In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

Job Description101 Careers in Public Health

Behavioral scientists study what makes people do the things we do. In public health, they study why people make good and bad choices about food, smoking, safe sex, wearing seatbelts, and many other behaviors. They design and carry out research to find out what helps people make healthy choices or cut down on risky behaviors. Behavioral scientists can be directly involved in community-level studies, or they may concentrate on examining data from local or national surveys to look for patterns. Some are primarily interested in research, while others create public health interventions. They can also be found helping the teams that design campaigns to promote health and prevent disease, and offering guidance on behavioral issues. Hours tend to be reasonable, although projects may sometimes require long hours or weekend work.

Education and Certification

Behavioral scientists usually have doctoral-level degrees in subjects having to do with human behavior, such as psychology, sociology, or behavior and training in research methods and application. Some are nurses or social workers, often with a PhD in addition to their clinical training.

Core Competencies and Skills

  • Initiative and perseverance
  • Interest in what makes people tick
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Appreciation of cultural differences
  • Tendency to think logically, objectively, and methodically
  • Ability to address problems for which solutions have not yet been found
  • Understanding of statistics and data analysis (necessary level of expertise varies)

Compensation

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated average salaries for certain social scientists. The median salary for sociologists, for example, is $69,000, with most earning between $41,000 and $122,000. This includes people doing many different types of work, not just public health. Psychology professors have a similar range, with most earning $35,000 to $113,000. Upper-level behavioral scientists at the CDC can earn in the range of $115,000 to $150,000 per year.

Workplaces

Behavioral scientists are found in government agencies, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Private companies also hire behavioral scientists, either to carry out public health projects funded by the government or nonprofits or to work on for-profit efforts that are intended to earn money while addressing health concerns.

Employment Outlook

Overall, employment opportunities for sociologists and anthropologists are expected to increase. However, there are no national statistics for behavioral scientists working in public health. Academic and research positions can be quite competitive, in general, but a growing interest in systems-level health promotion may lead to new opportunities.

For Further Information

Behavioral scientists tend to belong to the associations for their specific fields, such as psychology, psychiatry, or anthropology:

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