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A Day in the Life of a 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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

A century ago, health care officials were concerned entirely with preventing and controlling infectious diseases. As the variety of factors affecting health gained recognition, the field of health care administration was born. One professional growth consultant recently commented that “What’s happening in health care today is that no one knows what’s happening in health care today.” Recent budget cuts and government debates are making those in the field very anxious. Should national health care reform legislation be passed, it will further change terms of delivery, provision and payment for health care services. Future public health administrators will have to display creativity and flexibility in finding solutions to health care problems.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Approximately 80 percent of recent graduates who enter this field feel prepared for the challenges they face as public health administrators. They are often dedicated and well integrated into the system and are only new to their particular positions, not the field as a whole. New administrators learn about the problems faced by the community they work in and get their first tastes of running an office.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Some public health care officials find that they are tired of the long hours and increasing responsibilities. Trying to get people to take basic health precautions can be frustrating when they ignore crucial advice. Administrators sometimes move from working on public health for a public office to working on public health in the private sector, such as in hospitals, where they can continue their satisfying work in a more temperate environment. Others remain with the communities of which they have become a part.

TEN YEARS OUT

The ten-year veteran is skilled at running his office and effectively advising the community about preventative health care. She has become a critical member of the community, depended on for practical and trustworthy advice. Administrators enjoy the recognition they receive from the community and public officials.