Public Health is potentially the most undervalued, untapped reservoir of career potential for young students who are ambitious, eager to make an impact at a systemic level, and want to pursue a career path that offers both fulfillment and job security.

Public health requires every skill set, meaning everyone from marketers to software developers, scientists to statisticians can find a role that touches lives and makes real impacts. There is no shortage of jobs or job security, and there are openings in every frontier of this field. The field offers a chance to make a real difference, something many young job seekers cite a desire to do in their jobs, and the wealth of opportunities in public health create the perfect environment to do that. In addition, the public health field offers a level of job security that is increasingly tough to find in other industries. 

So what’s the disconnect? Why aren’t new graduates flocking to the career opportunities in public health? The answer is that public health has an image problem, and it’s due time to fix that.

In this article, we’ll cover: 

  • What does it mean to work in public health?
  • What jobs are available in public health?
  • The growing demand for young talent in public health
  • Why public health is an ideal career path for Gen Z
  • Why are young people overlooking careers in public health?
  • Bridging the gap in exposure with K-12 Health Pathways programs

What does it mean to work in Public Health?

To address this, we first should identify what we mean by “public health.” 

What does Public Health encompass?

Public health seeks to improve overall population health, empower communities to become responsible for their own health, and to protect people from disease and other preventable public problems like water and food contamination. Public Health is made up of essential services, both at the state, local, and city levels and also the work that health systems, centers, and community organizations do. 

What is the difference between Healthcare and Public Health?

Healthcare is typically delivered one to one by providers like doctors, nurses, and techs in a clinical setting. Public health is focused on working further upstream to address systemic issues and root causes of health problems affecting whole communities of people. The ultimate goal of public health isn’t only to treat the problems, it is to prevent the problems before they happen.

This means that those working in public health are considering a variety of disease states, certainly, but there are others looking at everything from environmental issues to average commute times to accessibility of green space in particular communities. Public health seeks to address the overall wellness of a community and takes into account much more than medical well being. 

What jobs are available in Public Health?

The word “health” typically lends itself to mental images of doctors, nurses, and hospitals, but that isn’t all that public health is. Many of those working within this field have job titles that can also be found in other industries. In the realm of community wellbeing, these familiar roles work hand in hand with clinical healthcare to better the holistic health of a large group of people, whether it’s a neighborhood, city, community or state. 

Common Career Paths in Public Health

Health administration and policy:

These roles oversee the day-to-day administrative operations of hospitals and other healthcare facilities and generate ideas and solutions to solve challenges. Their responsibilities might include planning and supervising all medical services—including monitoring budgets and updating health records. Candidates for these roles often have a degree in healthcare administration and may go on to pursue management degrees. 

Some jobs in this field include: 

  • Health Policy Analyst
  • Health Policy Research Assistant
  • Lobbyist
  • Public Affairs Specialist
  • Wellness Coordinator

Maternal child health:

Those working in maternal and child health look at public health through the lens of providing accessible and comprehensive prenatal care to pregnant women and resources and guidance once babies are born. These workers help address inequities in access and take into account cultural, social, and economic factors within communities. 

Jobs in this field might include: 

  • Lactation Consultant
  • Inbound Call Center Representative
  • Patient Care Assistant – Labor & Delivery
  • Maternal Health Research Scientist
  • Prenatal Education Coach

Healthcare program management/coordination:

In these roles, employees perform administrative and supervisory duties from creation and implementation of health-related programs to program monitoring and evaluation. This is a broad-spectrum role, and can focus in lots of different areas. Most candidates have an undergraduate degree.

Jobs in this field could include: 

  • Assisted Living Administrator
  • Professor or Researcher at a College or University
  • Consulting Health Care Administrator
  • Healthcare Quality Improvement Manager
  • Health Information Manager

Infectious Disease:

This field commits to investigating and protecting people from health threats including foodborne illness and waterborne illnesses, infections that spread in hospitals or might be resistant to medication, illnesses that spread through travel, illnesses spread by animals and insects, and new diseases that might be of concern, like Covid.  

Job titles commonly include: 

  • Health Scientists
  • Operations Research Specialist
  • Clinical Specialist
  • Research Associate


This is the study of why and how often certain diseases occur in different groups of people. Epidemiological information is used to plan and evaluate strategies to prevent illness and as a guide to the management of patients in whom disease has already developed.

Jobs titles might include: 

  • Infection Control Epidemiologist
  • Pharmaceutical Epidemiologist
  • Field Epidemiologist
  • Molecular Epidemiologist

Health education & community health:

People in these roles keep groups of people (employees, residents, students) up to date about common health issues and concerns, providing information and resources. They may also oversee teams of community health workers, guiding community members through healthcare systems and services, and ensuring individuals can access the help they need. These roles train and guide health workers, and handle day-to-day issues and concerns that arise from work in the field, acting as both human resource contact and mentor. These individuals often have degrees in healthcare administration, but others are promoted from the ranks of community health workers. 

