Planning for the Right Certifications in Public Health and Healthcare

career development mph project management public health jobs Oct 24, 2023

You keep hearing about certificates ranging from PMP, CHES, CPH, plus Lean Sigma, Agile, Scrum, and more. Plus, experts suggest that acquiring the right certifications can not only boost your long-term earning potential but also help you land your dream job and increase your salary by up to 20% ( These certifications require an additional financial investment, time, and sometimes can "pigeon-hole" you in a specific trajectory if you stick to one track. Yet in today's rapidly changing world, where technological advancements and a competitive job market prevail, having a multidisciplinary skill set is crucial for success in the public health field.

So if you don't have certifications behind your name, what can you do now in the interim or as you consider which ones to add to your resume?

First let me introduce myself. My name is Kemi Ajayi and have certifications of Project Management Professionals (PMP), Masters in Certifications Health Education Specialist (MCHES), and Scrum Product Owner Certified (SPOC) in addition a Master's degree in Public Health. After spending about 10 years in the public health field, I felt stuck, overwhelmed by administrative work and the political bureaucracy, and limited in salary growth. Eventually, I experienced burnout and lost my passion for a career I once loved. I realized I had to break out of this cycle and reignite my enthusiasm for a profession that allowed me to impact vulnerable populations worldwide. Here are the key considerations I took to choose the right certifications for me that complemented my public health degree and opened up new career opportunities. This is overall considerations for any certification so you can navigate your options more wisely and strategically:

  • The notion of being a "Jack of all trades, a master of none" is actually now outdated. Instead, being a "Jack of all trades is often better than a master of one" holds true in our contemporary society. Employers now prioritize candidates who possess diverse skills and qualifications that enable them to tackle multiple angles of population health issues. Accept this and don't just stop with 1 certification but maybe it's a couple or set that you need in order to advance in your interests. 
  • Start with courses before you commit to a certification! In the past, a single degree or a high-level qualification would provide job security and advancement opportunities. However, the job market has evolved, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on employment. Today, individuals can access various online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIn learning, and Skillshare, which offer opportunities to gain knowledge and develop hard and soft skills through certifications. 
  • Consider other disciplines and intersections Exploring other disciplines that intersect with your current field or expertise can significantly expand your knowledge and gain valuable certifications. For example, as a maternal and child health (MCH) professional, I gained my scrum master and product owner certifications to enhance my ability to lead cross-functional teams and show ability to manage public health portfolio. I also pursued these two certifications to eventually transition into health technology and help develop or contribute to health applications that improve MCH. Completion of these certifications immediately elevated my status, opened vast career doors, and placed me in a leadership role with higher responsibility and pay.  
  • Cultivating transferable skills Transferable skills are abilities that can be used across various roles and industries. They provide a strong foundation for professional growth and can make you more adaptable in a rapidly changing job market. These skills include presentation, communication, writing, problem-solving, interpersonal, leadership, and project management. For me, I explored areas of health writing, technology and project and product development and management could add to my experience and skillset. These are not certifications but instead be aware that you can keep growing outside of certifications alone in order to stand out with employers. Once you have identified the transferable skills you would like to develop and are in high demand across various industries, seek certification programs focusing on those areas. Many certifications are designed to help individuals acquire and validate these transferable skills.
  • Pursue guidance through mentorshipConsider finding a mentor in your chosen field, industry, or area of interest. Start by considering individuals who have already achieved the certifications you are interested in and are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Mentors can be found through networking events, industry conferences, online, or, as I have discovered, through respected former bosses/supervisors. It is important to be clear about your goals and what you hope to gain from their mentorship. A great mentor can provide valuable insight and guidance based on their experience and expertise. By fostering a positive relationship with a mentor, you can gain valuable knowledge and support to enhance your certification journey.

Regardless of the certification you choose, just know that you have options, you don't need to stick with one only, you have others you can learn from and you're not alone in your decision making! We're here cheering you on as a community, don't hesitate to connect. For more information and resources on how to succeed in landing a job in public health, check out Public Health Hired, including the HIRED Mentorship Waitlist. 

Contributor: Kemi Ajay, MPH, MCHES, PMP, SPOC is an alumnus of Tulane University with a background in Global Maternal, Child Health, and Community Health. Throughout her career, she's collaborated with top health organizations, including Samaritan's Purse and The American Academy of Family Physicians. With experience spanning the U.S. and various African regions, her expertise in public health encompasses a vast array of domains, from program development and implementation, health education and promotion, sexual and reproductive health, monitoring and evaluation, and addressing chronic and infectious diseases. A strong proponent of evidence-based work, Kemi has contributed to several peer-reviewed health journals. Currently, she is the Portfolio Product Manager for Maternal and Fetal Health at Inteleos, where she plays a crucial role in driving the organization towards achieving excellence in healthcare and ensuring patient safety. Connect with Kemi on LinkedIn!

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