Projecting Success: A Strategic Guide to a Public Health Project Management Career

Published on: Jun 25, 2024

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment in health-related occupations is projected to grow much faster than other fields, with almost 2 million new job openings per year1.  Specifically, medical and health manager positions are one of the highest paying fields in healthcare, and they are projected to grow by almost 30% this decade2. Public health project managers play a critical role in healthcare projects and support public administration efforts. They help manage budgets, staffing, logistics, and other details of projects and programs. 

In this comprehensive guide to launching a career as a public health project manager, we will delve into the field by defining the role of project managers, detailing the educational pathways, key skills, and experiences for success, showcasing the different settings you could work in, career advancement opportunities, and the landscape of public health project management today.

Defining the Role of a Public Health Project Manager

Project managers essentially oversee projects from start to finish, or from inception to implementation. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this will include tasks like coordinating budgets, scheduling, staffing, and any other pertinent details of the project3.

Job Description and Core Responsibilities

Project manager job descriptions will likely include buzzwords and key focus areas such as planning for project’s scope, timeline, schedule, goals, and project deliverables. Inherent in the title, project managers will manage the timeline, schedule and roles of people involved, budget, and resources. They are responsible for communicating with key stakeholders about their roles, deliverables, timelines, etc. Essentially, they are the leaders and go-to person for whatever project they manage. Project deliverables are a tangible breakdown of the goal that client or stakeholder is looking to accomplish by the end of the project.

Real-World Example

To put this into perspective with a concrete example, let’s consider a university implementing a trauma-informed care seminar for teachers. The project manager is in charge of ensuring the teachers receive this seminar. The process would likely start with creating a budget (i.e., How much is the trauma-informed care professional running the seminar going to cost? Will there be refreshments at the event? Does it cost money to rent a room to host the seminar? etc.) creating a timeline (when do we want this event to happen?), identifying key stakeholders (is this training just for full-time teachers? Do we want other staff present, such as the school nurse, guidance counselor, administrator, coaches, etc?), and then putting the project plan into action.

The project manager will be the primary communicator with the seminar leader, school administrators, funders, teachers, etc and explain the project plan (seminar staffing, pre/post survey) to these stakeholders. They will likely be present at the event to help with flow, answer any questions, and triage any day-of issues. After the seminar, they can conduct pre and post surveys to gauge how helpful this training was to school staff so they can modify it going forward.

Public Health Project Manager vs. Program Manager vs. Clinical or Research Project Manager

There are many different kinds of ‘manager’ roles, even within the field of public health and healthcare. You may see positions described as ‘public health project manager’, ‘program manager’, ‘clinical project manager’ and ‘research project manager’. While in the macro sense these roles may be similar, there are distinct differences between them. A public health project manager would take the type of role described above; they are in charge of public health-related projects.

Because the field of public health is so vast, these topic areas could have a variety of focus areas, from environmental health to disease control to behavioral health. Program managers take a different approach because they manage programs instead of projects. Programs typically operate for a longer period of time (compared to shorter-term projects) so program managers also consider factors like sustainability and longer-term relationship development. A public health program manager may work on a program to deliver catch up childhood vaccines to local schools, while a public health project manager might work on the communication campaign to increase vaccine compliance.

Clinical project managers and research project managers are titles that are sometimes used interchangeably and describe a type of project manager focused on clinical trials or other clinical research. They manage clinical trials, which are essentially research studies on new medicines, vaccines, and devices. Any research on human subjects has strict protocols and adherence guidelines, so clinical project managers have to abide by government regulations in addition to their own project protocols. The day-to-day core responsibilities of clinical project managers are similar to public health project managers (planning, management, communication, leadership), just with a different focus area and set of guidelines.

Educational Pathway to Public Health Project Management

Most public health project management roles will require at least a bachelor’s degree - and some will require a masters degree. While years of experience may suffice for some positions, it’s helpful to understand the importance of formal education in these roles. 

Undergraduate Education: 

Most public health project management roles will require candidates to have at least a bachelors degree in public health, health promotion, or business. Many undergraduate programs will allow students to complete a fieldwork project or have internship opportunities to gain practical project management experience. Students interested in becoming a public health project manager should utilize students’ services, associate professors, and faculty members to maximize their educational experience. 

Graduate School Education: 

There are hundreds of CEPH-accredited Master of Public Health programs in the United States. Within MPH programs, prospective students can choose from an array of concentrations or specialties, including health administration, health care management, and health care leadership. Additionally, most graduate school programs will require students to complete a capstone project. This is another great opportunity to gain real-world experience in public health project management. 


In addition to formal education, there is also the option to get certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute. The Project Management Institute (PMI) is an organization for project management professionals offering a variety of services, including continuing education learning opportunities and events, access to local chapters of the organization, and various project management certifications.

One of the most common certifications is the Project Management Professional (PMP). To acquire a PMP certification, you pass a 180 question exam, have formal education, experience leading projects, and either 35 hours of project management training or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification from PMI. The PMP certification is not for the faint of heart but may also not be necessary for you. Here are some factors to consider when looking into the PMP certification.

  • Cost: According to a Forbes article, PMP certification training programs can cost anywhere from $300 to $3,0004.

  • Necessity: Look at the job descriptions for some of the positions you are interested in. Do they list the PMP certification as a requirement? If they do, it may open the door for additional career opportunities.

  • Salary increase: The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for Project Management Specialists to be about $98,600 per year5. According to a PMI survey, 50% of respondents who completed the PMP certification reported that their total compensation increased over the following year, with over 20% reporting an increase of at least 5%6. Survey respondents with the PMP certification reported having 16% higher median salaries than their counterparts without the certification6. Taking the median salary into consideration, this means people who have the PMP certification are earning about $16,000 more than their non-PMP certified counterparts. 

