Epidemics, preventable diseases, occupational hazards, and environmental contamination are just a few of the challenges public health professionals in Pennsylvania face. In one recent public health breakthrough, scientists, researchers, and epidemiologists isolated the particular type of tick carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. These public health professionals have responded by implementing vector control strategies, conducting public education campaigns, and monitoring the environment where these ticks are present so as to detect any changes.
It takes an educated class of professionals from both the public and private sectors to respond effectively to Pennsylvania’s most pressing health challenges.
The US Department of Labor reported the following information about Pennsylvania’s public health professionals in 2014:
- Mental health counselors – Pennsylvania employs the most professionals in this field of all states in the nation
- Rehabilitation counselors – Pennsylvania employs the third-greatest number of these professionals in the nation
- Behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors – Pennsylvania employs the third-highest number of these professionals of all states in the nation
- Social and human service assistants – Pennsylvania employs the third-greatest number of these professionals in the nation
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers – Pennsylvania has the third-greatest concentration of these professionals in the nation
- Nursing instructors at the college level – Pennsylvania is home to the fourth-highest number of these professionals in the nation
- Dieticians and nutritionists – Pennsylvania has both the fourth-highest amount and fourth-highest concentration of these professionals in the nation
- Healthcare social workers – Pennsylvania has both the fifth-highest number and fifth-highest concentration of these professionals in the nation.
- Health educators – Pennsylvania employs the fifth-highest number of these professionals in the nation
- Emergency management directors – The greater Harrisburg area has the second-highest concentration of these professionals of all cities in the nation
- Medical and health services managers – Reading offers one of the highest average salaries for these professionals of all cities in the nation
Recent Public Health Initiatives in Pennsylvania
Most public health funding in Pennsylvania comes from the federal and state government. In 2015 this included:
- $127.9 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund research at the University of Pennsylvania
- $107.2 million from the NIH to fund research at the University of Pittsburgh
- $2.05 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to combat the threat posed by West Nile Virus in 25 counties
- $632,643 from the NIH to Imcare Biotech in Doylestown allocated for research to develop better detection and treatment methods for illnesses like hepatitis and liver cancer
- $40.2 million from the NIH to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to fund research
- $224,935 from the NIH to Abzyme Therapeutics in Malvern for research into human antibody development
Public health professionals handle Pennsylvania’s health initiatives with urgency. Some recent examples include:
- Biostatisticians, healthcare professionals, public outreach coordinators and program directors recently convened a conference in Harrisburg for community input into methods designed to slow the rising pace of heroin and opioid addiction in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has seen a 570 percent increase in the use of these drugs between 1995 and 2015.
- Public health inspectors and regulators recently sounded the alarm about a cheese vendor in Paradise who was operating without a valid milk permit. Public health and agricultural inspectors regularly visit licensed facilities to ensure proper health and sanitation laws are followed, and cannot provide safety guarantees for places that operate illegally. Lab scientists also regularly test specimens obtained by these inspectors. This process is similarly repeated for environmental monitors who collect water, air, soil and other environmental samples to test for contaminants.
- In light of the recent measles outbreak, this year’s Infant Immunization Week had particular relevance as a public health awareness campaign. Program directors, public information officers, healthcare professionals, and epidemiologists participated in a statement that was issued to kick off the week-long campaign, urging Pennsylvanians to have their children vaccinated to prevent 14 serious diseases that in the not-too-distant past were responsible for killing hundreds of young people in Pennsylvania every year.
Qualifications for Public Health Careers in Pennsylvania
A degree in Public Health can open many essential doors for professionals who are pursuing careers in public health. A Master of Public Health (MPH) is often necessary for professionals who are looking to advance in their professional class, as well as for those who are looking to maintain an advanced standing in the evolving world of public health.
MPH programs accept transfer credits from bachelor’s degree programs in any major, making these programs the ideal path for career changers looking to enter the public health sector.
The MPH programs will encompass the following public health core disciplines as required by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH):
- Health policy and administration
- Environmental health
- Social and behavioral sciences
MPH degrees are also offered as specialized degrees that focus in-depth on one of these subject areas.
Universities and schools of public health throughout Pennsylvania offer master’s programs in public health programs, both for students interested in earning their first graduate degree as well as for professionals who are looking to gain additional academic qualifications. Schools will often offer online programs to accommodate students with busy schedules.
The following qualification requirements were taken as part of a statewide survey of public health job classifications in Pennsylvania in May of 2015, and are provided as illustrative examples only:
- Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Epidemiology – One of the ways to advance to this position is to earn an MPH or a master’s degree in epidemiology, plus a PhD in a field of biological science
- Public Health Analyst with the US Department of Health and Human Services – To qualify for this position, candidates must have at least three years of graduate-level studies in the field of public health with at least one year of related work experience
- Centralized Infection Manager with Davita in Malvern – Candidates interested in this position are expected to have a master’s degree from a school of public health or nursing, including an MPH, MS, MSc, MSN, or MHS
- Project Coordinator with the University of Pittsburgh – working with the Public Health Training Center, candidates for this position are preferred to have an MPH
Pennsylvania’s Public Health Resources and Employers
Public, private, and non-profit organizations work throughout Pennsylvania to address and resolve public health challenges on all fronts – both individually and as coalition organizations. Among these organizations are:
- Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
- Pennsylvania Department of Health
- Pennsylvania Department of Human Services
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
- Pennsylvania Department of Drugs and Alcohol Programs
- Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
- Erie County Department of Health
- Allentown Health Bureau
- Allegheny County Health Department
- Philadelphia Department of Public Health
- Pennsylvania Behavioral Health and Aging Coalition
- Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
- Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Non-Governmental and Private Organizations
- Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition
- Pennsylvania Association of Cancer Registrars
- Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania Rural Health Association
- Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals
- Pennsylvania Water Environment Association
- Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Educators
- Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture