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  • Shelby L. Graves, MPH, CHES

Entry-Level Jobs in Public Health

It’s Not “Starting from the Bottom”

Many entry-level jobs in public health provide young professionals the opportunity to ascend to new levels while holding the same title. For example, a Health Educator often begins as a “Health Educator I,” with the opportunity to advance to a “Health Educator II” or “Health Educator III.” Each year of experience or additional certification allows young professionals to advance without having to apply to new positions.

The experience acquired in entry-level positions is transferrable to a variety of higher-ranking roles in public health practice. Once you have a foundation in public health practice, you will find it much easier to find new roles or to climb the ladder within your current organization.

This article reviews examples of entry-level public health positions that are ideal for recent graduates.


Environmental Health Specialist (Trainee, Inspector)

Entry-level positions in environmental health include roles such as Environmental Health Specialist, Environmental Health Trainee, Environmental Health Inspector, and Environmental Science Technician. These roles traditionally involve conducting various health inspections for consumer and resource protection. They may also take water or soil samples as part of their fieldwork.

Consumer protection includes, but is not limited to:

  • Assisted living facilities

  • Camps

  • Daycare facilities

  • Food trucks

  • Public pools

  • Restaurants

  • Tattoo parlors

Resource protection includes, but is not limited to:

  • Air quality

  • Septic systems

  • Soil

  • Water quality

  • Other environmental concerns

Public health graduates who concentrated in environmental health are typically considered first for these roles. However, those with a background in epidemiology are also successful at securing an environmental health position. Some environmental health programs will both train and certify their new recruits, which is an added benefit to taking on a role in environmental health early in your career. Do not let your concentration hold you back from applying to an environmental health position if you are interested.

Environmental Health Specialists may find work within:

  • County, tribal, or state health departments

  • Federal agencies (e.g. OSHA, NIOSH)

  • Nonprofit agencies

  • Private corporations



Epidemiologist

Epidemiologist positions are open to recent graduates from master’s degree programs (e.g. Master of Public Health). Most agencies prefer the applicant have either a concentration in epidemiology or prior experience (e.g. epidemiology internship). These public health professionals primarily collect, analyze, and distribute data related to the spread of disease (e.g. coronavirus). Their work is applied to planning health programs, writing health policy, and educating the general public. Some epidemiologists work directly in the field, while others work at headquarter offices of larger agencies.

Epidemiologists may find work within:

  • County, tribal, or state health departments

  • Federal agencies (e.g. CDC)

  • Healthcare or hospital systems

  • International agencies

  • Universities or colleges


Health Educator

Health Educators work to promote wellness and educate specific groups on health behaviors. Health educators assess population health, implement health promotion programs, and evaluate health initiatives to advance population health. They often serve as a resource person to assist individuals, specific target populations, and fellow public health professionals in improving health within their communities.

Health Educators work in a variety of public health areas. Examples of these topic areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic Disease Management

  • Chronic Disease Prevention

  • Healthcare Navigation

  • Lifestyle Health

  • Nutrition and Physical Education

  • Sexual Health Education

  • Violence Prevention

Some public health professionals choose to sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam. This exam assesses a public health professional’s readiness to assess, plan, implement, and evaluate health programs. Sitting for this exam is beneficial to those hoping to become Health Educators.

Health Educators may find work within:

  • County, tribal, or state health departments

  • Healthcare or hospital systems (specifically those with community outreach teams)

  • Nonprofit agencies

  • Public or private school systems

  • Universities or colleges

  • Research programs


Health Navigator or Care Coordinator

Those new to the public health workforce may find success in Health Navigator or Care Coordinator roles. These public heath professionals traditionally educate clients or community members on healthcare and preventive services within their area. They not only provide education on healthcare services, but also assist individuals in navigating these complex systems. For instance, a Care Coordinator might help a family to make appointments for services, secure transportation to services, and follow up after to ensure they had a favorable experience.

Health Navigators / Care Coordinators must be well versed in local healthcare systems and preventive care programs. They must also have a strong understanding of and commitment to cultural humility if they are to connect with families from diverse backgrounds. Public health professionals who speak more than one language are in high demand for these roles.

Health Navigators / Care Coordinators may find work within:

  • County, tribal, or state health departments

  • Healthcare or hospital systems

  • Nonprofit agencies


Program Assistant

Program Assistants support the work of public health and health promotion programs. They typically provide support to staff members through the completion of clerical, customer service, and data-related tasks. Program Assistants may be responsible for coordinating staff and stakeholder meetings, assessing new program participants, recruiting new program staff or program participants, and filing financial reports.

Securing a role as a Program Assistant can serve to “get your foot in the door” at a larger public health agency. Those with a bachelor’s degree in public health may be best suited to this role.


Program Assistants may find work within:

  • County, tribal, or state health departments

  • Federal agencies

  • Healthcare or hospital systems

  • Nonprofit agencies

  • Universities or colleges



Research Assistant

Many public health students hold Research Assistant positions during their academic careers. However, advanced Research Assistant positions are also available to entry-level public health professionals. They may be listed as “Research Assistant” or “Research Program Assistant” in job listings. These positions allow young professionals to build on their existing data management, academic writing, and grant writing skills. These skills are transferrable to any public health position one might hope to hold in the future.

Research Assistants may find work within:

  • Private organizations

  • Healthcare or hospital systems

  • Universities or colleges

This list is not exhaustive, but represents common entry-level public health positions found in most states across the country. To learn more about securing work as a new graduate, see my Job Hunting 101 Guide and follow me on Instagram @seriously.shelbs.

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