Holistic Approach to Public Health Career Development

career development Jan 23, 2024

According to research, “holistic professional development” is actually a career field of its own that involves helping other people become better people while involving their mind, body, and soul for advanced fulfillment in and out of the workplace. However, when I think of the topic, I think it makes more sense to look at what is a holistic approach to professional development. Yea? Let’s start there and try to put it in the context of public health.

When people think about “building a career”, the first thing that may come to mind is… “this is going to take quite some time” or "I should focus on building all my technical skills". Well, I definitely think that one way forward is to ensure you align your efforts and try to think about what skills, and things you do, can go forward with you into any job, regardless of your technical expertise. Here are some areas that we should focus on as public health professionals, building other skills that aren't so technical.

1. Build soft skills

Soft skills are also known as people skills. Soft skills are essential for success in almost any field but most definitely in public health because of its multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and often rapid response nature. FORBES Advisor highlights 11 essential soft skills in 2024 (with examples). The skills are communication, leadership, teamwork, creativity, time management, adaptability, problem-solving, work ethic, critical thinking, conflict management, and emotional intelligence. While all of them are important, if I could advise 5 that could particularly pertain to public health, they’d be: communication, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and time management. Everything I’ve done in my public health career if it was epidemic response, capacity building, managing logistics, or writing congressional briefings has touched on those soft skills.

Having a mixture of technical experience and developed soft skills will make you stand out to an employer, position you to thrive in a variety of workplace environments, and set you up for continuous professional development through any role in your career.

2. Engage in continuous learning - be a student of the sport!

courses offered through your employer, pursue a certification, take a refresher course offered by a university or other training system online. The opportunities are endless.

The field of public health is relatively “new”, only having nearly 200 years of documented experience. If we look at how much things have changed since the time of John Snow’s early epidemiology surveillance to map clusters of cholera cases in London, it’s evident that knowledge is advancing fast, and priorities are shifting. Continuing to sharpen the tools in your toolbox will not only keep you at the top of your game but also make you more competitive when applying for new positions. Be a student of the sport! If the game changes, you change.

3. Keeping abreast of new developments in your profession

Read, read, read. A colleague of mine once said to me, “You don’t become the Director of Science if you don’t take the time to do the extra readings”. This was a big AHA moment for me that if I want to stay current, or set myself up to advance, I must read more.

This suggestion certainly moves from the soft skills side and touches on technical expertise, but don’t be confused, it doesn’t have to mean only reading scientific literature! This could also mean staying abreast on new technologies that touch on your specific field of public health.

This could mean machine learning to analyze big data for epidemiologists or following the NY times for policy related developments if you’re a policy analyst, or even seeing what new restrictions have been put in place for countries in your portfolio if you’re in global health program delivery and logistics. Staying abreast on new developments, just like engaging in continuous learning, are so important for your overall career development.

4. Committing to developing yourself personally - interpersonal relations

When I was managing a small team at my first public health job, I’d often try to put myself in the shoes of my teammates. This helped me level-set and enter conversations with the least amount of bias, while stepping out first with empathy when handling tough situations. Developing yourself, from a personality perspective, is just as important, if not more, than soft or technical skills. Having a good personality can make you easier to work with and positions you to foster good interpersonal relationships.

Earlier I mentioned that public health tends to have a rapid response nature. This can be immensely stressful especially when you might not have all the answers but are pressured to find some while working, or leading, a team of any size. It's in these moments that your personality may truly peek out and navigating conflict, for example, requires self-awareness, empathy, social skills, and motivating others to action. Focusing on developing one’s personality in a manner that fosters improved interpersonal relations is key for success in any role, especially a managerial one.

5. Be engaged in your workplace

I said before that public health is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. To me, this means that people can find public health from a vast variety of fields and walks of life. For example, my undergraduate degree is in international business with a pre-law track. I had no science background, yet I ended up in public health and am loving it. Whenever people hear my story, they often find some point of commonality or a colleague of theirs that had a similar point on their journey.

Storytelling connects to networking. Through engaging in your workplace, you gain the opportunity to share with your colleagues several stories, experiences, triumphs, and even failures. All of these are also opportunities to network and make connections. This is by no means a suggestion to use your workplace to springboard into another job haha, but it means that if you’re engaging with a colleague on women’s’ health under the HIV prevention division, and your real passion is in maternal and child health, say something! You never know how that colleague may be able to connect you to someone in their network. There was a saying that I used to hear growing up that, “closed mouths don’t get fed”. Engaging with others in your workplace can lead to more experiences within the workplace that can sharpen your skills, or even connections outside of it to advance you along your career.


I know that sounds like a lot to bite off and chew but start small and identify areas across the five to see how you can begin a more holistic approach to professional development throughout your career. Doing any of these will certainly serve you in awesome ways! I’m trying my best to engage others in my workplace to gain more experience on maternal health so that I can take that into my next role wherever it may be!


Public Health Hired Contributor: Adam is our new Senior Community Engagement Specialist at Public Health Hired and a Doctor of Public Health candidate at Georgia State University.

He has a background in health policy and work experience in global health. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with Ministries of Health, National Institutes of Health, and other public health agencies in over 20 countries across Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and insular areas in the Pacific on public health program delivery and capacity building. He is currently working as a contract Public Health Analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention focused on policy analysis and partnerships to improve our nation's heart health and increase health equity. Connect with Adam on LinkedIn

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