Environmental Health Careers: What They Are and How to Start

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover what it takes to become an environmental health professional, what they do, and the salary expectations to see if it’s right for you.

[Featured Image]: A health worker, with black hair, wearing a white uniform and blue goggles, and a person with black hair, wearing a white uniform and blue goggles. They are working in a lab, holding, writing and analyzing an experiment.

Careers in environmental health involve studying the environment, how it affects humans, and taking the necessary steps to help prevent disease and other health issues. This could include identifying asthma triggers, solving a water pollution crisis, and working to stop a worldwide health crisis. 

Careers in environmental health involve studying the environment, how it affects humans, and taking the necessary steps to help prevent disease and other health issues. This could include identifying asthma triggers, solving a water pollution crisis, and working to stop a worldwide health crisis. The educational and experience requirements needed to become an environmental health professional depending upon your career type. Many choose to specialize in engineering, environmental science, toxicology, epidemiology, and environmental law. Whatever specialty you choose, many potential career options exist in this field.

Environmental health officers in Canada make a median hourly wage of $38.31, though that number varies by location [1]. Over the next few years, the need for people in this role is moderate to good in most territories and provinces [2]. Key factors contributing to this might include population growth and increasing interest in human interaction. 

What exactly is environmental health?

The Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI) defines environmental health as follows:

"Encompassing all aspects of our lives, from air to water to food, to employment and recreation, to our homes and families, environmental public health is a cornerstone of safe, functional, and thriving communities." [3

Opting to work in this field could lead you to become a scientist or science professional who studies how humans interact with the world.  

Several topics fall under the scope of environmental health, including:  

  • Air and water quality and safety 

  • Asthma triggers 

  • Biomonitoring or understanding what nutrients and chemicals a population is exposed to

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning 

  • Chemical warfare

  • Childhood environmental health issues, like preventing lead poisoning 

  • Climate and health relationships

  • Emergency response to environmental disasters 

  • Food safety

Many environmental health careers fit into one of five categories. They are:

  • Environmental science, or the general study of how the human body reacts to various aspects of the environment

  • Environmental engineering, or the practice of improving or maintaining the environment to enhance or protect human health

  • Environmental law, which involves creating or opposing laws and regulations that impact human health or create environmental concerns

  • Toxicology or the study of how exposure to toxins affects the human body or a large population

  • Environmental epidemiology or the study of how the environment impacts the occurrence and spread of disease

The World Health Organization breaks environmental health down into six specific themes:

• Outdoor air quality

• Ground and surface water quality

• Hazardous waste and toxic substances

• Homes and communities

• Infrastructure and surveillance

• Global environmental health 


What does an environmental health professional do?

Much of the role of an environmental health professional falls into two categories: prevention or response, no matter the subspecialty of environmental health. 

The prevention side focuses on teaching how to prevent disease or even helping create laws to prevent health hazards in the community.

Meanwhile, the response side seeks ways to slow or stop a health hazard that has already occurred within a community. 

Environmental scientists or specialists usually work to analyze a specific problem and devise a solution for it. You may do this by:  

  • Collecting data via research, surveys, and investigations

  • Analyzing information from water, soil, food, air, or other parts of the environment

  • Taking all data collected and looking for patterns that might cause a threat

  • Devising a plan to solve a problem or prevent future threats

  • Educating government officials, business leaders, and the general public about specific environmental risks and threats to their health

  • Creating reports and presentations based on your research and experiments

Depending on the career you choose, some other tasks you might complete as an environmental health professional include: 

  • Recommending environmental interventions to policymakers

  • Helping policymakers come up with laws and regulations to protect the public from environmental hazards

  • Developing educational materials

  • Working within an organization as an environmental health leader

  • Performing systems analysis to ensure everything is working correctly

  • Communicating with members of the community to help address and solve problems

  • Making recommendations on plans for new construction

How to become an environmental health professional

Becoming an environmental health professional in Canada usually means getting a degree, completing training, and taking an examination. 

1. Get the proper education. 

You'll need the proper academic credentials to become an environmental health professional in Canada. A bachelor's degree in environmental health or health sciences is usually sufficient, though you must earn it from a BoC-accredited program.  

