Considering a Career in Public Health?

Five Key Things You Need to Know

Students with masks walk through the sunlit UC Davis campus.
Students with masks walk through campus, marking a cautious return amidst the pandemic in Sept. 2021. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Are you looking for a rewarding career? One where you can make an impact on the people and community around you? Consider a career in public health.


1. What is public health?

UC Davis Health 34 staff member Destiny Rogers engages in a medical health demonstration with student Cameron Collier inside a health vehicle.
UC Davis Health 34 in action: Destiny Rogers provides a medical health check to student Cameron Collier, showcasing daily student-staff collaboration in Nov. 2023. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

What is public health, and why is public health important? Put simply, “public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities,” according to the CDC Foundation

Rather than targeting the health of individuals, public health focuses on improving health outcomes and promoting health equity for populations of people. These efforts include education, research and policy. Public health professionals are key to keeping whole groups of people safe and healthy — think COVID-19 prevention and vaccination efforts.

Helping people stay healthy, preventing the spread of disease and bridging the gap in fair access to health care make pursuing a career in public health worthwhile and fulfilling. 

2. Public health jobs are in demand

Professor Barker prepares a mosquito trap in a shaded outdoor area surrounded by greenery, contributing to UC Davis's research on mosquito-borne diseases.
Associate Professor Christopher M. Barker sets a mosquito trap for his research on the ecology and epidemiology of mosquito-borne illnesses at UC Davis in 2020. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The demand for public health workers is on the rise. According to a 2021 report by de Beaumont Foundation, state and local public health departments need an 80% increase in their workforce to provide adequate public health services. 

“There has been a surging demand for public health services as we transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brad Pollock, chair of the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences. “The pandemic highlighted the growing need for public health professionals, and right now, we only have one-fifth of the needed public health workforce in the U.S.”   

Public health careers offer a wide range of options. According to the CDC, there are more than 170 public health job categories, so almost anyone who wants to join the field can do so. Whether you want to make a global impact, collaborate with federal agencies or focus on the community around you, there is a career for you in public health. 

What can you do with a master's degree in public health?

Graduate education in public health can prepare you for various jobs like:

  • Healthcare administrator
  • Program manager
  • Safety specialist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Researcher positions 

Across these five jobs in total:

  • Nationwide, there were 18,388 new positions advertised in 2022, with a median annual salary of $74,112
    • In 2017, there were only 9,447 positions, which means the number of jobs grew by 95% over a five-year period.
  • In California, there were 2,634 new positions advertised in 2022, with a median annual salary of $89,344
    • In 2017, there were only 1,213 positions, which means the number of jobs grew by 117% over a five-year period. 

Data source: Lightcast™ (2022)

3. What education do I need to work in public health?

Students wearing face masks organize food items under a tent for the Eat Well Yolo program at UC Davis, aiding in community partnership and support.
To improve community health, UC Davis students Vanessa Wittmer and Vivian Chen place food out for student shoppers as part of the Eat Well Yolo food distribution program in May 2022. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Public health combines the expertise of different subject areas, making it a well-rounded and diverse field. Whether you're majoring in social sciences or the humanities, almost any major can lead to a career in public health. You can even pair a science major with a minor in humanities or communication for a broad knowledge base. Or consider UC Davis' minor in public health sciences.

Majors to consider for careers in public health:

4. Are public health certification programs useful?

Dr. Nam Tran, in a UC Davis Health shirt, speaks at a podium with his fist raised at Picnic Day's opening ceremony, celebrating his role as both alum and 2022 Parade Marshal.
Dr. Nam Tran, alum and senior director of clinical pathology at UC Davis Health, addresses the crowd as Parade Marshal on Picnic Day 2022. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

A public health certification program can provide you with a foundational understanding of public health. It can also help you determine which area of the field you are most interested in working in, such as mental health, public policy, research, education, environmental health, global health or community health.

UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education's online Public Health Certificate Program is the perfect stepping stone toward a career in public health. 

The certificate program provides graduate-level coursework, so it is recommended (though not required) that those entering the program have at least a bachelor's degree. 

The program can also open doors for individuals without a college degree. It provides the language and background to interview for positions in the field and networking opportunities. The program also offers a great introduction to college-level courses — with the flexibility to learn at your own pace — and demonstrates a commitment to learning.

Some public health career paths require a graduate-level degree. Fortunately, the Public Health Certificate Program also serves as a bridge for those looking to enter Master of Public Health programs, including UC Davis' graduate program in public health.

