How to Become a Public Health Director

How to Become a Public Health Director: Career Path Guide

Are you a natural born leader? Do you want to play a major role in protecting the health of the people in your region? Does the thought of working tirelessly to prevent or stop the spread of harmful diseases, and helping communities to respond to disasters fill you with a sense of duty and ambition?


If you’ve answered “yes” to the above questions, then becoming a public health director may be the perfect career choice for you. So read on below; we’ll give you a brief intro as to what you’d be doing and what you need to do to get there!



Education and Experience Needed to Become a Public Health Director

The education you will need to become a public health director will vary by region. However, you typically need a master's degree in public health or a related field that includes the core competencies of a public health education (Biostatistics; Environmental Health Sciences; Epidemiology; Health Policy and Management; Social and Behaviour Sciences).


Related fields that cover these competencies can include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):


• Health Administration

• Public Health Nursing

• Community Health Education 

• Environmental Health


Alternatively, some regions will require a Ph.D. in place of a master's, a medical degree in place of a master's, or a combination of having a master's or Ph.D. and being a physician. It all depends on the requirements of the region. 




Other Helpful Traits and Experience

It’s worth noting, that many public health directors are seen as leaders in the medical community. They achieve this status by not only studying hard and knowing their stuff, but also by achieving leadership positions within various volunteer organizations.


They also achieve their leadership status within the medical community by performing research, and/or by teaching others. Oftentimes, this involves acting as assistant professors or guest lecturers at various medical schools. 



Public Health Director: General Job Description

As a public health director, you would be responsible for protecting the health and safety of the residents of the region you serve.


The primary function of your job would be to lead the local health services agencies that are responsible for preventing and responding to epidemics and the spread of disease, protecting against environmental hazards, promoting healthy lifestyles, and helping communities respond to disasters.


You would also work with community partners to ensure residents have access to high quality health services. 



Public Health Director Job Duties

Although your duties would likely vary from region to region as a public health director, you could probably expect to be responsible for the following functions:


• Act as the spokesperson for public health issues

• Lead in the delivery of public health functions and services within a specific region

• Ensure the proper development of any staff for which you would be responsible

• Contribute to the training program for public health trainees of the region

• Advise other public health professionals, lawmakers and politicians, and make recommendations regarding patient care policies and procedures

• Maintain in depth knowledge and understanding of community needs

• Work toward the ultimate goals of improving health service quality and community health levels

• Handle complex and evolving health issues such as bio-terrorism preparedness, epidemics or potential epidemics, such as an outbreak of West Nile Virus or SARS

• Plan for pandemic influenza

• Address the surge in chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and asthma

• Oversee the work of hundreds of thousands of employees, with the assistance of managers and supervisors




Is This Field Right for You?

It takes more than a degree and the right work experience to become a public health director, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll like the road it takes to get there. However, if you fit the following criteria, you’ll have a shot:


• You have the emotional and intellectual discipline to earn the appropriate education

• You have a keen interest in the origin and prevention of epidemics

• You have a keen interest in making impactful contributions to the health of an entire population

• You are driven to be a leader in the healthcare community

• You are willing to keep abreast of developments in the field of public health, throughout your entire career

• You are interested in a career that enables you to act as a spokesperson in a field in which you have much knowledge and interest

• You’re not afraid of late nights, early mornings, and working closely with others



Who Creates Jobs for Public Health Directors?

Public health directors are public sector employees that are typically employed by the government of the province or state in which they serve. In some cases however, they may be hired by their municipal or federal government.



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Work Environment

As a public health director, you would work in an office, within a government building. The majority of your time would be spent interacting with staff and colleagues, managing budgets, reviewing reports and other paperwork, and coordinating through phone or email with various policymakers (such as elected officials) and other healthcare or public health representatives. 


You would also likely spend some time traveling to attend conferences, speak at public engagements, and conduct research or give lectures at colleges and universities. 



Careers Similar to ‘Public Health Director’

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or are in the same sector of industry, as Public Health Director:


• Doctor

• Epidemiologist

• Medical Writer

• Public Health Planner

• Registered Nurse

• University Professor




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a public health director:


Local Government Network: How to get ahead ... as a director of public health.” Debbie Andalo (April 2, 2013). The Guardian website. Retrieved January 11, 2020.

Health, Seniors and Active Living:Office of the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer.” (n.d.). Government of Manitoba website. Retrieved January 11, 2020.

Careers:Minimum Qualifications Review for a Public Health Director.” (September, 2013) Government of Colorado - Department of Public Health & Environment website. Retrieved January 11, 2020.

About B.C.’s Healthcare System:Office of the Provincial Health Officer.” (n.d.). Government of British Columbia website. Retrieved January 11, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Public Health Director

The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a public health director. You can search for scholarships matched to that/those field(s) of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Public Health Director: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful (or necessary) for becoming a public health director. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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