2. Complete a practicum. 

Once you have a bachelor's degree, you'll need to obtain a CIPHI membership. Next, you'll need to complete a 12-week or 420-hour practicum. You must complete the practicum with an approved training agency. 

3. Pass an examination. 

Once you complete the practicum, you must pass a test to become qualified to work as an environmental health professional in Canada. 

Submit your application, and once you're accepted, the exam consists of two written formal inspection reports and an oral board examination. Exam sittings are available throughout the year, and you'll receive your certification eight to 10 weeks after passing. 

Important skills required for environmental health specialists

Degrees, work experience, and certifications can help land you environmental health jobs, but certain workplace skills can also be helpful. 

Naturally, being scientific-minded with an interest and experience in natural sciences, technology, and engineering is a must. As with many careers, excellent written and verbal skills to present findings to others is essential. However, some other important skills that aren't quite as obvious include:

Knowledge of enterprise resource planning software

For most environmental health jobs, you’ll need good computer and technology skills, and experience with and knowledge of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is also beneficial. ERP helps integrate processes, improves communication, and allows access to and sharing of data with colleagues all in one place. 

Knowledge and background in natural sciences

A background in natural sciences is essential for environmental health professionals. If you're a high school or college student who has already chosen this career path, take as many courses as possible and look for volunteer opportunities or internships. 

Natural sciences deal with natural matter and energy on Earth. This usually includes biology, chemistry, earth sciences (geology and oceanography), physics, and space sciences (astronomy). 

Persuasive communication

When environmental scientists and specialists make discoveries, they must share them with various people. They may write technical reports for other scientists and create presentations to provide to the general public. They may also need to report their findings to government officials. They must do it in a way that persuades their audience to act in response to the information. 

Deductive and inductive reasoning

Deductive reasoning starts with a premise or theory, proven true or false through observation and experimentation. Inductive reasoning involves taking specific information and making generalizations based on the data. Both are essential parts of working in the environmental health field. 

Service orientation (focus on helping people)

Anyone entering the environmental health field should want to help others, whether to improve the lives of others, a particular community, or the entire world. After all, the primary purpose of the job is to determine how to improve the lives of others.  

Critical thinking 

As with any science career, you'll need to be a critical thinker to analyze data and find patterns. You'll need to take everything you learn or observe and find a way to solve or prevent a problem by thinking critically.  

Where do environmental health professionals work?

Environmental health professionals work in various locations. However, most usually choose either the government or private companies. Regardless of their direction, environmental health professionals typically work in a lab or the field.   

While many people who choose to study environmental health and desire a career in the field go on to become environmental health scientists or specialists, many other career options are available in this industry.  

*Hourly wage and job outlook information provided by the Government of Canada Job Bank as of May 2024.

1. Environmental engineers 

Median hourly wage (CAD): $43.00

Job outlook from 2023 to 2026: Moderate to very good

Environmental engineers combine a background in engineering with concepts like biology, chemistry, and soil science to solve environmental problems. Problems they address might include cleaning up drinking water, climate change, controlling pollution, or finding a better way to dispose of waste.

2. Hydrologists 

Median hourly wage (CAD): $48.08

Job outlook from 2023 to 2026: Limited to good

Hydrologists focus only on water. They study rain, snow, groundwater, surface water, and the water cycle to determine how it impacts the environment in a particular area. They can help increase access to water in specific regions or ensure a population has clean drinking water.  

3. Environmental chemists

Median hourly wage (CAD): $35.90

Job outlook from 2023 to 2026: Moderate to very good

Environmental chemists or technicians typically monitor a part of the environment to ensure nothing is impacting human health. In the case of pollution or other problems, they'll investigate and prepare reports based on their findings. 

Discover more about environmental health.

If you're considering a career in environmental health or already work in the industry and want to broaden your knowledge, visit Coursera. You'll find related courses offered by some of the top universities in the world, such as Environmental Health: the Foundation of Global Public Health from the University of Michigan. 

Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. "Environmental Health Officer in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/wages-occupation/22641/ca." Accessed May 6, 2024.

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