In public health, addressing complex health challenges requires innovative solutions and collaboration among professionals from diverse backgrounds. As a result, public health today is an interdisciplinary field allowing data scientists, environmental advocates, policymakers, and others to come together to make a meaningful impact.

If you’re interested in transitioning into this exciting field, here’s an overview of interdisciplinary public health careers that go beyond traditional settings and offer innovative solutions to improve health outcomes.

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Is Public Health Interdisciplinary?

Public health is inherently interdisciplinary, merging science, policy, education, and community engagement to solve complex health challenges. This multifaceted approach is essential for addressing issues that require diverse expertise and collaborative solutions.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials worked closely with epidemiologists, data scientists, communication specialists, and policymakers to develop and implement effective strategies to respond to the crisis. This collaboration ensured health messages were accurately conveyed, data was properly analyzed, and policies were timely and effective.

“Public health is kind of a hidden societal function,” says Dr. Manuel Cifuentes, professor in the Regis College School of Health Sciences’ bachelor’s degree in public health program “If you look at the description of a public health officer in a local public health department in Massachusetts, it contains more than 100 functions.”

Interdisciplinary Skills in Public Health

Public health professionals require a diverse skill set to address various health issues effectively, including:

  • Analytical skills: Public health professionals collect, interpret, and analyze health data to identify trends, assess the impact of interventions, and inform policy decisions.
  • Communication skills: Effective communication is crucial for most public health professionals since it’s important to ensure information is clear, accurate, and accessible to the public.
  • Research skills: Research is fundamental to public health because much of this work requires conducting studies to understand health issues better, developing new interventions, and evaluating the effectiveness of health programs.
  • Policy development: Public health professionals advocate for policy changes, draft legislation, and ensure health regulations are in place to protect public health.
  • Interpersonal skills: Working in public health often involves collaborating with diverse audiences, so strong interpersonal skills are essential for building partnerships, fostering collaboration, and engaging communities in health initiatives.

These skills open doors to various interdisciplinary career paths, each offering unique opportunities to make a significant impact on community health. Formally, there are ten essential services of public health, all of which are multidisciplinary.

Five Interdisciplinary Public Health Career Paths

Public health is a broad field that draws upon a wide range of disciplines to address complex health issues. Whether you're a data analyst, environmental scientist, communications expert, or legal professional, there's a role for you in public health.

Here are five interdisciplinary career paths that highlight the diverse opportunities available in public health.

1. Public Health Informatics

According to the Public Health Information (PHII) Institute, informatics is the “science of how to use data, information and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services.” Professionals in this field work to improve health care delivery, enhance disease surveillance, and inform public health policies through data-driven insights.

Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Designing and implementing systems for collecting and storing public health data
  • Analyzing public health data to identify trends, patterns, and outbreaks
  • Interpreting data to inform public health policies and strategies
  • Communicating findings and insights to policymakers and the public

Epidemiology, the study of how diseases spread and can be controlled, relies heavily on informatics. By leveraging data collected and analyzed through informatics, epidemiologists can better understand and control the spread of infectious diseases.

With the increased demand for professionals skilled in data analysis and public health, the career outlook in epidemiology is projected to grow 27 percent by 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Individuals with backgrounds in computer science, data analysis, or information technology already possess many of the technical skills needed to excel in this growing field.

2. Environmental Health

Environmental health professionals study the interactions between the environment and human health. They mostly focus on how physical and chemical environmental factors such as air and water quality, air and soil pollution, and climate change impact public health.

Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Ensuring compliance with environmental health laws, regulations, and standards
  • Analyzing data from environmental health studies to inform policy
  • Designing, implementing, and managing environmental health programs
  • Advocating for environmental health issues and promoting sustainable practices

If you have a background in environmental science, biology, chemistry, engineering, or a related field, you already possess many of the foundational skills needed to pursue an impactful career in environmental health.

3. Health Communication

According to the Society for Health Communication, health communication is the “science and art of using communication to advance the health and well-being of people and populations.” Health communication specialists are responsible for developing campaigns to educate the public about health issues, promote healthy behaviors, and influence public policy.

Other key responsibilities include:

  • Using multiple platforms (e.g., social media, websites, print materials) to disseminate health information
  • Identifying and understanding the needs, preferences, and behaviors of target audiences
  • Developing and implementing communication strategies for public health emergencies and crises

Communication professionals from outside the traditional public sector can leverage their existing skills in media, journalism, marketing, or public relations to seamlessly transition to a career in health communication.

