Team of medical professionals

How to Become a Public Health Educator

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Team of medical professionals

Despite how far we’ve come in our understanding of medicine, many common health problems continue to persist simply due to a lack of education on how to prevent them—or at least reduce their risk of occurring. Fortunately, there’s a growing demand for public health educators who are dedicated to providing individuals and even entire communities with the education and information they need to make healthier choices in their daily lives.

If you’re a health-conscious person who wants to make a difference in the world by sharing your love for healthy living, becoming a public health educator could be an excellent career choice for you! It’s a flexible career field that can be whatever you want it to be. You’ll have a wide variety of responsibilities that range from working with individuals and families to helping government organizations craft more effective health policies. Public health educators not only have opportunities to take their careers in different directions, but they also earn a great living doing extremely noble work. In fact, we recently featured public health educators on our list of the highest-paying public health jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a public health educator, including the educational requirements, necessary certifications, and some of the daily responsibilities you can expect on the job. You may also be pleasantly surprised at how long it takes to become a public health educator—it’s a career that’s achievable in less time than you might think!

Not sure if becoming a public health educator is the right career path for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying public health jobs.

Public Health Educator Definition

What is a Public Health Educator?

Public health educators work in many different capacities, but they all share a big-picture goal of improving people’s understanding of healthy habits and behaviors and making it easier for people to access the health and educational resources they need. Like many other public health careers, it’s one of the best ways to become a positive force for people’s well-being without the physical and emotional stresses of providing direct patient care.

Public Health Educator: Job Description

What Does a Public Health Educator Do?

Public health educators can have a wide range of responsibilities depending on where they work. However, all their duties are related to improving the public’s understanding of treating and preventing common health problems. Public health educators may do everything from planning public health events to collecting and analyzing data about government healthcare services. They also commonly train community health workers or other healthcare professionals and generally act as advocates for better healthcare resources and policymaking.

Public Health Educator Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of public health educators include:

  • Conducting research to determine the health needs of individuals and communities
  • Developing educational programs and materials to teach people about important health topics
  • Teaching people how to prevent, treat, or manage various health conditions
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of existing educational programs and materials
  • Connecting people with health information and services
  • Advocating for improvements in healthcare resources and policies

Health professional giving a lecture

Public Health Educator Skills

The best public health educators have excellent written and verbal communication skills, as making complex topics easy to understand is an essential part of effective healthcare education. It helps to be organized and comfortable speaking in front of others, as it’s common for public health educators to host classes, training sessions, or seminars. Strong analytical instincts and an ability to think about big-picture problems will also serve you well throughout a career as a public health educator, as studying data to make better-informed decisions can be a big part of the job.

Where Do Public Health Educators Work?

Becoming a public health educator gives you many different career paths to choose from and the ability to work in various roles throughout your career. The most common employers for public health educators are hospitals, community care centers, individual and family service providers, and state and local governments. Public health educators tend to work full-time and follow fairly standard business hours, though they may sometimes travel for work or attend events occurring outside of normal office hours. While you can expect to spend plenty of time in an office environment, you won’t be trapped at a desk every day. Public health educators also spend time away from the office attending meetings, hosting events, or traveling to various destinations to observe or implement public health programs.

Public Health Educator Schooling & Certification

How Long Does it Take to Become a Public Health Educator?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Public Health Educator?

Before they’re qualified to teach others and shape public health policy, public health educators will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While traditional bachelor’s degree programs require a full four years in school, some accelerated degree programs can be completed in just two and a half years. In addition, some colleges offer bachelor’s degree programs focused specifically on public health, though that’s not the only path to a career as a public health educator. Other healthcare programs or even degrees in social sciences or humanities can also prepare you for a career in public health, especially if you plan to pursue a postsecondary degree.

The most successful public health educators frequently earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, which often provides more opportunities for promotions and higher-level positions. Many master’s degree programs require another two to three years in school, but just like your bachelor’s degree, you can finish your MPH degree much faster with an accelerated degree program. Some MPH programs can even be completed entirely online in as few as 63 weeks!

Like any other long-term goal, becoming a public health educator can be broken down into a series of smaller steps, which can keep you on track and make the final outcome feel much more attainable.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a public health educator:

1. Enroll in a Healthcare-Focused Bachelor’s Degree Program

The first step in your public health educator training is enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited college or university. For a future career as a public health educator, you may want to consider a B.S. program focused on public health, or on adjacent fields like a Bachelor of Science in Health & Wellness or a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration. Even if you’ve been working in another career, earning your bachelor’s degree is a goal that’s achievable for just about anyone. For example, to enroll in any of the healthcare bachelor’s degree programs at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED, plus a passing score on a Scholastic Level Exam and a computer literacy exam.

