Public Health Career Education in Alaska

The country’s largest state is also home to some of its most unique health issues as a result of Alaska’s massive size and harsh climate. Ninety-five percent of the state is uninhabited, with many of the settlements in that small five percent accessible only by plane or roads that disappear under heavy snowfall. Emergency and health services are forced to rely on the organizational skills of public health professionals in order to have a meaningful impact in the Alaskan wilderness.

With the release of a new strategic plan spanning 2013-2017, the Alaskan Division of Public Health (DPH) intends to do even more to provide effective infrastructure for Alaska’s public health specialists at every level. The new policy effort represents a complete overhaul of Alaska’s public health system with the goal of improving the state’s ability to diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in communities throughout the state.

Since the launch of the strategic plan, the Division of Public Health has seen a drop in the rate of death related to cancer and heart disease. This is due in part to six annual grants for health improvement and health education that have gone a long way towards building a better foundation for the state’s most at-risk communities.

The plan also outlines efforts to improve the state’s Rural Trauma Development Course. This translates to the training and equipping of 1200 EMS providers, staff for 100 physician’s office labs, and more stringent regulations for EMT certification. Having a detailed system for vetting and employing emergency service workers in rural areas is absolutely crucial for maintaining public health in Alaska.

The strategic plan’s efforts are still ongoing and will need the helping hands of highly educated public health professionals to maintain and evaluate its impact on Alaskan health services. A Master of Public Health degree prepares public health policy specialists and program administrators to take on any task the cold Alaskan wilderness can throw at them.

Earning a Master’s Degree in Public Health in Alaska

With a variety of fast track options and specializations, a Master of Public Health can easily be tailored to the unique needs and experience of almost any student. The degree is uniquely designed to prepare students for a career in an incredibly diverse industry that will expect them to have an interdisciplinary perspective on public health.

MPH graduates may work to comb through complex epidemiological data, prepare a scientifically sound research project to fuel future programs, advocate for policy reform, evaluate the effectiveness of programs and much more.

MPH Program Overview

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) sets the standards for most MPH programs. In 2004, CEPH worked with the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) to develop the MPH Core Competency Model. These competencies form the foundation of all MPH programs and are an integral part of a career in public health. The five competencies are:

  • Environmental Health Sciences
  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Health Policy Management
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences

While these core subjects form the basis of accredited MPH programs, the ASPH also identified seven crosscutting domains that they believe are important for students to develop over the course of their master’s program:

  • Professionalism
  • Program Planning
  • Communication and Informatics
  • Leadership
  • Public Health
  • Biology
  • Diversity and Culture
  • Systems Thinking

Specialty Tracks

MPH programs will regularly offer unique specialty tracks that give students the option to focus their studies in areas most relevant to their career goals. Examples include:

Health Communication: One of the most successful DPH programs is its Senior Fall Prevention campaign. Accidental falls are the number one cause of injury to Alaskans over the age of 65 according to the DPH. Health communication specialists took the time to design an array of tools for seniors and care professionals to access in an effort to prevent accidents. This includes awareness weeks, prevention flyers that can be passed around communities, and even exercise guides for activities like Tai-Chi that can help to improve resilience and balance.

The skills needed to design a successful campaign like this are developed in a health communication program. This specialization is designed around properly communicating and marketing health campaigns to the public and to administrative staff as well as planning events and courses that teach and empower people to deal with potential health hazards.

Courses within this specialization may include:

  • Leadership Seminar
  • Global Health Communication Interventions
  • Preventing Health Disparities
  • Social Marketing
  • Marketing and Research for Public Health

Health Policy: The DPH employs a policy and planning staff responsible for evaluating the state’s funding capacity, analyzing national and statewide trends, and reviewing system cost and efficacy. This committee also generates projections and strategic plans intended to improve health in the long run. This kind of complex work requires more than just a special kind of person, but a special kind of training.

The health policy specialty track is designed for students who want to use their skills and knowledge to aid in keeping health policy up to date. This means keeping an eye on an area’s greatest risk factors and ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place. It also means keeping an eye on developing health tends and designing new policy to address sudden epidemics of disease or injury.

Courses within this specialization may include:

  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Sexual and Reproductive Health Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
  • Qualitative Research Methods in Public Health
  • Public Health and Law
  • Global Health Diplomacy
  • Leadership Seminar
  • Law, Medicine and Ethics
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Program Planning and Evaluation: In an effort to alleviate homelessness in Alaska, a program called Housing First was designed that intends to provide individual shelter for homeless Alaskan residents rather than group shelters. The program believes that poor health and substance abuse are a major risk for Alaska’s homeless population, and that creating stable homes for everyone can reduce drug and alcohol addiction.