Youvanna Jimenez and Ellaine Arroyo, two students who completed their undergraduate education at UC Davis, both dream of careers in public health. They recently turned to the certificate program to help them become competitive candidates before pursuing an MPH.

Youvanna Jimenez sitting outside and smiling for a photo.
Youvanna Jimenez is currently working as a program associate at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation while she completes the Public Health Certificate Program. (Photo courtesy of Youvanna Jimenez)

Youvanna Jimenez

Youvanna Jimenez majored in psychology and minored in Chicana/Chicano studies, where she first learned about healthcare systems and policies. She also learned about the differences in health care and access to health care experienced by disadvantaged populations.  

Her goal is to improve health outcomes for underserved communities and reduce the impact of racism in the United States healthcare system. This motivation is the driving force behind her decision to pursue a career in public health.

Jimenez says she was drawn to CPE's online certificate in public health because of the curriculum. “I found that this certificate covers introductory courses like those in MPH programs and offers the flexibility of transferring units,” she said. “This opportunity allows me to explore specific topics before fully committing to a master's program.”  

Having taken some time off after graduating, Jimenez applied to the certificate program hoping to bridge the gap between undergrad and graduate school and to become a competitive candidate for MPH programs. 

The best part for Jimenez is that UC Davis CPE's Public Health Certificate Program has only made her passion for public health stronger. After she completes the certificate program, she plans to graduate from an MPH program so she can make a significant impact in the community. 

“I aim to leverage my skills by actively participating in a team dedicated to creating impactful programs that effectively promote community health and well-being,” Jimenez said.

Ellaine Arroyo, smiling and wearing glasses, poses in her graduation gown.
Ellaine Arroyo graduated from UC Davis in 2023. Here she poses in her graduation gown. (Photo courtesy of Ellaine Arroyo)

Ellaine Arroyo

Ellaine Arroyo also hopes to make a change by working in the public health field. Arroyo graduated from UC Davis with a degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior and a minor in community and regional development

The cultural barriers she has faced as a Filipino American woman lit her passion to become a healthcare administrator, where she has plans to bring equitable change to patient care. 

Arroyo applied to UC Davis CPE's Public Health Certificate Program to strengthen her professional foundation in public health and work toward the UC Davis MPH. 

“My main goals for the certificate program are to increase my fundamental understanding of public health concepts and grow my skill set for solving complex challenges to enhance life outcomes,” Arroyo said. “I hope to gain a solid tool kit for reducing and preventing future burdens in health care.”

Because public health combines so many different subject areas, Arroyo has been able to build upon her undergrad education in the certificate program. The courses in the certificate program have enhanced the knowledge and critical thinking skills she gained in undergrad but from a public health perspective. 

She added that learning about the different factors that influence health in the certificate program complemented what she had learned in her community development courses. “This helped me figure out possible solutions for addressing health disparities.” 

Arroyo aims to use the certificate program's graduate-level coursework to help her stand out to MPH programs. 

“It's also a plus that the credits from this certificate program can transfer to the UC Davis MPH, one of the programs that I'm planning to apply for in a few years,” she said.

Once she becomes a healthcare administrator, Arroyo said she plans to promote fair healthcare access and quality for diverse populations.

5. How to get started

Student working on a laptop outdoors at UC Davis Arboretum, maintaining health protocols with a face mask.
A student following COVID-19 protocols uses her laptop in the UC Davis Arboretum near Mrak Hall in Dec. 2020. (Karin Higgins Sturgis/UC Davis)

For Jimenez and Arroyo, UC Davis CPE's online Public Health Certificate Program has already made a positive impact toward their dreams of working in public health. 
The program provides foundational public health knowledge. It's designed to help you advance in your career or become a competitive candidate for MPH programs. 

It was developed in partnership with the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, so it covers core topics in public health science. This includes biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, and health services administration.

About our Public Health Certificate Program:

If you're interested in entering the public health field or pursuing an MPH, consider this program as a steppingstone to the career of your dreams.

  • Complete in 12 months
  • Four online courses
  • $9,996
  • Primarily asynchronous format, so working professionals can increase their skills while maintaining full-time employment
  • Preparation for certification in public health with relevant coursework that fulfills the educational requirements to sit for the National Board of Public Health Examiner's Certified in Public Health Exam
  • If accepted, matriculation to the UC Davis MPH program with 12 transferable credits
  • Courses taught by experienced faculty from the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences 
  • Unique networking opportunities with instructors and fellow students that can help advance your career

View our Public Health Certificate Program

Stephanie Trinh is a UC Davis student majoring in communication, and she works as an editorial student assistant at UC Davis Continuing and Professional Education.

Primary Category