Public health professionals play an integral role in educating people about their health and wellbeing, improving health services and preventing the risk of disease.
A career in public health allows you to work in research, health promotion, media, consultancy, epidemiology, policy and more.
It’s an enriching career that requires professionals to study at a university level. To specialise in a specific area, upskill or make a career change, postgraduate study in public health can unlock the door to many opportunities.
What is public health?
Compared to other areas of healthcare that focus on diagnosing, treating and caring for patients, public health focuses on preventing disease as well as protecting and promoting the health of communities. The World Health Organisation describes public health as “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organised efforts of society.”
A significant area of public health focuses on epidemiology but it also encompasses:
- Injury and chronic disease prevention
- Disaster response
- Promotion of environment, mental, physical and refugee health
- Alcohol and tobacco control
Why is public health important?
In a nutshell, the public health sector bears a level of responsibility for the health of communities around the world. Research in public health involves identifying and preventing challenges when they arise as well as understanding health and social issues to influence public policy. Professionals create solutions to prevent the risk and spread of diseases, orchestrate plans to manage public health crises and communicate information with the public. In turn, this puts less pressure on medical staff and facilities who would otherwise have to respond to these health challenges without valuable guidance.
7 reasons to study public health
1. Wide scope of job opportunities
There are many specialisations within public health which means the roles and responsibilities for each career path can be vastly different. Professionals can work at a local, national or international level across prevention, protection and promotion. Communication, education and community-based positions are often people-facing roles whereas researchers tend to work behind the scenes in institutions and facilities.
Let’s look at some of the roles in public health and what they entail.
Epidemiologist: Carry out research and study outbreaks of diseases to examine patterns. Epidemiologists look for the cause of diseases, identify people at risk, look at ways to control the spread and determine how to prevent further outbreaks. These public health professionals usually work in hospitals, universities and government health departments in an office or laboratory.
Infection preventionist: As the name suggests, the role of an infection preventionist is to control and prevent the spread of infections. They work in settings where the spread of infections is likely to be higher such as hospitals and aged care facilities.
Public health researcher: Conducting surveys, analysing data, researching trends and interpreting laboratory results is a big part of the role. Public health researchers uncover health risks and determine societal, behavioural and environmental factors that contribute to the health of populations.
Other careers include:
- Health promotion officer
- Health informatics specialist
- Health administrator
- Academic in public health
- Nutrition consultant
- NGO manager
According to Talent.com, the average salary of a public health worker in Australia is approximately $110,000 a year.
2. Job security
There is a strong demand in Australia and internationally for professionals with qualifications in public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a flow-on effect with delays in chronic diseases being diagnosed in patients and an increase in mental health cases. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that people may have been less likely to seek medical attention during the pandemic, leading to under-diagnosis. Public health professionals are part of the solution to ensure we know how to take care of our health and look for the signs so we know when to seek medical attention.
The health care and social assistance industry is the fastest growing industry in Australia, employing over 1.5 million people. It is also the largest employing industry in the country and is projected to grow by 15.8 per cent during the next five years.
A career in public health can offer good career prospects and opportunity for growth as the demand for professionals is on the rise.
3. It will lead to a fulfilling career
Knowing you are making a positive contribution to the healthcare industry and people’s lives makes a public health career rewarding. Professionals apply knowledge and expertise to do their jobs with the objective of keeping communities healthy, educated and informed — that’s no small feat. Things like pandemic control and immunisation programs have brought to light the importance of public health and why the sector is crucial. If you’re looking for an enriching career where you are at the forefront of educating people about health and working on protecting and preventing people from health risks, a career in public health may be for you.
4. You are looking for a career change
Public health is a broad area of the healthcare sector which means there are many specialisations available. Career-wise, you can go down many routes depending on what plays to your strengths and what you’re passionate about. You can work in a people-facing role out in the community or work behind the scenes in research and analysis. Whatever your preferred work environment is, there is likely an area of public health that aligns with your preferences.
If you’re looking at changing careers and want to study public health at a postgraduate level, there are universities that accept prospective students with a completed bachelor’s degree in any discipline. If you already work in healthcare or public health specifically, studying a postgraduate course is a great investment if you want to upskill, change roles or go for a promotion at work.
5. Variety of courses available
From epidemiologist to infection preventionist and health promoter, public health offers versatility in careers. But how do you gain all the necessary knowledge and skills to be eligible for a long list of roles? Postgraduate public health courses are designed to be versatile and offer students a broad range of subject areas to study. Some universities even offer students the option to choose a specialisation or curate electives if you're looking to pick up skills to go into a specific role.
6. Australia is facing public health concerns
Australia is known to have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Despite this, there are many public health concerns we are facing including COVID-19, the ageing population, chronic diseases and mental health conditions. Advancements in research, technology and communication in Australia give public health professionals the tools they need to make decisions based on trends, implement vaccination strategies, create clear public messaging and prevent diseases from spreading in Australia. Studying public health means you will be able to learn about and contribute to the work that is being done to improve Australia’s public health concerns.
7. Option to study when it suits you
If you’re looking to pursue a public health course to upskill or change careers, online education is a great option for you. Some universities offer up to 6 intakes a year and you can study one unit at a time for a 7-week duration. You will be able to manage work, life and study by completing your coursework when it suits you. If you currently work in healthcare, you can apply the knowledge and skills from your course to your current job. Check out available public health courses and speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor if you have any questions about a course that sparks your interest.