The program is currently under evaluation from staff at the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies. Experts in program evaluation are in the midst of a two-year study that is hoping to identify just how impactful the Housing First program is at addressing both homelessness and substance abuse.

The skills needed to evaluate a program like this accurately can be developed in a program planning and evaluation specialization. Students in this program focus their efforts towards understanding what makes health efforts impactful and what can be done to improve the programs in their region to the best of their abilities.

Courses within this specialization may include:

  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Sexual and Reproductive Health Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
  • Researching Violence Against Women and Girls
  • Qualitative Research Methods in Public Health
  • Social Marketing
  • Marketing Research for Public Health

Global Health: Global health concerns present distinctly different problems for health organizers than those on the local level. Staying prepared for global disasters like food shortages, earthquakes affecting a large area, or an influx of refugees due to war all require unique experience. A specialization in global health can prepare a student to tackle global health issues of all kinds and focuses them towards issues like illegal sex trafficking, HIV/AIDs, and food shortages.

Courses within this specialization may include:

  • Monitoring and Evaluation of Sexual and Reproductive Health Programs in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
  • Researching Violence Against Women and Girls
  • Global Health Communication Interventions
  • Preventing Health Disparities
  • Global Health Diplomacy
  • Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology
  • Climate Change and Social Change

Accelerated and Part-Time Options

Most master’s programs offer flexible options for credit loads that allow students to graduate at their own pace.

Part-time options allow busy students to take as many as four years to earn an MPH. For students working full time or pursuing other professional and academic goals, this may be the best option.

However, many MPH programs also offer an accelerated one-year option that takes the opposite approach. Students in accelerated programs take on a heavier course load and are able to graduate in as little as 12 months.

Admission Requirements

While institutional policies will differ, the following list of requirements and standards is representative of most MPH programs:

  • Submission of GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT
  • Submission of official transcripts from all other undergraduate and graduate institutions
  • Submission of a 500-1000 word purpose essay
  • Resume
  • Two letters of recommendation

Job Growth Projections for Public Health Professions in Alaska the Require a Master’s Degree

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a number of public health profession are on the rise, and are expected to show strong job growth in the coming years. The following are growth projections for public health professions in Alaska for the ten-year period spanning 2012 to 2022:

  • Social and Community Service Managers 18%
  • Statisticians 2%
  • Microbiologists 9%
  • Rehabilitation Counselors 23%

Salaries for Master’s-Educated Public Health Professionals in Alaska

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics provided the following salary figures for public health professions in Alaska that typically require a master’s or higher degree. These ranges demonstrate how salaries have remained competitive, even as the number of jobs has continued to grow. Shown here are the 10th and 90th salary percentiles for each profession

  • Rehabilitation Counselors: $31,410 to $75,360
  • Social Scientists: $52,340 to $92,860
  • Biological Scientists: $51,790 to $98,690
  • Social and Community Service Managers: $42,760 to $106,000
  • Microbiologists: $45,900 to $109,830
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Career Opportunities in Alaska for Public Health Professionals with a Master’s Degree

An MPH prepares students for an array of professional opportunities. Bear in mind that previous experience, specialization, and extracurricular activities can all open doors to unique career options. Below are a handful of job postings found in a survey of job boards in Alaska performed in January 2016 that represent just some of the options available to students with an MPH. (Examples shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to imply a job offer or assurance of employment.):

Health Statistician, Statewide Health Info Management Services

  • Responsibilities
    • Works cooperatively with the Indian Health Service Alaska Area Statistical Officer
    • Provides accurate statistics with defined and certified levels of accuracy
    • Leads statistical project teams
    • Review and approve status reports by management services
  • Requirements
    • Four years of supervisory experience
    • Willingness to work off shift in emergency situations and be exposed to extreme weather conditions
    • Knowledge of Indian Health Service proprietary software
    • Knowledge of privacy laws and regulations
    • Knowledge of applicable federal, state, tribal, and local regulations

Care Manager, Peace Health

  • Responsibilities
    • Identify medically and psychosocially complex patients and families who can benefit from care management
    • Developing care plans and coordinating delivery services
    • Reassessing needs on a regular basis
  • Requirements
    • Masters in Public Health or a Counseling related field
    • Two year of work experience in a medical, healthcare, or social service setting
    • Certificate in Case Management Desired

Regional Alcoholism Program Coordinator

  • Responsibilities
    • Supervise staff managing grants statewide
    • Develop and facilitate resource expansion for special programs
    • Develop guidelines and Requests for Proposal for new initiatives
    • Design, review, and manage special purpose grants, projects, and contracts
  • Requirements
    • Thorough knowledge of principles and practices of administration in social services
    • Considerable knowledge of federal, state, and local relationships as they relate to supported and integrated housing programs
    • Ability to analyze data and operations in terms of management controls, systems, and procedures
    • Ability to supervise, direct, and motivate others