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Careers in Public Health: Meeting unmet health needs with a Public Health Degree in Hawaii

Hawaii is ahead of much of the nation when it comes to some health indicators, for example, healthy body weight and deaths from diabetes. However, there are still many unmet health needs. Moreover, there are discrepancies between groups.

The state relies on public health professionals who have education from the baccalaureate to the doctoral level.

Select a Hawaii Public Health Topic:

Hawaii Public Health Infrastructure

The Hawaii Department of Health is the primary governmental department charged with promoting and protecting Hawaii’s health (http://health.hawaii.gov/).

The Department of Health includes the Health Resources Administration, the Behavioral Health Administration, and the Environmental Administration. The Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion Division, Communicable Disease & Public Health Nursing Division, Disease Outbreak Control Division, and Family Health Services Division are all under the banner of the Health Resources Administration.

Neighbor Island Offices are located in Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai.

Spotlight on the Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division

The Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division is responsible for the following services and surveillance activities:

  • Chronic Disease Prevention
  • Asthma Control
  • Comprehensive Cancer Control
  • Diabetes Prevention and Control
  • Physical Activity and Nutrition
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed)

The 2014-2020 Hawaii Coordinated Chronic Disease Framework was developed with input from the various stakeholders. At one stage, town hall meetings were held in communities across Hawaii. Professionals from many organizations attended these meetings. The following is a small sampling of organizations represented:

  • American Lung Association in Hawaii
  • Centers for Disease Control
  • Get Fit Kauai
  • Hawaii COPD Coalition
  • Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research
  • Kauai District Health Office
  • Liberty Dialysis
  • Molokai Public Health Nursing
  • Naval Health Clinic Hawaii

Division staff ultimately decided to focus on chronic disease by setting (community, healthcare systems, worksites, educational settings); they also sought to improve coordination.

Among the ‘worksite’ objectives are increasing the number of worksites that have comprehensive wellness programs and having worksite programs and policies that support particular health targets (for example, creating nicotine-free work areas, providing opportunity for physical activity, and being breastfeeding-friendly). Among the strategies noted are offering tax credits for wellness programs and promoting incentives for bus riding.

The Hawaii Health Matters website includes many sources of data related to Hawaii health (http://www.hawaiihealthmatters.org/); it also includes state progress toward goals.

Public Health Degree Programs

Public health is commonly studied at the master's level. Master's students are expected to develop competency in all core areas of public health from social and behavioral health sciences to biostatistics.

While MPH programs accept students from a wide variety of backgrounds, some students enroll in public health degree programs at the bachelor's level. They may get an overview of a number of concepts, including health systems, determinants of human health, and health-related research methods. Some bachelor's students study health education. Others opt for foundational degrees in areas such as biological or behavioral sciences. Schools consider professional experience and career goals as well as prior academic success.

Hawaii has one CEPH-accredited public health school that offers concentrations in the Native American and Indigenous Health as well as in major areas of public health. Students also have the option of enrolling in distance programs. A wide variety of specializations are available: everything from public health practice to global environmental sustainability and health.

Experiential learning is a major program component, particularly at the graduate level. A student’s choice of concentration can go a long way in determining his or her practical experiences and research opportunities. At the University of Hawaii, for example, epidemiology student participate in research at the university or community level. Schools of public health employ professionals with expertise in particular areas of the field; students sometimes select graduate programs because of distinguished faculty.

Students enrolled in distance programs can typically complete practicum experiences in their communities.

The Association of Schools of Public Health has provided resources for program selection.

Public Health Employment

Some public health professionals work for governmental units, analyzing data and managing units or specific programs or projects. Hawaii public health professionals may be hired by the Department of Health or other state departments to work in positions such as the following:

  • Epidemiological Specialist
  • Public Health Educator
  • Program Specialist

Program specialists may be hired on the basis of expertise with specific types of programs, for example, substance abuse or mental health. ‘Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division Research and Evaluation Specialist’ was among the positions advertised in 2016.

The Department of Health recently initiated hiring process for a number of temporary positions. The following were among them:

  • Healthcare Systems Specialist
  • SPODHDS Pre-Diabetes Specialist
  • Nutrition Education Network Coordinator
  • Heart Disease and Stroke Preventing Coordinator

A person may attain this type of position with a bachelor's. Experience requirements are variable.

Among the many organizations outside government that may hire public health graduates are hospital and insurance systems, human and social service organizations, and large corporations. The following positions are from September 2016:

  • Community Program Manager for the Blue Zone Project
  • Program Manager for the American Lung Association-Honolulu
  • Service Coordination Manager for AlohaCare (local insurance company)

Individuals who have not yet earned their bachelor's degrees may look into service opportunities with organizations like Americorps/ VISTA. Among the recent Hawaii AmeriCorps/ VISTA opportunities: working with the Hawaii Sustainable Nutritious Food Network and working with the Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Additional Resources

The Hawaii Public Health Association is the state affiliate of the American Public Health Association (http://www.hawaiipublichealth.org/). HPHA sponsors an annual conference. The organization is also involved in legislative advocacy. Public health professionals will find a number of health equity resources on the HPHA website (http://www.hawaiipublichealth.org/Health-Equity).