Jobs in this field might include: 

  • Wellness Program Coordinator
  • Public Health Educator
  • Health Services Manager
  • Fitness Specialist / Trainer
  • Community Health Worker

Public health nutrition:

These specialized nutritionists are tasked with identifying unique nutritional issues within specific communities. They seek to find the source of prevalent issues and find ways to address them. The objective of this role is to contribute positively to the overall nutritional health of a population of people, driving education and awareness around good eating habits and how food impacts health. 

These jobs include: 

  • Registered Dietician
  • Nutrition Professional
  • Nutrition Services Worker
  • Nutritional Health Coach
  • Nutrition Education Coordinator

Global health:

Those working in this field have a similar focus to many pathways in public health, but they take a wider view of emerging challenges, and take into account the social, cultural, economic and environmental factors contributing to health inequities around the world. 

Job titles include: 

  • Biostatistician
  • Global Health Consultant
  • Global Health Educator
  • Global Policy Analyst

Environmental health:

This is the branch of public health that looks specifically at relationships between people and their environment. Those working in this field strive to address chemical and other environmental exposures in air, water, soil and food to protect people and provide communities with healthier environments.

Roles in this field include: 

  • Air Pollution Analyst
  • Environmental Health Inspector
  • Health and Safety Engineer
  • Environmental Toxicologist
  • Professor

In-Demand Skills in Public Health

While some people come to the public health field having intentionally secured a particular degree, there are a broad range of applicable skill sets that most people gain in school or in other careers, making public health a welcoming second-career for many.

  • Data analysis: all kinds of data are generated within the field of public health, and analysts may be called upon to collect and analyze data to assist decisions around the health of populations. Data analysis is used to determine if programs are working or if there are unmet needs among particular groups of people. 
  • Technology: those adept in software and hardware applications are needed to help update the field of public health as technology advances in general. Technology experts are helping with everything from providing online access to appointment booking to providing access for telehealth care to automating prescriptions. 
  • Strategy: as with so many other fields, action in public health follows careful planning, something those with experience analyzing existing information, budgets, and goals can help with. 
  • Marketing and public relations: now more than ever, messaging is critical. Whether it’s helping the public understand why and how to vaccinate against a disease, or raising awareness about a local effort in the community, keen marketers and public relations pros who understand how to work with media will always be in demand. 
  • Activism and lobbying: because so much work in public health happens thanks to federal and state funding, there is always a need for those able to work within communities and with representatives to ensure that legislation follows real needs. 
  • Change management and consulting: anyone with experience inside entities that have undergone strategic reorganizations will find a role in public health, where so many departments and sectors are working to adapt to changing technology, workforce sentiment, and community needs. 

The Growing Demand for Young Talent in Public Health 

The Mounting Shortage of Public Health Workers

In our most recent blog article, we talked about the critical shortages around the country in the public health sector and explored some of the contributors to these shortages. 

Consider these statements: 

New Talent is a Critical Need in Public Health

The current workforce is aging, and over one-fourth (27.78%) of employees of state and local public health departments in 2017 were older than 55 years, meaning this population is in the midst of a steady retirement wave, while there are few new entrants backing them up. Many of these workers have been in public health their whole careers, so when they leave, they take decades of institutional knowledge and experience with them. 

While some knowledge is departing with those retiring, an influx of younger, more technology-adept workers is an idea welcomed by the field. Modernized approaches to outreach and communication are sorely needed, and those willing to address existing problems with new methodologies and technologies are eagerly welcomed. 

Public Health is an Ideal Career Path for Generation Z

Gen Zers look at the world differently than previous generations, with strong values related to racial justice and sustainability. Large scale mobilizations like the Global Climate March thrive on the activism of these young people who frequently call for reform on personal, public, and global scales to prevent future catastrophe. “Many Gen Zers describe themselves as environmentally conscious, and the majority of Gen Z expects to see sustainability commitments from companies and organizations,” according to a study by McKinsey & Company

This is the definition of the public health domain. No other field offers such a broad swath of programs and initiatives that directly impact the well-being of so many, while also offering a vehicle to employ and develop skills in technology, data analysis, communication, and beyond. 

Given that one quarter of the workforce by 2025 will be comprised of those identified as Gen Z, it seems like the perfect time for public health to make an appeal. This field needs diverse, young talent that reflects the cultural makeup of their communities. It needs people who really want to make a difference and aren’t hesitant to engage directly with the people around them in an effort to improve the lives and communities where they work and live, and people who are technology savvy, looking to innovate to ensure the field can keep up with – and stay in front of – its evolving constituency. And there are plenty of reasons to do so.

