One of the many lessons we’ve learned from living through the COVID-19 global pandemic is the critical role public health professionals play in helping communities stay informed and stay well. The same has been true over the years during other global health crises, such as HIV/AIDS, H1N1, and SARS. However, while the role of public health professionals on a global or even national stage is what we often see in the news, the everyday contributions and support they provide to local communities is more critical than ever before.
Understanding the Role of Public Health
So, what is public health, and what role does it play in our communities?
“Public health is the science of keeping people healthy,” says Amy Wilkerson, program chair of psychology at Arapahoe Community College (ACC). “Public health workers protect and promote health and well-being in their communities by encouraging healthy lifestyles, researching diseases, and responding to emergency disease outbreaks.”
All of us frequently interact with public health professionals, even though we might not be aware of their roles when we do. For example, they might be the ones conducting blood pressure screenings in a pop-up clinic. Or teaching wellness classes at the local community center. Or helping school groups learn how to administer CPR. “Public health stays in the background when you don’t need it,” says Amy. “It’s only when we have a public health crisis that we become aware of the important work these professionals are doing.”
Jobs in Public Health: Entering a Career Field That’s on the Rise
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for health educators and community health workers is increasing at a rate that’s “much faster than average.” And that’s great news for those who are looking for jobs in public health.
“The projected growth of public health is strong and career paths are wide open,” says Amy. “Students who earn a bachelor’s degree or higher could choose from epidemiology, environmental health, occupational health, health education, or leadership in community health.”
Within the public health field, there are many different career paths to pursue, such as epidemiologist, mental health provider, social worker, biostatistician, nurse educator, public health information officer, vaccine researcher, physician, nurse, environmental health technician, health and wellness manager, and many other types of professionals. Jobs in public health are available in multiple sectors, including local, state and federal governments; non-government institutions; and nonprofit organizations.
Starting Your Career in Public Health at ACC
Amy says that some students enroll in college knowing exactly what they want to do and are ready to choose a major.
“Others have a more general idea about their interests and career goals and start out by exploring one of our guided pathways,” she says.“We think that students in the pathways of health, math and sciences, or public services will be excited to learn more about the public health major at ACC.”
Students who choose to pursue a public health major can start moving toward a career in this field by earning their Associate of Arts degree in public health at ACC. “This 2-year degree offers a strong foundation for transfer to a 4-year college or university to complete a bachelor’s degree in public health,” says Amy. “A bachelor’s degree is the minimal requirement for going into the field.”
To give students a clear path to earning their bachelor’s degree in public health, ACC has entered into a transfer articulation agreement with the University of Colorado Denver, the University of Northern Colorado, and Fort Lewis College. Once students complete their associate degree in public health at ACC, they can transfer as public health majors directly to any of the three participating 4-year institutions.
“The associate degree in public health at ACC is truly interdisciplinary,” says Amy. “It will appeal to students interested in health, public services, and the sciences — biological, environmental, psychological, physical, and social/behavioral.” Although students have to wait until they transfer to their 4-year institution to take public health courses, they can take their required lower-level courses — such as chemistry and biology — at ACC. During this time, they are guided by advisors at the 4-year institution they’ve chosen as their transfer school.
By taking their foundational courses at ACC, students can realize significant cost savings on tuition, room and board fees, and other expenses incurred by students who complete their first two years at a 4-year institution.
Keeping Our Local and Global Community Healthy
Jobs in public health provide an opportunity to make a tangible — and significant — impact in the lives of individuals, regardless of who they are, where they live, or what they believe. “I have a background in science education and outreach,” says Amy. “Doing that work, I learned to meet people where they are. Communicating science to the public is about finding ways to give scientifically accurate information while respecting people's cultures and experiences.”
Public health professionals work every day to keep our communities informed about health and wellness issues, protect us against disease, and help keep us safe. “This is a values-driven field,” says Amy. For those who value helping others, enjoy working with the public, and are passionate about being an advocate for keeping people healthy, a career in public health might be just the right fit.
For more information about the public health program at ACC, please visit the program page on our website.