Feb. 02 2016

That's a Public Health Job?

11 Outside-The-Box Public Health Career Options

For some soon-to-be graduates, February marks the beginning of crunch time in the search for a job. It can be a roller coaster—scary, exciting, and exhausting are all applicable adjectives. But luckily, the vast majority of Mailman students find what they’re looking for: roughly 98 percent of alums are employed, continuing their education, or choosing to not look for a job within six months of graduation.

Public health graduates are equipped with skills—critical thinking, communication, data analysis, leadership, and systemic understanding—that translate into several different industries. So, it's not surprising that many Mailman alums are pursuing careers outside of the ”traditional“ public health job field.

“Our alums cross so many industry boundaries,” says Heather Krasna, assistant dean and director of Career Services. “Recent graduates are running city bike shares, working at LinkedIn, eBay, and investment banks, advocating for gun control, building mobile apps—there are plenty of different applications for a public health degree.”

Here are a few more surprising public health career options:

Talk Show Host

Sexuality, gender identity, and reproductive health all play a huge role in our culture—but that doesn’t mean that everyone is able to speak with authority on the issues. Public health students, especially those with a Certificate in Sexuality, Sexual, and Reproductive Health, are bonifide experts. Just take a look at the career of Francisco Ramirez, MPH '09, who works as a consultant, public speaker, and television personality, providing insight and advice on sex, sexual health, and relationships to everyone from the United Nations to MTV.

Political Advisor

With the Iowa Caucuses this week, the 2016 Presidential Campaign is in full swing—and healthcare is a key issue that candidates need to be prepared to answer questions on and form policies around. Whether you’re out knocking on doors or working at headquarters writing position papers, public health graduates are more than welcome on the campaign trail. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more public health professionals serving in office themselves, as speaker Rodrigo Guerrero pointed out during the Dean's Grand Rounds last week: "We should convert more politicians to epidemiologists."


Public health students are creative problem-solvers with the skills to carry out new ideas—just like entrepreneurs. With a growing push for innovation in healthcare, many graduates are starting their own businesses designed to tackle tough health problems or to bring an industry farther into the digital age. This kind of entrepreneurship isn’t limited to the for-profit sector, either: Jason Friesen, MPH '12, founded and now directs Trek Medics International, an NGO that works to improve emergency medicine in hard-to-reach areas.

City Planner

What makes a healthy neighborhood? That’s an important question for public health researchers and city planners alike. As public health learns what factors help build age-friendly cities, create safe intersections for pedestrians, and ensure healthy air for children to breathe and water for them to drink, city officials need the knowledge and skills to translate those recommendations into zoning laws, new business regulations, and residential policies.

Hollywood Consultant

There is no shortage of television shows and movies using public health topics as inspiration for storylines. But how do they make those storylines plausible? With a little expertise from the health industry, of course. Take Stephen Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion: Ian Lipkin, professor of Epidemiology, served as scientific advisor, working closely with the director, writers, and producers to accurately portray a global pandemic on the big screen.


Chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents are potentially serious national security threats. Professionals working to protect the health and safety of the public need to not only be able to identity those threats, but measure, analyze, and communicate their impacts on human health. "In light of rising concerns worldwide, we need more trained radiological experts to help tackle emerging radiation threats. When these scientific skills are grounded in public health principles, all the better," says Norman Kleiman, associate research scientist in Environmental Health Sciences. "Here at Mailman, we’re kicking off the inaugural year of our MS program in Radiological Sciences, a curriculum combining expertise in health physics with radiobiology—the first of its kind offered by a school of public health." 

Data Scientist

With the growth in popularity of personal fitness trackers like FitBit, the healthcare industry is eyeing the information they collect as a valuable source of insight into the habits and health of people and communities. But to fully understand all of that data to help an individual patient or measure the health of a neighborhood, you don’t need a doctor: you need a data scientist—a public health graduate with a degree in Biostatistics is well-qualified.

Graphic Designer

While Mailman may not offer Photoshop classes, public health graduates are comfortable translating wonky research and recommendations into easy-to-understand messages for the public. As a graphic designer (or another communications role) at a private company, marketing agency, or advocacy organization, this skill is a crucial one—just check out a few of these health-related infographics for proof. "Successful public health approaches rely on our ability to reach populations in need, and art and design can be the 'make or break’ factor,” says designer Vivian Peng, MPH '14, who now works in communications at Doctors Without Borders.

Digital Health Specialist

As big technology companies increasingly invest in health, Silicon Valley needs more than programmers these days—they need public health specialists. Last November, for instance, car-sharing company Uber not only hired its first health advisor, but delivered nurses and flu vaccinations on-demand to customers in several cities. Other tech companies are hoping to revolutionize the healthcare industry altogether. Just one example is Maven, an app-based digital health clinic designed specifically for women, where Mailman alum Hope Yates, MPH '14, manages strategic partnerships.

Urban Farmer

With global temperatures and obesity rates on the rise, the need for sustainable, healthy foods—that don't harm the environment and are accessible to all—is more important now than ever. Public health practitioners are helping to create food policy at every level, including where food is grown. Farmers, who are increasingly finding space in urban settings like New York City, grow, produce, and get healthy food to consumers who might otherwise be living in a food desert.


When bacteria or other toxins get into the food we eat, there are serious consequences for human health. Federal agencies like the Food & Drug Administration are charged with keeping food safe—a mission that's executed by an army of highly-trained public health officials. "If you want to work for the FDA, you need to not only be able to identify potential contaminants, but understand their health impacts and know how to talk about them with the public," says Greg Freyer, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of the department's new MS program in Toxicology.   

“The skills you learn studying at Mailman really let you choose your own career adventure,” says Krasna. And the Office of Career Services is here to help: throughout the semester, they offer a variety of events, resources, and advice for Mailman job-seekers.