BSN sign on a stack of books with a stethoscope

2. Earn Your Bachelor of Science Degree

To succeed as a public health educator, you’ll need to build a broad understanding of human health and the healthcare industry in general, as well as learn how to become a great thinker, teacher, and communicator. That means earning a healthcare-focused bachelor’s degree will give you a major head start as you work toward your new career as a public health educator.

Like any bachelor’s degree program, you should expect to study a number of general-education subjects like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications. There’s a reason these types of classes are required of all bachelor’s degree students—they’ll make you a more well-rounded person and professional and help you discover new interests and talents.

While public health careers don’t involve practicing medicine directly with patients, you’ll need to be well-educated about human health and behavior, as well as how healthcare facilities and programs work in the real world. Any bachelor’s degree program with a concentration in healthcare will likely include courses in everything from kinesiology to psychology to courses focused on health education and public health policy. Other classes will teach you leadership and management principles and how to use data and statistics in the context of public health issues. All of these skills will prepare you to excel as a public health educator as you continue your education and eventually enter the job market.

3. Earn Your Master of Public Health (MPH) Degree

While it’s certainly possible to work in entry-level public health jobs with just a bachelor’s degree, earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is all but essential for making your way into the highest paying public health educator jobs. An MPH program is where you’ll polish the advanced management and communication skills you’ll need to lead health organizations and influence public health policy effectively.

Your public health master’s program will build upon your bachelor’s degree with courses like epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as courses that will teach you about environmental and occupational health, clinical effectiveness, and how to analyze and improve public health systems and policies.

At the end of your MPH program, you’ll need to complete a capstone course where you’ll apply the statistical methods you’ve learned to some aspect of public health. This capstone will demonstrate your ability to analyze data and interpret the kind of meaningful conclusions that will make you effective as a public health educator.

4. Get Certified By the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing

Earning certification from the NCHEC is a great way to show employers you’ve mastered the essential concepts of health education. After earning your MPH degree, you should be qualified to take an exam to become a Master Certified Health Education Specialist. Getting credentialed as an MCHES can give your earning power a major boost when it’s time to start applying for public health educator jobs.

The MCHES exam consists of 165 multiple-choice questions over a three-hour time window. Expect the exam to test you on everything from health care ethics to budget management to best practices for developing and monitoring strategic public health plans. After your initial certification, you’ll need to complete at least 75 hours of ongoing education or training every five years to remain eligible for recertification.

Stethoscope next to money

Public Health Educator Salary

How Much Do Public Health Educators Make?

Salaries for public health educators can vary significantly, and those with advanced degrees and experience tend to earn the highest wages. According to the BLS, the average annual salary* for public health educators (also known as health education specialists) is just over $62,000 per year, which works out to around $30 per hour. Public health educator salaries can be much higher, however – those in the top 25% of earners average over $77,000 per year, while salaries in the top 10% can reach $101,000 per year and up.

Top-Paying Industries for Public Health Educators

According to the BLS, you’ll find the top-paying jobs for public health educators in these industries:

Industry Average Salary Average Hourly Pay
Federal Executive Branch $108,510 $52.17
Medical Merchants & Wholesalers $82,070 $39.46
Scientific Research & Development $69,460 $33.39
General Medical & Surgical Hospitals $68,380 $32.88
Outpatient Care Centers $62,380 $29.99

Highest-Paying States for Public Health Educators

According to BLS data, public health educators in these states earn the highest average annual wages:

State Average Salary Average Hourly Pay
Washington D.C. $97,390 $46.82
Georgia $93,580 $44.99
Maryland $82,080 $39.46
Rhode Island $76,730 $36.89
California $70,230 $33.77

Highest-Paying Cities for Public Health Educators

BLS data shows these cities are where you’ll find the highest-paying jobs for public health educators:

City Average Salary Average Hourly Pay
Atlanta, GA $99,030 $47.61
New Haven, CT $89,360 $42.96
Washington, D.C. $87,090 $41.87
Savannah, GA $81,340 $39.11
Santa Barbara, CA $79,970 $38.45

Public Health Educator Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Public Health Educators?

Easily accessible health education is one of the most effective tools we have in preventing and treating a number of different health conditions, which means public health educators will continue to be in demand. The BLS estimates the overall employment of public health educators will increase 12% by the year 2030. For reference, that’s about three times higher than the average 4% job-growth rate for all other careers during the same time period.

Aspiring healthcare worker looking for a job

Ready to Start Your Career as a Public Health Educator?

If you’re excited by the idea of developing and implementing health education programs to benefit your community, your city, or even potentially the entire country, becoming a public health educator could be the ideal career for you! It’s a wonderful way to make a living for those who want to help create a healthier future, and for people who love the idea of working on big-picture solutions to complex problems.

Ready to start your journey toward a long and rewarding career as a public health educator? Click here to learn more about the MPH program at Brookline College, and start taking steps to achieve your new career in public health today!