May 18, 2021 | Victoria Hudgeons
Becoming certified in public health can deliver many career benefits. Certified professionals stand out among other job applicants, maintain current knowledge of best practices, and demonstrate expertise in their field.
Unlike certificates, which indicate completion of an educational course or program, professional certifications provide credentialing based on nationally recognized standards.
Individuals can pursue public health certifications at different career stages, including recent graduates and career professionals.
Career and Salary Outlook in Public Health
The public health field comprises scientific research, healthcare services, government policy, and education. Professionals work one-on-one with community members, develop and evaluate health programs, or research causes of disease outbreaks.
Three popular public health careers and relevant credentials are listed below. We have compiled the following information and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Epidemiologists work to reduce negative health outcomes by investigating causes of diseases, promoting community education, and advising on health policy. Epidemiologists typically work in offices and laboratories at state and local health departments, hospitals, or universities. Most epidemiologists hold master’s degrees in public health.
Median Annual Salary (2020): $74,560
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): +5%
Health Educators and Community Health Workers
Health educators and community health workers implement strategies to improve public health and teach people about wellness. These professionals provide an important link between healthcare professionals and communities. Some employers require health educators to obtain certified health education specialist (CHES) or master certified health education specialist (MCHES) credentials.
Median Annual Salary (2020): $48,140
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): +13%
Medical and Health Services Managers
Medical and health services managers plan, direct, and coordinate services in clinical departments and healthcare facilities. Some employers hire candidates with bachelor’s degrees, while others require master’s degrees. Managers can pursue certification through the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management, the American Health Information Management Association, or the American College of Health Care Administrators.
Median Annual Salary (2020): $104,280
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): +32%
Certified in Public Health
Offered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, the voluntary CPH credential demonstrates competency in public health sciences and practices. As the only credential of its kind, more than 6,500 professionals have passed the CPH exam after it became available in 2008.
Earning a certification in public health demonstrates a professional’s dedication to meeting and maintaining national standards, adhering to professional values, and following a core body of knowledge. To sit for the exam, a candidate must meet one of the following criteria:
- Currently enrolled in a graduate school accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
- Alumni of a CEPH-accredited master’s or doctoral program
- Bachelor’s degree and at least five years of public health work experience
- Master’s degree and at least three years of public health work experience
The standard exam fee is $385. Discounts are available for individuals enrolled in specific schools or programs and members of certain organizations.
Certified Health Education Specialist
The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) designed the CHES exam for health education professionals in the early stages of their careers. This competency-based exam measures how well candidates understand, apply, and interpret entry-level competencies in the following seven key areas:
- Assessing needs, resources, and capacity for health education
- Planning health education
- Implementing health education
- Conducting evaluation and research related to health education
- Administering and managing health education
- Serving as a health education resource person
- Communicating, promoting, and advocating for health and the health education/promotion profession
To sit for the exam, an applicant must hold a bachelor’s degree with at least 25 credits specific to the seven key areas. Exam fees range from $220-$370 depending on student status and registration deadline.
Master Certified Health Education Specialist
Offered by the NCHEC, the MCHES credential suits experienced health education practitioners with advanced knowledge in the field. The MCHES exam covers both entry-level and advanced competencies in the seven NCHEC key areas listed above.
The MCHES exam emphasizes public health leadership skills, such as identifying staff development training needs, developing and managing budgets, and creating strategic plans.
To qualify for the exam, a CHES-certified professional should possess at least five years of active certification. Professionals without CHES certification can qualify if they hold a master’s degree in a relevant discipline in addition to five years of experience as a health education specialist.
Exam fees range from $285-$435, depending on registration deadline.
Public Health Administrator
The Public Health Practitioner Certification Board, Inc., designed the voluntary public health PHA credential for public health professionals in administrative roles. It focuses on the following five competency areas:
- Public health practice
- Community health assessment
- Public health policy, advocacy, and law
- Program development and evaluation
- Public health administration
Obtaining the PHA requires at least a bachelor’s degree and three years of administrative and supervisory experience in the public or private health sector. Each applicant must also provide evidence of fulfilling the five professional competencies through previous education or work experience.
Candidates do not need to pass an examination, but a $175 application fee applies. Professionals must renew their PHA credentials every three years by completing continuing education or academic credits.
Certified Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist
The American College of Sports Medicine, in collaboration with the National Physical Activity Society, designed the PAPHS certification exam. This credential is intended for professionals who promote physical activity in all areas of public health. It aligns with career goals in physical activity advocacy, policy, and program development/evaluation.
The PAPHS exam covers the following areas:
- Planning and evaluating
- Data and scientific information
- Exercise science in public health settings
- Organizational structure
To sit for the exam, each applicant must hold a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field. A candidate with a bachelor’s in other subjects must possess at least 1,200 hours of experience in a setting that promotes physical activity or healthy lifestyle management to qualify. Exam fees range from $150-$195, depending on membership and certification status.
What is the difference between a certificate and a certification?
A certificate is a document proving completion of academic or vocational education. It is conferred by an educational program. Certifications, delivered by independent organizations, provide professional credentials earned through experience and/or examination.
Do I need to renew my certifications in public health?
Typically, yes. Most professional certifications require each candidate to complete a recertification process every few years. Specific requirements vary by credential, but this process often requires continuing education, proof of active employment, and recertification fees.
What certifications do I need to become a public health nurse?
Public health nurses, also called community health nurses, are registered nurses (RNs) who promote public wellness. RNs must obtain licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN examination. RNs can also pursue other public health certifications.
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