Get Your Foot In the Door for Public Health JobsOct 31, 2023
Ever wondered what type of experiences might help you land your first, or next, public health job?
I’m going to share some of the ways I gained experience in public health before I got my first job in the field. In this post, I’ll talk about education, research, internships, volunteer work, medical brigades, and other work experiences.
For context, I work for a state health department investigating infectious diseases. I’ve been in this role for almost three years and this is my first “career” job in public health. Prior to this job, I mainly worked on the peripheries of public health gaining experience in the field but not yet working a full-time, permanent position. However, those experiences were beneficial in several ways:
- They were great opportunities to explore my interests.
- They gave me a broader perspective of what it means to “work in public health”.
- And they opened my eyes to health needs close to home and abroad.
Before diving in, I want to stress that how people get their start in public health varies widely just as the type of work does. Take my recommendations as suggestions for exploring your interests and for strengthening your future job applications!
And here’s a quick tip! If you’re considering a career in public health or transitioning to a different area in the field, visit the job boards and look at the entry-level requirements for the roles that interest you. Check out the degree requirements and the background or experience they are looking for. This will help give you a sense of the experiences that might get your foot in the door.
Now, let’s jump into the experiences that I would recommend to anyone interested in working in public health!
- Education! Most entry-level jobs require a bachelor’s degree and some related experience though an MPH or other related degrees are becoming increasingly common. Starting my current job, I had a bachelor’s degree, and was halfway through my MPH program. A degree in public health is great preparation for entering the field and it provides opportunities to build connections with your classmates and professors who may be your future colleagues or mentors.
- Research! As an undergrad, I worked with a team of allergists and wrote up a manuscript that got published. As a graduate student, I conducted independent research for my thesis that was also published. I’d recommend getting involved in research as it teaches so many skills like scientific writing or data analysis that are highly valued in the field of public health. Also, experience in research will be helpful for you to assess your interests in the field and an asset to future employers.
- Internships! As an undergraduate student, I had four internships! The first was my research project with the allergists. I also tested food safety, water quality in swimming pools, and inspected landfills for my local health department. I compiled information on health topics to aid in grant making decisions for a health foundation. And I piloted a cancer screening program in a community health center. All of these were different, and all of these are public health. It’s worth noting that I sought some of these internships out for myself by reaching out to organizations asking if I could intern with them and then worked with my university to find grant funding. My advice is to look outside the box even if that means designing your own internship.
- Volunteering! After my bachelor’s degree, I volunteered for 6 months with a small organization abroad specializing in HIV care and community advocacy. This was a great opportunity to experience firsthand working in resource-poor settings and with an organization doing important public health work in their community. Obviously it’s not necessary to go abroad or even leave your community to find volunteer opportunities. Research the topics that interest you, see who is working on them, and call them up to ask if they take volunteers. They’ll likely be glad to find something for you to do.
- Medical brigades! As an undergraduate student, I had two opportunities to take part in medical brigades. The first was with a group of students and medical professionals traveling abroad to provide medical care in communities lacking access to health care. The second was more local. I took a summer job with a charitable organization and traveled around the region to provide medical screenings to migrant farmworkers and their families. Though both were incredible experiences, I’d recommend working more locally to you, if possible, as it can be an eye-opening experience that really illustrates health needs close to home.
- Any other kind of job! Truly there are so many skills you can pick up from almost any job that will be applicable to working in public health. As a graduate student, I worked in a grocery store. The transferable skills might not be immediately obvious but a job in customer service teaches communication and to keep your composure when dealing with customers. I use these skills all the time in my current work, and I find them to be invaluable. If you don’t yet have much experience working in public health, consider how the skills you already have from work in other fields might be applied differently to be valuable in your public health career.
If you found these suggestions valuable, head to the Public Health Hired website for additional resources. Click here for a FREE starter kit to successfully secure public health employment, found exclusively on YouTube's Public Health Hired page. Follow for more!
Contributor: Elizabeth Weaver, MPH graduated from George Washington University School of Public Health in 2021 with her Master's Degree in Public Health and currently works for the Virginia Department of Health in Communicable Disease Investigation. In her spare time, she enjoys running, traveling, and studying Spanish." Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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