4. Global Health

Global health professionals address health issues beyond national borders, integrating cultural studies and international policy. Professionals in this field are often responsible for collaborating with international organizations, governments, and nonprofits to solve complex global health challenges.

Other key responsibilities include:

  • Designing, implementing, and managing health programs that address global health issues
  • Conducting research to identify global health challenges and evaluating the effectiveness of health interventions
  • Responding to global health emergencies, such as pandemics, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises

Those with a background in sociology, anthropology, political science, or economics can contribute significantly to global health by applying their expertise to understand health behaviors, develop policies, or manage health programs.

5. Public Health Law and Ethics

Careers in public health law and ethics offer a dynamic path for those who are passionate about improving community health and ensuring justice in health policy. Professionals in this field address issues such as health disparities, access to care, and the legal aspects of health interventions.

Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Creating, evaluating, and advising on health policies to ensure compliance
  • Conducting research on public health laws, regulations, and guidelines
  • Representing public health agencies or organizations in legal matters
  • Assisting in the implementation of public health policies and evaluating their impact

“Policymakers, even those not initially trained in public health, can make contributions by understanding and applying health laws and regulations to protect community health and promote equity,” Dr. Cifuentes says.

Professionals from diverse backgrounds, such as social work, medicine, or public administration, can leverage their experience to pursue a successful career in public health law and ethics.

How to Transition into a Career in Public Health

Transitioning into a career in public health can be an exciting journey, especially for those with a background outside of the field. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you, here are some steps you can take to make this career move a smooth transition.

1. Choose the Right Educational Pathway

Transitioning into public health often begins with the right education.

“A formal education puts you a few steps ahead, and that is very important,” Dr. Cifuentes says. “If you have four years of studying public health, there will be very little hesitation in hiring you.”

A degree in public health, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Public Health or Master of Public Health (MPH), provides the foundational knowledge and skills you need to excel in various public health roles. Consider programs that offer specializations or coursework in your area of interest, such as epidemiology, global health, or health policy.

2. Find Real-World Experience Opportunities

Gaining practical experience is essential. It not only enhances your resume, but provides a deeper understanding of the field. Here are a few ways to gain real-world experience in public health:

  • Internships and Practicums: Many public health programs include internships or practicum experiences as part of their curriculum. For example, the bachelor’s completion public health program at Regis offers 240 credit hours of hands-on field experience.
  • Volunteer Work: Look for opportunities to get involved in health education, community outreach, or health advocacy projects to gain practical experience and build a network in the field.
  • Research Projects: Participating in research projects, either through your degree completion or independently, can provide insights into public health issues and methodologies.

3. Find a Mentor

A mentor can provide guidance and support as you navigate your career path. Look for individuals who have experience in the area of study you are interested in. This could be a professor, a supervisor from an internship, or someone you meet while volunteering in the community.

“It’s always good to have somebody to ask questions to and to hear from somebody who has been in the field and has faced some of the same difficulties,” Dr. Cifuentes advises. “We offer our experience and put our students in touch with experienced professionals working in the field.”

4. Leverage Your Non-Traditional Background

Your unique background can be a significant asset in public health. Therefore, you should highlight your unique skills and experiences, and demonstrate how they can contribute to public health initiatives.

On your resume and in interviews, emphasize how your previous experience can contribute to public health initiatives.

“You can transform your current work experience into public health experience,” Dr. Cifuentes adds. “For example, if you have worked in marketing, you can leverage your communication skills to create impactful health campaigns.”

Remember to position yourself as a unique candidate with a diverse skill set. Create a personal brand that highlights your interdisciplinary knowledge and commitment to improving public health.

Start an Exciting Career in Public Health

Public health is more than just a job—it’s a commitment to making the world a healthier place. Whether you come from a background in data science, environmental studies, communications, or public administration, your skills can contribute to improving health outcomes and promoting health equity.

If you're ready to take the next step toward a rewarding career in public health, Regis College's Bachelor of Arts in Public Health (BA Degree Completion) program is designed for working professionals and those with non-traditional backgrounds who are eager to make a difference in public health.

If you want to know more about the public health program, contact an admissions counselor to get answers about enrollment, curriculum, or entry requirements.

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