Since we live with the internet and easy access to people’s personal experiences, there are multiple Reddit pages with hundreds of comments about if people think their PMP certification was worth it. Assess if anyone has answered your specific questions or if you can gain any insight.

Key Skills and Experiences for Success

First and foremost, to land a public health project manager position you will likely need at least a couple years of experience. This could be in the healthcare industry, clinical research, information technology, environmental health, or human resources. Many individuals will start as project coordinators or program coordinators, research assistants, or program assistants. These roles will help you gain essential skills for managing projects such as leadership skills, interpersonal skills, and knowledge of Microsoft Project. You will work with a project team to learn more about healthcare project management and gain the necessary experience. From these entry-level project manager roles, you can go on to become a program manager, project manager ii, senior project manager, senior program manager, and so on.

Example Career Path:

Kerra Henkin graduated from college with a Bachelor’s of Science in Public Health. After college, she spent a year working for a small non-profit organization as a health educator. She then spent two years as a research assistant, gaining a different foundational skill set. After that, she went to graduate school to get her MPH degree, where she worked as a Project Manager to implement a trauma-informed care curriculum in her local school district. When she applied for the Project Manager position, she had a bachelor’s degree and three years of experience managing smaller scale, one-off projects, communicating with stakeholders, planning meetings, and being the point person for various initiatives.

This experience made her a ripe candidate to become a Project Manager and keep developing her management, leadership, communication, and organization skills (just to name a few).

Project Management in Different Settings

Public health project management is a vast field with opportunities for individuals to hold a variety of roles. Below, we will delve into the different types and settings that project managers can work in.

  • Healthcare project managers will work on projects related to healthcare. This could be a hospital, clinic, for-profit or nonprofit organization, or government entity. These projects and program managers could work on tasks related to insurance and billing, providing healthcare services, public health education, population health, or epidemiology. Initiatives related to population health are primed for project management support as population health focuses on the intersection between healthcare organizations and their local communities8. The opportunities are endless. 

  • Clinical project managers in public health laboratories. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) a public health laboratory exists for disease control and prevention7. We all lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, and there were undoubtedly many amazing clinical project managers who helped oversee the COVID-19 vaccine approval process. Clinical project managers in these settings can work on infectious disease projects to prevent or minimize the spread of infectious diseases.

  • Project managers in healthcare organizations will likely work on projects for a hospital system. These projects could range from testing new preventive medicine and harm reduction methodologies (such as piloting an Mpox clinic at Pride or a free needle exchange) to managing a specific department’s scheduling and programs.

In addition to these roles, project and program managers can work across a variety of sectors, such as behavioral health, disease control, and patient care. For example, a behavioral health project manager may work on mental health projects at a children’s hospital; disease control project managers may work on disaster preparedness at a local health center, and patient care project managers could work on efficiency procedures at an emergency department. Because there are so many potential subject areas, you are essentially guaranteed to find a topic you are interested in working on. Keep in mind that organizations all have different ways of describing these roles - you may see the term “program management” in job posting when you’re expecting to see ‘project management’ for example. As mentioned above, program management has a very similar scope to project management so it’s important to review these descriptions closely.

Career Advancement and Opportunities

There are various levels to move through in the project management field. Most individuals will start as a project coordinator (sometimes called a program coordinator) and make their way to a senior project or program manager. Similar to title escalation, responsibilities will also increase as you move through the pipeline toward the senior level. At the program coordinator level, you may be responsible for maintaining stakeholder communication, taking minutes during and convening meetings, setting deadlines, and maintaining relationships. At the senior program manager level, you will be responsible for tasks like creating strategic plans, presenting to leadership, evaluating programs, supervising coordinators, etc. This field is exciting because there is potential for career path evolution and upward mobility. 

Internship opportunities are a great way for aspiring project managers to gain valuable experience. If you are in school, explore potential internships that require project coordination or management. Keep an eye out for job alerts on Linkedin or Indeed that fit the sector and topics you are interested in. Have a few equal-opportunity employers on your radar and bookmark their career pages. Any project management experience you can gain will be invaluable for your career growth. At the internship level, you also have the flexibility to try a role that might not be the subject area or setting that you’re ultimately interested in but can still give you important career-building experience. For example, you could take an internship in a social services organization focused on mental hygiene project management. While you might want a career working as a clinical project manager, the skills gained learning how to develop a project plan and track deliverables related to mental hygiene will serve you well through gaining hands-on experience of project management even if it’s not the exact field of public health you’ll eventually pursue.

The Landscape of Public Health Project Management

Public health project managers play a big role in healthcare projects and public health policy. When new policies are being created and tested, public health project managers often find the data, test solutions, create the presentations, convene the stakeholders, etc. We cannot emphasize enough how essential project managers are to a functioning society and developing innovative public health solutions to challenging health issues. We know that the health management field is projected to grow by almost 30% this decade2, with almost 2 million jobs opening each year1.

This blatantly shows increased demand for skilled managers in the healthcare sector. If you have been considering a public health project management role, now is a great time to enter the field.

The Takeaways

Project management plays a vital role in society and is a ripe field for public health professionals. Project managers play a role in conceptualizing and implementing life changing programs, projects, medicines, and more. There are endless topics within public health that you could make a career of in project management, so consider pursuing this dynamic career path.

Whether or not you decide to become a public health project manager, all public health professionals are responsible for supporting programs, projects, and research initiatives that will improve the daily lives of our communities by implementing public health solutions to pressing issues.

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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