What Is Public Health? Your Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

If you're looking for a job that allows you to help others or improve the environment, consider a career in public health. In this guide, you'll learn where public health professionals work and examples of public health jobs.

[Featured Image]: A woman with curly brown hair. She is wearing a green medical uniform and a face mask. She is holding a basket with prescription medicine.

Public health is the art and science of promoting community health and preventing disease globally. If you are interested in a career in public health, you’ll find plenty of fulfilling job opportunities across medicine, science, communications, social work, and education.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) anticipates a need for more than 33,000 additional public health professionals by 2026 across all states and union territories in India [1]. Public health differs from other health careers in that it focuses on protecting and promoting health in populations rather than diagnosing and treating individual patients. Both types are essential to the general public's health and well-being.

Here's what you should know about public health and how to get started in this career field.

What is public health?

Public health is the field that is concerned with protecting communities and improving health and safety through policies and practices. Several disciplines fall under the umbrella of public health, including education, environmental health, medicine, public policy, social services, and science. 

Within these disciplines and more, you'll find various career options for bettering the health and safety of people in your community. Just a few of the job opportunities in public health include:

  • EMT

  • Environmental advocate

  • Firefighter

  • Health educator

  • Health writer

  • Public health official

  • Public relations specialist

  • Social worker

Why is public health important?

When people are mentally and physically healthy, they live longer. They're also:

  • More creative

  • More engaged socially

  • More productive at work

  • More likely to get involved with their community

When whole communities are mentally and physically healthy, society functions better. Take economics, for example. Healthy people are more excited about their work, show up to their jobs more often, and are more likely to take advantage of education and training opportunities. This can result in a more robust economy. 

Here are more ways public health is essential:

  • Public health workers ensure all community members have equal access to necessities like food, shelter, transportation, and employment. 

  • Through community education, public health helps combat significant diseases that affect whole societies, such as cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. 

  • Public health education can influence city, state, and national government policies.

  • Public health promotes disease prevention, which is less expensive than treating disease for individuals and communities.

Public Health gets a boost

In 2022, Narendra Modi, India's Prime Minister, announced the government's focus on building the country's health infrastructure, pledging billions to strengthen the Ayushman Bharat network and the country's health infrastructure as a whole [2]. 


Where do public health professionals work?

Public health professionals work in a variety of settings across the globe. Some typical workplaces for public health professionals include:

  • Colleges and universities

  • Government agencies like health departments and aging services

  • Homecare businesses

  • Hospitals

  • Mental health clinics

  • Pharmaceutical companies

  • Schools

  • Non-profit organisations

You can work for a non-profit organisation if you're interested in a particular public health issue. Some of the areas of focus for non-profits include:

  • Bullying

  • Disaster response

  • Domestic violence

  • Environmental issues

  • Gun control

  • Housing

  • Human rights

  • Human trafficking

  • Literacy

  • Refugee assistance

  • Substance abuse

  • Suicide prevention

  • Veterans' services

  • Voting rights

6 examples of public health jobs

When considering a career in public health, you have many options. Take a look at a few examples of jobs in public health. 

1. Biostatistician

If you're adept in maths or statistics, you might be interested in a career as a biostatistician. As a biostatistician, you'll collect, analyse, and interpret data related to biology, medicine, or similar topics.

Typical work settings for a biostatistician include medical research companies, universities, or hospitals. Usually, this job requires a master's degree in biology, maths, or statistics. The annual pay for a biostatistician averages ₹5,10,000 per year [3]. 

2. Environmental health officer

An environmental health officer studies the air, land, and water for possible public health risks. In addition, these scientists help develop solutions to environmental problems. Some job duties you may have included collecting air, water, or soil samples, analysing data, and preparing presentations for employers or the public.

To get a job as an environmental health scientist, you'll need a bachelor's degree in environmental science, biology, geology, chemistry, or a related field. The annual pay for an environmental health officer averages ₹5,65,262 [4]. 

3. Epidemiologist 

Epidemiologists protect public health by studying disease causes and patterns within specific populations, allowing them to make predictions about diseases and recommendations involving health policies. As an epidemiologist, you might work for a government agency or in a university laboratory.

At the minimum, you'll need a master's degree in public health or a related field to be an epidemiologist. Some epidemiologists hold a doctorate in epidemiology or medicine. The annual pay for an epidemiologist averages ₹12,00,000  [5].

4. First responder

If you're interested in a career in public health that doesn't require a college degree, you may want to become a first responder. These medically trained professionals provide immediate life-saving assistance at an accident or emergency scene. Types of first responders include EMTs, firefighters, and police officers.

To become an EMT, you'll need to undergo a certification process. To become a firefighter or police officer, you must pass a written exam and enroll in a special academy, which provides about six months of training. Annual pay for first responders varies according to type.

5. Nutritionist or dietician

Nutritionists and dieticians have expertise in the area of food and nutrition. They advise clients on using food to become healthier and manage disease. Public health settings where nutritionists and dieticians work includes community recreation centres, government agencies, health clinics, nursing homes, and schools.

Community members served by nutritionists and dieticians include children, at-risk families, the elderly, and the general public. You'll need a bachelor's degree to become a nutritionist or dietician in public health. The average pay for a nutritionist or dietician averages ₹17,04,000 annually [6]. 

6. Public health nurse

Public health nurses provide information to communities about various health issues. Job duties might include:

  • Teaching prenatal classes to expectant parents

  • Talking to nursing home residents about the importance of specific medical tests

  • Vaccinating children at schools

  • Educating adult children about caring for elderly parents

  • Helping provide care to patients in emergencies

Many public health nursing jobs require a bachelor's degree in nursing and registration with the Indian Nursing Council. On average, registered nurses make about ₹10,92,000 annually [7].

Are public health professionals in high demand?

India's unique challenges as one of the most populated countries in the world also offer significant opportunities for public health careers. Experts anticipate that the country will need 44,936 additional public health professionals by 2030. [8]


Benefits of a public health career

A career in public health can be satisfying for a variety of reasons. Many public health workers feel good about helping develop strategies, policies, and programmes to improve health at a global or regional scale. Here are the benefits of a career in public health:

  • The opportunity to work and interact with diverse populations

  • Collaborate with the world's leading public health professionals

  • Be a part of exciting, cutting-edge research

  • Have opportunities to manage or lead others in a field that contributes to social impact

  • Participate in a well-paid, growing field contributing to the overall health and well-being of society

First steps toward a career in public health

Public health is a fascinating field that focuses on the art and science of promoting health in communities. Advance your public health career with a master's in public health. Check out the public health degree programmes available on Coursera and start learning today.

Article sources


World Health Organisation South-East Asia Journal of Public Health. "Forecasting the Future Need and Gaps in Requirements for Public Health Professionals in India Up to 2026, https://www.who-seajph.org/article.asp?issn=2224-3151;year=2019;volume=8;issue=1;spage=56;epage=65;aulast=Tiwari;type=3.” Accessed March 26, 2024.

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