Public Health Administrator – A Day in the Life

In many ways, each of us is responsible for our own health. But sometimes we need a little help. Economic inequality, genetics, and geographical limitations mean that some of us are naturally healthier or unhealthier than others—often due to factors outside of our immediate control. Public health administrators help even the playing field and improve the health of entire communities.

Public health administrators oversee campaigns that improve public health. This can take the form of free STI testing, events that encourage regular physical exercise, providing information on smoking cessation, or programming that teaches low-income families how to implement cheap and nutritious diets. While these campaigns may seem small in scope, they can have a big impact in lowering the instances of chronic disease and improving the overall health of an entire community.

But these programs don’t happen on their own. They require the cooperation of numerous stakeholders and they require funding. Public health organizations are in many ways like businesses—ones that don’t operate for profit and are often restricted to a limited number of resources. Public health administrators are the ones working behind the scenes to make sure that the money, the talent, and the community buy-in all line up and result in measurable public health impacts.

Public health administrators aren’t interested in profit. They’re interested in building a healthier, happier community. And they do it not through sheer idealism, but through a mix of keen organizational skills, well-crafted communication, and clever campaign management.

Work Environment of Public Health Administrators

Public health administrators are very similar to other health administrators, except that their focus is on population health. They can work for hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies, NGOs, and non-profit organizations. While they often work in an office at a medical site or health agency, outreach is a critical part of a public health administrator’s work and they’ll need to interface with the community they serve. Traveling outside of the office for public speaking, for fundraising, and for public engagement is a regular aspect of the job.

Clinical Team

Due to the outward focus of public health, there is significant collaboration between public health administrators and community stakeholders. Public health administrators need to interface with social workers, clinical staff, community members, and government representatives. Facilitating cooperation between these different spheres of focus is critical for the smooth operation of a public health organization and a key responsibility of a public health administrator.

Typical Daily Responsibilities

While public health administrators may perform many of the same functions as a healthcare administrator and even work in some of the same institutions, the focus here is on non-clinical operations of medical facilities and greater population health. At its core, this job involves the administration of a healthcare organization and a keen sense of organizational management is a must. But the other half of the job involves serving the community at large and improving population health.

Typical responsibilities for a public health administrator include:

  • Assessing community health issues
  • Educating the public on broad health issues
  • Developing community programs that improve public health
  • Ensuring compliance with governmental regulations
  • Creating budgets related to public health operations
  • Securing funding streams through grants and fundraising
  • Collaborating with community stakeholders on issues of public health
  • Drafting reports on trends related to public health

Public health administrators are responsible to two entities: the organization that employs them and the population they serve. To effect change on a public health scale requires careful cooperation between the two. Each has its own unique needs and it’s the public health administrator’s responsibility to see that they’re both balanced and attended to.

Required Skills & Knowledge

Public health administration requires an unusual combination of talents: managerial acumen and public health expertise. To be a public health administrator is to run a business that sells a social good (public health) instead of a marketable good (clinical services). To do that effectively requires both diplomacy and salesmanship and public health administrators need to be effective communicators who are devoted to social improvement. While it’s necessary to have the foundational knowledge of organizational management, it’s equally necessary to be able to keep the end goal (improving public health) in the roadmap of the organization.

A bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration may be enough for entry into this profession, but employers are increasingly seeking out candidates who have graduate-level education. An MHA will focus on the administrative and operational side of public health administration, involving work with finance, management, and regulatory compliance. An MPH will emphasize issues surrounding public health, including issue identification and interventions with measurable outcomes. Learn more about the differences between these two types of graduate degrees in our MHA vs. MPH chart.

In either case, one of these graduate-level degrees can help a public health administrator to target their education towards a specific niche of public health and allow them to make the largest impact possible.

Certification for Public Health Administrators

While certification is not a requirement to practice as a public health administrator, it can provide a mark of distinction and validation on one’s resume. There isn’t a direct certification for public health administration, but those who wish to identify themselves as experts in public health can pursue the Certified in Public Health (CPH) designation through the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE). Designed for both emerging and established public health professionals, earning the CPH demonstrates a dedication to continuing education and national standards in public health.

Applicants can prove their eligibility through one of several avenues, the most traditional of which include: a master’s or doctoral program accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH); a bachelor’s degree in any concentration, with five years of public health work experience; or a master’s degree in any concentration, with three years of public health work experience.

Once deemed eligible, applicants take an exam which covers the following areas: evidence-based approaches to public health; communication; leadership; law and ethics; public health biology and human disease risk; program planning and evaluation; program management; policy in public health; health equity and social justice; and collaboration and partnership. The exam fee is $385. Once the exam is passed, an applicant receives the CPH designation.

In order to maintain their designation, CPH-holders will need to recertify every two years by providing evidence of completing 50 credits of continuing education, which demonstrates the CPH-holder’s dedication to lifelong learning within the profession.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging issues in healthcare administration and public health, with a particular focus on progressive policies that empower communities and reduce health disparities. His work centers around detailed interviews with researchers, professors, and practitioners, as well as with subject matter experts from professional associations such as the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) and the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHCA).

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