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7 tips on starting a career in public health

7 tips on starting a career in public health

Public health professionals from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work share their best advice during National Public Health Week

April 7, 2022 at 1:30pm

This week is National Public Health Week (NPHW), an initiative hosted by the American Public Health Association. NPHW works to bring together public health professionals to discuss racism, mental health, health disparities, and more.

Olivia Ceavers and Osmari Novoa, students from the Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, worked with faculty and staff to bring NPHW to the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, organizing events, presentations and content that encourage conversation around public health and strategies to build healthier communities.

NPHW events are also being hosted throughout the university, including a Physical Activity Webinar Series hosted by FIU, the Physical Activity Section of the American Public Health Association, Americas’ Network for Chronic Disease Surveillance and the Universidad de Antioquia, which brings together FIU medical and public health experts to discuss the importance of physical activity across all ages and backgrounds.  

“Within the last two years, we have experienced and appreciated the importance of public health. As doctoral students in the School of Public Health, we must provide educational opportunities and resources surrounding important public health issues to our community,” Ceavers and Novoa said in an email.

Ceavers and Novoa also know how critical it is to inspire those interested in public health to join the field. So, tapping into the Stempel College network, Ceavers and Novoa asked faculty and staff for the best advice they would give to aspiring public health professionals. 

What advice can you offer those interested in entering the field of public health?

Zoran Bursac, chair and professor, Department of Biostatistics: This is a great time to join the field of public health. Today we face many local, national and global health issues, from the COVID-19 pandemic to emerging infectious diseases, chronic diseases, environmental problems, and disasters. Regardless of the concentration that students are interested in, these mentioned problems can be approached and tackled by every public health discipline. We need to build a future public health workforce capable of tracking disease surveillance and trends, data analytics and visualizations, effective interventions and policies, and environmental solutions to mitigate and minimize poor health outcomes locally and globally.

My advice is to learn the basics of all public health disciplines and gain computational and data analytic skills as they are needed in all aspects of our work. Collaborate with experts in other areas, find multidisciplinary solutions to current issues, and anticipate future problems.

Deidre Okeke, program manager, Online MPH Generalist: I can offer two pieces of advice. First, as with all things, before entering the field, it is crucial to engage in hands-on experience to see if the field meets your interests. Public health is practiced in so many ways and is a very interdisciplinary field, so spending time exploring its different specializations is key. This can be accomplished in several ways, but the easiest first step is to start with a job search engine like Indeed and type in “public health”. Review this list to see the plethora of positions available in the field and what education requirements are needed (i.e. an MPH, MSPH, Ph.D., DrPH, etc.). Once this is done, reach out to those agencies to see how you can gain experience through volunteering or an internship.

Next, I would stress gaining exposure to various types of statistical software and learning how to manage data since these two areas are in high demand. Public health is practiced well when evidence-based strategies are implemented, so learning how to collect, assess/analyze, and interpret data is an invaluable skill and (in my opinion) mandatory for public health professionals.

Elena Bastida, professor and chair, Department of Health Promotion & Disease Prevention: 
Kindness, compassion, empathy and a strong sense of justice and fairness are essential characteristics of a public health practitioner and researcher. Those interested in public health should have a deep concern and interest in improving the health and welfare of those who are disadvantaged in our community, including racial/ethnic minority and immigrant populations, the elderly, and those with poor mental health and physical disabilities.

Nasar U Ahmed, founding chair, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics: Public health is one of the most impactful areas to study in this century of pandemics, environmental and man-made global devastation.

Jeremy Chambers, interim chair and associate professor, Department of Environmental Health Sciences: The best advice I can offer for individuals entering the field is to be open-minded and flexible in their approach to learning and practice. Public health is a very dynamic field. You can never fully anticipate the challenges and opportunities you may encounter as a professional, so treat each course and discipline with the same enthusiasm and rigor.

Melissa Ward, assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology: Some topics we study and work on in public health can be very heavy at times. I would strongly encourage those entering the field to be sure they remember to take care of themselves. Stay plugged into your social support systems. Don’t neglect your hobbies or the things that bring you joy. Remember to do things that fill you up because working in public health will require you to pour yourself out.

Yasenka Peterson, director of Online MPH Generalist: My advice for those entering the public health field is to love and value what you do! Public health is the foundation of any healthy, thriving community. While this is true, you will constantly need to advocate and educate others about public health because many do not understand its value. There will be difficult and frustrating days, but always remember that the work you do will positively impact the lives of so many people – many of whom you will never meet but whose lives are better because of the work you do!  What is also true is that if you love what you do, the difference you make in others’ lives will also positively impact your life. What we do simply matters!”