How to find a career in public health without a medical background

Before covid-19 hit, most people didn’t know what a pandemic was, much less the importance of public health. So the impact of public health professionals was crucial in shaping the public response to the virus. 

From case tracking and contact tracing to health education and public awareness, they do the job we often take for granted. Unlike doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers who treat the sick, public health professionals prevent us from getting sick in the first place.

A common misconception about public health is that professionals should only come from medical or paramedical fields. The truth is that public health is for everyone. As much as public health is global, it is also local. That is, the world isn’t healthy until communities are. Public health is a multifaceted field that requires the intervention of multiple professionals. It requires all hands on deck.

The most effective community health intervention comes from within the community itself. It requires awareness of the problems and needs of the community, empathy, critical thinking and passion for putting in the hard work. If you are aiming to get a public health degree, look around your community, find a public health need, and work with the right authorities to solve it.

Here are four areas of public health that don’t require a medical degree.

2) Health influencers

These are today’s public health educators. During the pandemic, when stress was high, people were confused, and misinformation was commonplace, health influencers were crucial in providing people with the right information to protect themselves and their families. When public health scares like this happen, people need help navigating a ton of misinformation. 

During public health scares like Covid-19, misleading voices tend to be the loudest by capitalizing on widespread fear. Health educators have to stand in the gap. Community health workers and health promotion workers promote health by encouraging healthy behaviours, working with individuals and organizations to ensure access to health. They act as advocates for better health systems by listening to their community.

Public health efforts don’t work if the people aren’t interested in them. It is the job of health promotion officers to get the public excited about their health. Community health workers can organize free workshops, health screenings or hearing tests.

Finally, having a huge platform and public trust is a huge responsibility. Although most health promoters don’t require specific credentials, they require good knowledge of health behaviours, listening and communication skills, and teamwork. In addition, it is important to have a passion for improving the health of your community and for increasing health access. 

2) Mental health professionals

Mental health is a public health issue. Although it is often treated as separate, poor mental health negatively affects physical health. Public health aims to prevent mental illnesses, provide access to mental health care and support and prevent the effects it has on physical and social wellbeing. Key professionals involved in public mental health are social workers. 

Public health social workers must find people within communities with mental health issues, assess their needs and work to see those needs met. They work with governments to improve access to healthcare for at-risk communities. They study the causes and effects of mental health problems and coordinate plans to deal with them. 

Public health social workers were essential during the pandemic for providing counselling, education and other forms of social support. 

Most places require a degree in social work and additional training in public health. Key skills required include interpersonal skills, empathy, management and critical thinking. 

3) Public health economist

These people combine their knowledge of economics and health care to make healthcare systems more efficient. They work to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of public health programs. They study how behaviours can impact health in the long term and work in teams and organizations that develop public health policies to achieve public health goals in the most cost-efficient manner. 

Becoming a health economist usually requires an undergraduate degree in economics. In many cases, this can be followed by a postgraduate degree in public health, health management, etc. In all cases, an analytical mind and research skills are a must. 

4) Public health administrators 

Like any other field, administrators run the ship. Their key roles include supervising, budgeting, and monitoring interventions. Public health administrators have one end goal—improving public health. They pull human, financial and technological resources to achieve that goal.

Public health administrators work with community leaders and other public health professionals to assess community health problems, develop interventions and raise funds.

To work as a public health administrator, you need a Bachelor’s degree in public health or healthcare administration. A graduate degree may be beneficial, but the top skills you must have are management, communication skills, organization, problem-solving and data analysis. 

There are many opportunities if you look for them

There is an increasing demand for public health professionals. There are so many ways that you can contribute to improving public health. This article highlighted a few. Public health is about having a genuine commitment to preventing health problems.

Postgraduate training in public health is available to people who don’t have prior medical training because governments and regulators are realizing how limiting public health to medical professionals isn’t efficient. There are many opportunities for careers in public health if you look for them.