10 Emerging Skills Public Health Professionals Need to Stay Competitive

Industry Advice Public Health & Public Policy

Obtaining a job in public health requires much more than health and science coursework. It demands experience in the field as well as specialized skills that enable prospective professionals to focus on the preventative and educational aspects of healthcare.

To stand out from the competition, aspiring public health professionals should familiarize themselves with the skills required in the field, and understand why they’re so important to their long-term success.

Is Public Health a Competitive Industry?

Like most healthcare professions, public health is a thriving industry that has become a highly competitive job market. An increasing number of young people are becoming interested in improving others’ lives and creating the foundation for long-term, sustainable public health—especially at the local level. This draw couldn’t come at a better time as there’s a noticeable decline in sufficient healthcare personnel.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there will be a shortage of around 18 million health workers by 2030 to meet the requirements of their sustainable development goals unless more people enter the field. This shortage makes the preventative side of healthcare even more crucial.

To ensure you find the right career in public health, you’ll need to obtain the right skills. For example, those interested in becoming public health program managers need specific experience and competencies to succeed.

Here’s everything a prospective public health program manager should know about the current job skill requirements.

Top Skills Every Public Health Program Manager Should Have

While there are important skills to highlight for prospective public health program managers, it’s crucial to first examine changing skills trends over the years.

According to a Lightcast report, there’s been a considerable shift in the list of required skills for public health program managers. Skills like program management, communications, leadership, and research have increased by over 100 percent. Even more impressive is the increase in skills like program development, advocacy, and marketing, which were virtually non-existent in job postings as recent as 2020.

According to Emily Grilli-Scott, assistant program director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Northeastern University, this trend isn’t that surprising. “I can see why there’s an increased need for advocacy, marketing, communications, and leadership skills. We’re acknowledging as a field that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to [a field whose responsibilities range from] distributing free COVID-19 tests nationally to something more local like communicating to folks in densely populated areas about rising summer temperatures and the urban heat island effect.”

Top emerging skills required for public health program managers based on increases in job postings from 2020 to 2022

Specialized Skills

Top specialized skills listed in public health job postings

1. Public Health

Individuals interested in pursuing a career in public health need to have an in-depth understanding of the fundamentals of the field, such as social determinants of health, biostatistics and research methods, and program planning. In addition, they should recognize the key goals of public health: preventing diseases and injuries within a community by promoting healthy lifestyles through the implementation of developed educational programs, policies, and services.

2. Epidemiology

While this skill is highly specialized, it’s helpful for public health program managers to have a foundational knowledge of the subject. Epidemiology—studying how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why—offers a plethora of useful data that aids the planning and evaluation of illness prevention strategies in the future. Due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a raised awareness of communicable disease prevention and the resources needed to combat it. A basic understanding of epidemiology can only help advance your career as a public health program manager.

3. Health Education

Health education is a fundamental aspect of many public health positions, including a program manager. A public health program manager must be able to leverage this tool to present information to target populations on specific health topics and provide the necessary tools needed to support community behavioral changes. Prospective public health educators should have experience with the following activities:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Workshops
  • Classes

4. Health Administration

Experience in health administration is an incredibly valuable skill to have when pursuing a career in public health. Those with administrative experience have improved the lives of people within the community they serve by dealing with the day-to-day operations in work settings such as government health agencies, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. Public health program manager candidates with health administration skills should be able to complete the following responsibilities:

  • Creating budgets
  • Hiring staff
  • Writing grant proposals and reports
  • Obtaining necessary equipment

5. Data Analysis

Since public health program managers collect and interpret a lot of data, analysis skills are crucial. If you’re interested in the public health technology industry, this skill is particularly important. Several public health positions, including public health program managers and data analysts, look closely at current and historical industry data to predict trends, enhance community outreach, and improve disease management.

Common Skills

Top common skills listed in public health job postings

6. Program Management

As a program manager, it only makes sense that program and project management are vital skills. As a public health program manager, you’ll need management skills to stay on top of the various working parts of a health initiative or campaign. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are ten essential services that public health professionals provide. While many deal with assessing gaps in community health, public health also builds and maintains a strong organizational infrastructure for public health. This requires a great deal of program management to organize.

7. Communications

All managers are required to communicate, and public health program managers are no exception. They need to convey vital information to various groups, such as key stakeholders, coworkers, and community members. “All types of communications—written or verbal—are important because public health folks need to understand how to interpret findings, materials, data, and then make it digestible to the audience they’re serving,” Grilli-Scott adds.

Quotation from Emily Grilli-Scott about the importance of both written and verbal communication in public health

8. Leadership

Successful public health program managers need effective leadership skills. Not only do they lead a team of public health professionals, but they also hold a leadership role within the community they serve. A health program or campaign is only as strong as the team that helped build it and the messaging relayed to the target audience.

9. Research

Public health is a preventative healthcare sector that mainly deals with research. Understanding the various research methods performed by public health program managers, such as case-control studies, cross-cutting studies, and medical administrative databases can give you a leg up compared to other candidates.

10. Program Development

Program development is a vital public health program management skill. While leadership and management skills are crucial elements of this position, a well-developed program plan is the foundation of a public health program manager’s responsibilities. Employers look for candidates that not only have the capacity to take on this responsibility but have experience doing so with proven success.

How to Develop Public Health Skills

Many prospective healthcare professionals gain the required skill set through a traditional advanced degree. For example, public health professionals must obtain a Master of Public Health (MPH) in order to gain employment post-graduation. Northeastern University’s accredited, one-year experiential master’s program can take your public health skills to the next level.

“There’s an experiential field component to all MPH degrees that are accredited,” says Grilli-Scott. “But with this one-year, accelerated program, you’re getting experiential opportunities, both in your coursework and through the traditional MPH practicum experience.” Most of these experiences expose students to the positive effects that successful local public health can have on a global scale.

So whether you’re a recent college graduate or a career changer, it’s important to find a program that gives you experience with the right skills in the field.

To learn more about advancing your public health career, download our free guide below.

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