Career: Public Health Administrator
Public health administrators focus on community-wide disease prevention and health promotion. As the name of the profession shows, there are two parts to their jobs. Public health administrators try to improve the welfare of the community at large and run the organizations that disseminate information about health. The majority are employed by governmental health agencies, while others work for not-for-profit organizations and educational institutions. They assess community health issues and educate members about the prevention or alleviation of health problems. The public health administrator executes community outreach programs to make people aware of dangers such as lead poisoning and to address chronic problems afflicting the community, like sexually transmitted diseases.
The administrator’s job calls for the management skills of a CEO. She creates budgets, hires staff, organizes the office, and obtains any necessary equipment. Writing grant proposals and fundraising take up more and more of the administrator’s time as budget cuts flourish. Whenever she notices a health related trend or event, she must write a report on what she believes its effect on the community will be. The public health administrator must be prepared to delicately balance limited budgets with the compassion needed to provide basic care. Since she is often faced with contradictory information and demands, she must be able to make decisions. She also needs self-confidence when called on to defend her decisions to public officials or the press. The administrator attends community events frequently. Usually she devotes five and a half days a week to her career, but some are on twenty-four hour call. In an era of shrinking health care budgets, officials are expected to complete projects faster and with less support staff than ever before. This has forced many administrators to exercise their creative juices in designing new ways to handle the issues they face.
There is no one way to become a public health administrator, but most professionals have worked in related fields and acquired advanced degrees. Employers require at least a Bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration or a related field, but the field is so competitive that master’s degree holders have a significant advantage. While health-related courses, business administration, and finance are important parts of your academic background, make time for communications and English, too. You will need to write and present many reports professionally and confidently. Many administrators receive their degrees after having worked in other areas in the field. They are often former health inspectors, who insure that consumer products meet federal health and safety standards, or regulatory inspectors, who enforce observation of public welfare laws and regulations. Those with keen entrepreneurial skills and backgrounds are encouraged to enter the field, bringing their efficiency to it. Some people gain their initial training in the Peace Corps before returning to school.
Many graduate programs offer specialized joint degrees, such as a combined health care management and law degree. While dozens of schools offer graduate and undergraduate degrees in public health administration, only twenty-six are accredited. Whether you choose an accredited school or not is largely dependent on your plan of study, career expectations, and financial situation. Public health administrators enjoy a combination of study and work throughout their careers. Most public health administration students enroll in internship programs to gain experience. Once they start working, they are expected to take continuing education courses every year to keep up with the latest in health care services. Beginning in school and continuing throughout their careers, public health administrators should read trade papers about health care and the literature supplied by its providers.
The public health administrator works with a host of people in different professions, and can apply his skills, with some extra training, to these other fields if he wishes to change careers. Biostatisticians compile and study vital statistics. They determine the incidence of diseases in different populations and create life expectancy tables. Public health administrators turn to them for advice regarding issues such as which vaccines are better than others. Public health administrators can become health economists, who examine financing and organization of health care facilities, and advise them on running their businesses. The demand for health economists is growing due to the changing organization of the health care industry.