College Advice for Teens Pursuing a Public Health Career
As the global COVID-19 crisis unfolds, the public has been introduced to a formerly unheralded group of medical professionals who are now at the forefront of the world’s response to the pandemic. With this enhanced visibility and well-earned praise and admiration, College Transitions has seen increased interest from high school students in careers that relate to the prevention and treatment of infectious disease. In this blog, we will highlight five public health careers: Epidemiologist, Biostatistician, Public Health Advisor, Microbiologist, and Infectious Disease Pharmacist. For each job, we will detail:
- What they do
- Where they work
- Level of education required
- Median salary
- Job outlook
- Best undergraduate majors to pursue
Let’s start with a profession whose very name reveals its function—the study of epidemics.
What they do: Investigate the patterns and causes of infectious disease through scientific analysis. There are numerous types of epidemiologists that specialize in areas like academic research, infection control, clinical trials, disaster response, and investigations. All branches seek to determine the pattern and frequency of a health event within a given population.
Where they work: They are often employed by federal agencies like the Center for Disease Control as well as state and local governments. Other epidemiologists are employed by colleges and universities or directly by hospitals.
Level of education required: Medical epidemiologists possess MD or DO degrees. Research epidemiologists who are not medical doctors often pursue a MPH degree or a PhD in a related area.
Median salary: $69,660.
Job outlook: Projected to grow 5% from 2018 to 2028.
Best undergraduate majors to pursue: A number of majors can set you up to pursue additional education in epidemiology but you should definitely complete coursework in biology, chemistry, calculus, the behavioral sciences, and the health sciences. Some schools like Indiana University-Bloomington and the University of Rochester actually offer bachelor’s degrees in public health that concentrate in epidemiology.
What they do: Develop and apply statistical methods to research health-related phenomena such as infectious diseases. Along the way, biostatisticians are tasked with developing new mathematical rules, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting and communicating their findings.
Where they work: Most biostatisticians work for the federal government while many find work in academia, research laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry, or other private research firms.
Level of education required: A master’s degree is the typical entry-level credential in this field.
Median salary: $87,780
Job outlook: Projected to grow 30% from 2018 to 2028.
Best undergraduate majors to pursue: An undergraduate degree in statistics, biostatistics, or mathematics will set you up nicely to pursue an advanced degree in the field. Visit our Dataverse to view the best colleges for statistics or mathematics.
Public Health Advisor
What they do: In essence, a public health advisor serves as a liaison between government agencies and the broader community. They work to educate the public and implement programs devised by researchers and governments.
Where they work: Many public health advisors work directly for the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, or for state or local governments.
Level of education required: A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required but most public health advisors possess an MPH.
Median salary: $54,220
Job outlook: This field is expected to grow 11% through 2028.
Best undergraduate majors to pursue: You can earn a bachelor’s degree in any field if you plan to eventually enroll in an MPH program, but most select a science or health-related major.
What they do: Study microorganisms including bacteria and viruses by conducting experiments and analyzing results. Microbiologists work in various capacities as researchers, teachers, diagnosticians, and safety experts.
Where they work: Microbiologists work for governments, universities, and private research labs. The CDC is a major employer of microbiologists. Hospitals are another location in which many in this field work.
Level of education required: This is a job where entry-level positions can be obtained straight out of an undergraduate program, but many microbiologists go on to earn master’s degrees or a PhD in order to perform independent research and other advanced duties.
Median salary: $71,650
Job outlook: Expected to grow 5% through 2028.
Best undergraduate majors to pursue: The typical pathway would be to earn a BS in Microbiology. Many of the top colleges for biology also have stellar microbiology programs.
Infectious Disease Pharmacist
What they do: Provide pharmaceutical care to patients with infectious diseases. There are only about 2,000 ID pharmacists currently in practice.
Where they work: Most infectious disease pharmacists work in hospitals or for government agencies.
Level of education required: Infectious disease pharmacists need to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
Median salary: $126,120
Job outlook: 0% growth is expected over the next decade.
Best undergraduate majors to pursue: Most pre-pharmacy undergraduates major in biology or chemistry. View our Dataverse to see the list of the best colleges for chemistry. While a fair amount of math and science coursework is strongly recommended, there are plenty of English, business, or psychology majors who score well on the PCAT exam to gain entrance into a pharmacy program.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).