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Public Health Careers in Virginia: What will you do with your degree?

Public health professionals carry out a variety of duties, among them, disease surveillance, biostatistical analysis, policy recommendations, public awareness campaigns, and administration of health-related programs and grants. Many Virginia employers seek professionals with both degrees and experience. Internships and fellowships can be helpful for early career professionals. Master’s level education is often preferred over bachelor’s level education.

Select a Virginia Public Health Topic:

Virginia Public Health Infrastructure

The Virginia Department of Health has primary responsibility for public health in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Among the many offices are the following:

  • Drinking Water
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Environmental Health Services
  • Epidemiology
  • Health Equity
  • Family Health Services

Even within offices, activities can be quite diverse. The Office of Family Health Services includes the Division of Community Nutrition, Division of Policy and Evaluation, and Division of Prevention and Health Promotion (among others). Epidemiology includes Disease Prevention, Environmental Epidemiology, Immunization, Surveillance & Investigation, Tuberculosis and Newcomer Health, and Pharmacy Services.

Data and Social Epidemiology is part of the Office of Health Equity, along with Rural Health, Minority Health, and Primary Care. The Office of Health Equity notes that one of its duties is to maintain geocoded databases that help identify health inequities (http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/health-equity/spatial-analysis-and-high-priority-target-areas). Among the current priority areas is poor birth outcomes in Northern Virginia.

Population health involves extensive data analysis and long-term planning. Virginia's Plan for Well-Being 2016 to 2020 is the current health improvement plan. There are four aims:

  • Healthy connected communities
  • Strong beginnings
  • Preventative actions
  • Health care systems

‘Healthy Connected Communities’ considers the educational and economic environments that foster health. ‘Strong starts’ considers education as well as traditional measures of health; one objective is to decrease deaths among black infants.

Local Health Districts and Initiatives

Virginia boasts 35 local health districts (http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/local-health-districts). Four of Virginia's local health districts or departments hold accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board: the Fairfax County Health Department, Loudoun Health District, Prince William Health District, and Thomas Jefferson Health District. Accreditation requires a Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan.

The Richmond Healthy Corner Stores Initiative is among the state’s local successes (http://virginiawellbeing.com/data-stories/healthy-corner-stores). Through partnership with Shalom Farm, a local nonprofit, a number of Richmond corner stores located within ‘food deserts’ – places where there is not easy access to a full range of affordable healthy food products -- are now able to offer local produce at affordable prices. The Virginia Well-Being website shows a photograph of a sign outside a Richmond corner store, proclaiming “local produce” and “EBT welcome” (http://virginiawellbeing.com/data-stories/healthy-corner-stores/). Initiatives like Healthy Corner stores actually reflect the work of many – including those who study health data and look for correlations. Living in a food desert is positively correlated with negative health indicators like obesity and diabetes.

Shalom Farm also delivers produce to food banks and after school programs. Among its projects is a farm stand run by youth (http://shalomfarms.org/our-work).

The Richmond City Health District and Dan River Region are finalists in Healthiest Cities and Counties Challenge (http://www.healthiestcities.org/map). Richmond’s public housing communities are working to increase physical activity as well as healthy eating. The Dan Region Health Collaborative has created a ten-year plan for improving health equity (http://www.healthiestcities.org/map/danville-virginia).

Public Health Degree Programs

Students may choose to attend classes online or on physical campuses. The following are among the MPH programs offered within Virginia:

  • Epidemiology
  • Global Health
  • Public Health Communication
  • Health Promotion
  • Infectious Disease
  • Research in Practice

There are also joint degree options. These range from MPH-MBA to MPH-MD. Some students pursue joint degrees in public health and social work.

Virginia’s Deputy Commissioner for Population Health is both an MD and an MPH.

A student who selects a CEPH-accredited program can be assured of receiving education in a discipline-specific core, whichever concentration he or she selects. Virginia does not, as of 2016, have CEPH-accredited bachelor’s programs. Students may opt to enroll in programs through out-of-state schools or may enroll in other similar programs that meet their career goals.

Public Health Careers

Some public health positions require advanced degrees and/ or very specialized training. The following are examples of recent postings where graduate education was necessary for consideration:

  • Research Associate for Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Health Educator for Virginia Tech
  • Public Health Analyst for Insight Systems Corporation

The following positions also note a preference for graduate education:

  • WIC Vendor Team Supervisor for the Department of Health
  • Epidemiologist Sr. for the Department of Health
  • Health Promotion Officer for the US Army Public Health Command
  • Community Health Planner for the Department of Health
  • Public Health Analyst for Karna LLC

Prior experience may be required or preferred. Employers may cite a number of skills, for example, grant writing and leadership.

Public health professionals living near DC may compete for positions with national and international organizations such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the United Nations Foundation.

Additional Resources

Information about state public health programs and population level health planning is available from the Virginia Department of Health (http://www.vdh.virginia.gov).

The Virginia Public Health Association is an additional resource (http://vapha.org).