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Careers and a pandemic: public health professions

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the role of public health practitioners to the forefront – and the way communities and businesses operate will never be the same. 

“Public health professions often go unseen. These are the people who are keeping us safe and preventing illness before it happens,” said Deidre A. Okeke ‘17, public health admissions coordinator at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. “The pandemic has highlighted these professions and the need for public health careers.  I would not be surprised to see public health positions in companies where we never expected them to be, with those jobs taking center stage soon.”

The pandemic has made it clear that businesses need to better understand health and protection guidelines to ensure the safety of employees, customers, and society. This change in the way businesses are run will need trained professionals who understand the ins-and-outs of public health.

Students have been preparing for these future careers at Stempel College through the Master of Public Health (MPH) program, which offers concentrations that give students the tools they need to succeed in a post-COVID-19 work and lead public health efforts – both nationally and globally. Ranked as the 49th top public health program in the country among public universities by U.S. News & World Report, the highly regarded program ensures students graduate prepared for a successful career. The college also offers a fully online MPH that ranked 10th in the country in 2020, by PublicHealth.org.

“We are creating a healthier world now and for future generations,” said Florence Greer ’95, public health practicum coordinator and instructor. “I was fortunate to receive an outstanding education in our MPH program where I was prepared to serve in various roles to help underrepresented communities and I take pride in assisting students with opportunities to experience public health in action, especially during these important times.”

Five concentrations, one MPH

Public health is divided into five main concentration areas at Stempel College – Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Health Policy & Management, Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, and Environmental Health Sciences.

“There are a lot of agencies looking for the skills that our program teaches. While students choose the concentration that best fits their goals, the overall program includes an essential framework of courses that really prepares students to take on almost any role within the field of public health, in both the private and public sectors,” Okeke said.

In the times of COVID-19, Epidemiologists are leading the way in tracking the spread of the disease through their contact-tracing efforts. As the “detectives” of the public health world, these professionals are helping gather the incidence and prevalence rates of the virus to flatten the curve effectively.

Biostatisticians, in turn, work to translate epidemiological and experimental data into communicable findings. They are incredibly valuable public health professionals that not only provide fellow scientists with an interpretation of findings but help with all aspects of the scientific method – from the design of a study to the statistical analysis of study results. Without Biostatisticians, it would be difficult to make sense of data or even know how to design a research study appropriately.

Once data is compiled and findings are reported, it’s the responsibility of public health professionals to translate this and communicate them to the public at large. This particular task is where those in the field of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention come in. Individuals in this field take what’s been discovered and apply behavioral theories to help promote change in or the adoption of new health behaviors. Messages about handwashing hygiene, modes of COVID-19 transmission, and who are the high-risk populations can be attributed to their efforts.

To have large, positive impacts on health, the implementation of policies is necessary – which is an area of specialization within the public health sector. Those within Health Policy & Management take scientific data and translate them into policies to help protect the health and well-being of the public. Social distancing regulations and mandated use of face masks in public areas reflect just a few current efforts of public health professionals within Health Policy & Management roles.

Lastly, public health professionals within Environmental Health Sciences are the ones protecting populations within industries and workplaces. Although public health professionals in this area tend to be scientists in laboratories that research biological and environmental pathways that contribute to various diseases, their efforts transcend into the evaluation of workplaces and their impact on human health. Their work leads to the development and implementation of prevention and intervention strategies such as safety trainings and protection procedure manuals.

“Our students are uniquely prepared to be the next generion of public health leaders with a commitment of service and dedication towards establishing new levels of educating the public on healthier lifestyles, evidence-based research, improving our public health infrastructure, protecting our environment, and developing policies on health and safety on local, state, national, and international levels,” Greer said.

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