job security is likely to be better as the projected rate of growth for public health jobs is much higher than the national average.

Public health jobs based at any level of government (i.e., within a health department) will have salaries determined by state or city budgets. A 2017 survey of state and local government health department employees found that the majority received annual compensation in the $45,000 - $55,000 range, although the full range skewed to higher salaries with an upper limit for the survey of $145,0005. This average estimate may skew lower based on the local health department salaries, as a nationwide survey of state health employee salaries had generally higher averages for all positions, including a range of $44,468 - 83,241 for a public health informatics specialist, $37,519 - 66,661 for a health educator, and $40,733 - 97,498 for an epidemiologist/statistician6

Future trends for employment

With the recent COVID-19 crisis, the demand for qualified workers across all ranges of public health and health care has grown exponentially. While signs point to the pandemic lessening through the success of vaccines and social distancing measures, there are secondary and tertiary employment trends that may come to light in the coming years.

For example, public health research may examine the impact of social isolation on people who spent much of the pandemic living alone. Other research might explore the impact of missed routine health care (e.g., dentist appointments, mammograms) during the worst of the pandemic and the rise in subsequent health issues. Research may explore the impact of increased screen time on children’s development with virtual learning, or on the increase in quality of life for remote employees who no longer have a commute to the office. These are current possibilities given COVID-19, but the possibilities of public health innovation are always morphing in response to real-time changes in society. 


Click here to review our list of top MPH programs and learn more next steps for starting your public health journey!

About the Author

Written 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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