Reason #1: Affecting Systemic Change

Multiple recent workforce surveys illustrate that Gen Z cares about the world around them and wants to work in fields that have direct impact for good. One study notes:  “Gen Z actively advocates for causes they believe in. They participate in protests, grassroots movements, and online activism to raise awareness and drive meaningful impact. Gen Z’s passion for sustainability has made them a driving force in shaping conversations and pushing for a more eco-conscious society. 73% of Gen Zers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.”

This desire to make a lasting and beneficial impact isn’t isolated to Gen Z, but is a broader trend, growing as information about the impact of humans on the world around them becomes more accessible. A recent study at Deloitte found, “More than half of Gen Zs (55 percent) and millennials (54 percent) say they research a company’s environmental impact and policies before accepting a job from them. Seventeen percent of Gen Z respondents and 16 percent of millennials say that they have changed their jobs due to climate concerns, with 25 percent of Gen Zs and 23 percent of millennials saying they plan to do so in the future.”

This desire to effect systemic change and lessen negative impacts can be hard to reconcile with the goals and projections of many corporate entities, especially publicly traded ones, making a career in public health a fitting alternative. This is why public health is such an ideal fit for this generation.

Reason #2: Making Grassroots, Community-Based Impact

While many members of Gen Z are vocal on social media and in their peer groups, it isn’t always easy to find ways to ignite real change within their communities and beyond. The public health career field offers hands-on opportunities to make critical differences to entire communities of people. For those looking to create government-driven change, there are paths within public health to do just that. 

Reason #3: Applying Technology and Communication Skills

For the first generation of digital natives, public health is an ideal outlet to put to use the communication and tech skills that are often second-nature. The opportunity is ripe for a traditionally slow-moving field to receive an influx of young and energetic workers who can help mobilize and rebuild the industry from the inside out, doing more good for more people on more fronts than ever before. 

Reason #4: Finding Career Fulfillment

Where so many occupations create a sense of detachment, a feeling of being a cog in a wheel, public health presents the opportunity to mobilize and empower entire communities of people. For those interested in influencing policy and funding to create visible impact, there is no better field to pursue. Additionally, there are numerous positions within the field where employees work inside a community, with citizens, to develop strategies and craft inputs that are representative and meaningful, and where the results of their work are visible in the short and long term. 

Reason #5: Wide Range of Career Possibilities and Job Security

There are more opportunities across the spectrum of skillsets within public health right now than in any other field. Where recent graduates used to flock to startups in the tech industry, we expect to see a growing number entering the wide range of jobs available in public health. There are so many opportunities for lateral and vertical growth with the industry, and the promise of job security is a boon – something almost impossible to find in other arenas today. 

Why are young people overlooking careers in public health?

A Messaging & Exposure Problem

One of the key reasons young people don’t pursue roles in public health is that they simply don’t know they exist. Kids are exposed to healthcare at early ages, and no child doesn’t know that “doctor” or “nurse” are jobs they might pursue. Very few understand the wide realm of opportunity that exists in public health, even as they enter high school and college. This is partially due to the fact that, as Riverside County Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari noted recently, “If we’re doing our jobs right, nobody knows we’re doing our jobs because we’re preventing disease, we’re preventing illness, we’re preventing emergencies related to the food supply. We do our job quietly in the background and we don’t tell our story well.”

Building K-12 Pipelines to Increase Exposure

Because there is a wide breadth of opportunity in public health, it’s difficult to create a soundbyte to help expose students to the field. As a result, repeated and deep exposure to the range of career choices must be intentionally included alongside other career exposure programing. 

Local organizations are collaborating with public health departments to learn more about the needs within our communities in public health and taking those to the schools to build out pathways programs that will help fill the pipeline. In the long run, this is the only reliable way to build a funnel of interested and motivated people to enter the public health field in the future. 

By offering a combination of site visits, speakers, work-based learning opportunities, internships, and exposure events like conferences, organizations like Reach Out, Health Career Connection, and many others are actively changing the messaging surrounding the public health field, but it is a slow process, and one that requires many contributors to work. 

Conclusion: An Overlooked Field with Exceptional Promise

It’s critically important that young people are exposed to the possibilities available to them, both to encourage them to pursue meaningful careers and to help offset a major public health crisis in the Inland Empire and beyond. Students should be exposed to the variety of jobs available in this challenging and rewarding field, especially because the broad range of opportunities embrace those with college degrees and without. 

In order to expose young people to the world of public health careers, we need to continue to build our K-12 pathways, starting education about the opportunities available in public health as early as possible. Additionally, these pipelines need to connect to real-world opportunities beyond high school, through career pathway programs at junior colleges and universities that create internships and mentorships that give students a chance to experience the roles they’re considering. 


Learn more about Reach Out’s youth pathways initiatives here, and if you are a funder, legislator, educator, or administrator interested in helping drive the message about the wealth of opportunity in public health forward, please get in touch!