Community-wide disease prevention and health promotion initiatives—and the professionals charged with ensuring their success—are the heart of public health.
Professionals in public health administration work to improve the welfare of the community at large, serving as leaders of public sector and nonprofit organizations that provide health services and disseminate information about health and wellness. Public health administrators possess the expertise and insight necessary to manage the people, finances, and information that support public health programs and initiatives.
Careers in Public Health Administration: Job Duties and Responsibilities
Public health administration professionals manage all aspects of the public health organization, which include the oversight of budgets, programs, staff, and grants, among many others. Job duties of public health administrators include:
- Assessing community health issues
- Educating the public on the prevention or alleviation of health problems
- Executing community outreach programs
- Addressing chronic problems afflicting a specific community or population
- Writing grant proposals and heading up fundraising efforts
- Balancing limited budgets and allocating funds where needed
Public health administration is firmly rooted in business management; therefore, public health administrators must plan programs as if they were business ventures, focusing on performance, innovation, negotiation, and customer service.
In public health organizations with shrinking budgets, public health administrators must take on more work with less staff, making this healthcare position one of substantial importance to the organization’s continued operations. National health care reform legislation has further changed the way public health organizations operate and receive funding, which adds an additional layer of complexity to an already-complex system.
The role of public health administrators often varies depending on the organization for which they work. However, all of these professionals work to improve the quality of public health services, which includes understanding the legal, political, and economic climate in which their organizations develop, implement, and improve upon programs. For example, changes in the political and/or economic forces within a community or population may greatly affect how a public health program functions. Public health administrators must be able to deftly modify, alter, or amend their programs to meet these changes.
Degree Programs in Public Health Administration
Today’s complex public health system requires professionals who can effectively manage teams, projects, and budgets, all the while considering economic and political influences.
Most agencies and organizations today require public health administrators to possess advanced degrees, which provide a comprehensive, competency-based education focused on the delivery of public health services and the development and implementation of public health policy.
A number of master’s degree programs offer advanced study in public health administration:
- Master of Public Health (MPH) in Public Health Administration
- Master of Public Health (MPH) in Health Policy and Administration
- Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA), with a concentration in Public Health Administration
- Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Public Health Administration
Many health administration master’s degrees allow students to focus their studies on public health. Many more allow students to earn a dual degree, such as an MPH/MHA.
Candidates for public health administration master’s degree programs must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Although a percentage of candidates possess undergraduate degrees in public health, many choose to complete their undergraduate degrees in disciplines such as business administration, health administration, finance, etc. It is also commonplace for individuals to come from healthcare-related backgrounds, possessing degrees in nursing and other medical disciplines.
Other admission requirements for a master’s degree in public health administration often include:
- Minimum undergraduate GPA
- The completion of specific undergraduate courses
- Minimum GRE scores
- Admissions essay/interview
Executive master’s degree programs in public health administration, designed for mid-level professionals with experience in the healthcare or public health industry, also often require a resume detailing the candidate’s work experience.
Master’s degrees in public health administration feature a curriculum focused on the management principles and methods required to advance the health of communities. Students of these programs develop competencies in planning and evaluation, law and policy, financial management, and performance improvement. They prepare graduates for positions as consultants, government analysts, and executives in public health organizations.
Required courses in these programs address core public health topics, which include:
- Environmental health
- Health policy and management
- Social and behavioral health
Other common courses within these programs include:
- Public health law
- Public health administration
- Law and ethics
Most master’s degrees in public health administration culminate in a capstone project that provides students with an opportunity to engage in a real-world project that allows them to demonstrate their ability to evaluate and solve a public policy problem.
Jobs in Public Health Administration
Some of the many establishments that employ public health administrators include:
- Advocacy groups
- Consulting firms
- Health foundations and health-based grant projects
- Nonprofit organizations
- Professional associations
- Regulatory agencies
- State, local, and federal government agencies
- Think tanks
Public health administrators often work in the following leadership positions:
- Evaluation specialist
- Program manager
- Program director
- Project director
- Program coordinator
- Public health policy analyst
- Public health advisor
- Public health consultant
Salary Expectations for Public Health Administrators
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific information regarding salary expectations for public health administrators, they do reveal an average salary of $118,800 for healthcare administrators as of May 2020. Early career professionals earned about $78,820 during this time, while senior-level pros with extensive experience and graduate-level education earned about $195,630.
The BLS also revealed an average salary of $83,620 for epidemiologists as of May 2020, with early career epidemiologists earning about $59,380 and senior-level epidemiologists earning about $126,040 during this time.
The BLS also broke down average salaries for epidemiologists working in the following industries as of May 2020:
- General and medical surgical hospitals: $87,750
- Scientific research and development: $110,490
- Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $114,050
- Offices of physicians: $116,870
May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job market trends for medical and health services managers and epidemiologists represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Salary statistics representing entry-level/early career = 25th percentile; mid-level= 50th percentile; senior-level/highly experienced = 90th percentile. Data accessed August 2021.
Resources for Public Health Administrators
- American Public Health Association
- American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management
- Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
- National Association of County and City Health Officials
- Directors of Health Promotion and Education
- Society for Public Health Education