Public health is growing in scope and importance. The opportunities within the field seem endless and for this reason, many new graduates today are choosing to go into public health. The field is perfect for those with a desire to serve others and who have specialized skills in communications, accounting, management and other areas. Health policy is one career path under the larger umbrella of public health. Health policy professionals are needed in every area of society today from academia to administration, and non-profit to government sectors. To determine if this fast-growing, popular career path is a good fit, you might want to know a few things about a career in health policy.
Health Policy Defined
Wikipedia defines health policy as the “decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific health caregoals within a society.” There are many different types of policies that can affect different aspects of societal health from preventative health to crisis care and disaster response. Overall, health policy generally touches upon each of the following areas:
- Access to and delivery of health care.
- Quality of available health care.
- Benefits provided in different health care plans.
- How health care is financed and paid for.
- Equity of health care benefits distribution.
Health Policy Education
If you have an interest in specializing in health policy within the broader spectrum of public health careers, the best way to go about this is to earn a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in health policy. For your undergraduate degree (and depending on your skillset and area(s) of interest), you may wish to major in business, finance, accounting, psychology, communications, political science or another related, relevant field.
Health Policy Careers
Once you have earned your graduate degree, you are free to decide where you want to put your hard-earned education and skills to work. As one of the most diverse public health careers, you can choose to work in a more hands-on job with end users (patients or care receivers) at the government level shaping and revising health policy, or as a liaison between end users and policy makers. You can choose to work in any of these fields within the greater spectrum of health policy careers:
- Legal. Defending, upholding or revising current health policies.
- Administrative. Administering and managing how benefits are disbursed.
- Health professions. Disbursal of care benefits to end users.
- Analysis. Analysing health benefits costs and results across a spectrum of end users.
- Communications. Providing public health information to end users.
- Technology. Addressing issues of patient medical records, including data sharing and patient access to data.
- Special issues. Forming and revising policies related to mental health, childhood obesity, diabetes, rural medicine, geriatric and end-of-life care and other health benefits.
- Insurance. Access and disbursement of insurance benefits.
Because health policy is still a relatively new career field, there is also the possibility of creating your own unique career niche as a specialist, consultant, entrepreneur or other professional.
Health Policy Salaries and Benefits
Because health policy offers a range of options for charting your career path, salaries and benefits can vary according to whether you work for yourself, in the private or non-profit sector, for government agencies or in education. As an example, if you become a health policy analyst working in Washington, D.C., Indeed.com reports an average salary expectation of $83,000 annually. As an assistant professor teaching public health policy, your average salary is estimated to be $88,000 annually. In contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a salary range for health policy nurses from $49,000 (starting salary) to $70,000 (after 10 years in the work force).
Health Policy Careers and You
If you have an interest in health policy as a future career, the best place to begin is to identify your greatest area(s) of interest and your unique skill set. For instance, if you have aptitude in math and science, a career in medicine or analysis might be a great fit. If you are an excellent listener and communicator, a career in legal, public relations, education or social work might be the perfect track. Analysing your strengths can also help you choose which area of the country you may want to work in, where to attend school for your advanced degree and ultimately which area of specialization will allow you to most enjoy your professional career in health policy.
About the Author: Contributor Sam Benefult enjoys his career as a state government health care policy specialist.