Oklahoma’s public health professionals work for state government agencies, non-profits, other non-governmental organizations, and even private sector corporations. These professionals come together and combine their expertise to tackle some of the state’s toughest health challenges. Along with a commitment to bettering Oklahoma’s communities, competitive salaries and opportunities for advancement attract some of the most qualified professionals to the public health sector.
Due in large part to the efforts of these professionals, the National Health Security Preparedness Index ranks Oklahoma at or above the national average in the following categories:
- Environmental monitoring
- Health security surveillance
- Food and water security
- Laboratory testing and biological monitoring
- Environmental and occupational health
- Countermeasure management
- Multi-agency coordination
- Incidence management
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According to 2014 figures from the US Department of Labor, Oklahoma is home to some of the highest concentrations of public health professions in the nation, as well as some of the highest average salaries:
- Medical and health services managers are found in the second-highest concentration in Oklahoma as compared to all other states
- Nursing instructors at the college level are found in the fifth-highest concentration in Oklahoma as compared to all other states
- Emergency management directors earn some of the highest average salaries and can be found in some of the highest concentrations in several rural districts of Oklahoma
- Health educators are found in the third-highest concentration in Southeastern Oklahoma as compared to all other rural areas in the nation
- Community health workers in Northeastern Oklahoma earn the second-highest average salary for this professional class as compared to all other rural areas in the nation
Oklahoma’s Public Health Professionals in Action
With more than $20 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health allocated to fund public health research and initiatives in 2015 alone, Oklahoma’s public health professionals have many of the resources necessary to affect real change in the state’s most underserved communities.
Staying one step ahead of public health threats involves educational campaigns, close monitoring of potential threats, proactive measures and a quick response to incidents that do occur. Some recent examples include:
Epidemiology and Disease Outbreaks – Since 1997 there had been no detected cases of measles in Oklahoma – until recently. In early 2015, epidemiologists, laboratory scientists, and healthcare professionals led an immediate response to a recent outbreak in Stillwater by identifying possible routes of exposure, monitoring for new cases, and notifying the public to be vigilant.
Information officers and program directors are leading more of a long-term response, conducting public education campaigns about the importance of vaccinations. These campaigns specifically target the most vulnerable segments of the population as identified by biostatisticians. This recent measles outbreak is a good example of how professionals from the public and private sectors combine their skills to mount an effective response to a public health threat.
Environmental Contaminants – Laboratory scientists, water quality inspectors, and public information officers recently sprang into action in Duncan when contaminants were detected in the city’s drinking water. With droughts four years in a row, a nearby lake where the city sources its water has accumulated a concentration of a particular type of contaminant that exceeds federal levels. Public health professionals acted based on the scientific evidence that prolonged exposure to this contaminant can raise the risk of cancer, and cause problems with the nervous system, kidneys, and liver.
Oklahoma public health professionals also check for contaminants in the air, food, soil, and other mediums that have the potential to impact the health of the state’s residents.
Earning a Master of Public Health in Oklahoma
There are many career paths that fall within the sphere of public health. The multidisciplinary nature of careers within the public health sector often require the interdisciplinary Master of Public Health (MPH) degree.
In accordance with requirements set by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), the curriculum in a master’s of public health program will always include the five primary public health disciplines:
- Behavioral and social sciences
- Health administration and policy
- Environmental health
Students also have the option of focusing an MPH on one of these areas and thereby receiving a specialized MPH degree.
An MPH is also ideal for professionals who want to make a career change, as all MPH programs recognize four-year undergraduate degrees in any major as meeting undergraduate requirements.
Several colleges and universities in Oklahoma offer MPH degrees. Some programs include an online option to accommodate professionals with a busy daytime schedule.
There are also a number of other degree programs that can qualify individuals for careers in public health. The following are some examples, provided here for illustrative purposes, of different professions and associated qualifications within Oklahoma’s public health sector (sampled from job announcements in 2015):
Laboratory Scientist II with the State Department of Health – This position requires at least a master’s degree in the biological or physical sciences, or a bachelor’s degree in these subjects with at least two years of relevant work experience
Advanced Public Health Specialists with the State Department of Health – One of the ways to qualify for advancement in this career is to have a master’s degree in Public Health or in subjects like Environmental Science, Environmental Health, Biology, Agricultural Science, and Physical Science
Public Health Officers with the US Air Force, based out of Bethany – Candidates can qualify for this position by having an a master’s degree in Public Health, or a PhD in Veterinary Medicine
Healthcare Provider Trainer with a statewide non-profit group in Oklahoma – Candidates for this position should have an advanced degree in subjects like Public Health, Social Work, Nursing, or Medicine
Oklahoma’s Public Health Resources
Professionals tackle public health challenges working through governmental agencies, private sector businesses, and non-profit organizations. Local resources in Oklahoma include the following:
- Tulsa City-County Health Department
- Oklahoma City-County Health Department
- Cleveland County Health Department
- Comanche County Health Department
- Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality
- Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
- Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH)
- Oklahoma Women’s Coalition
- Ottawa County Nutrition Coalition
- Safe Kids Oklahoma
- Oklahoma SWAT to prevent tobacco use among youth
Private and Non-Profit Organizations
- Oklahoma Mental Health and Aging Coalition
- Oklahoma Children’s Cancer Association
- Oklahoma Cancer Registrars Association
- Oklahoma Public Health Association
- Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
- Oklahoma Oral Health Coalition
- Oklahoma Water Environment Association