We’re all shaped by our environment in ways that can be both beneficial and harmful. Environmental health sciences is a field that endeavors to learn about how the environment affects people with the end goal of promoting healthier lives. This is in large part accomplished by conducting research that improves public health by preventing disability and disease.
Some well-known examples of environmental health science issues include the discovery of the negative health consequences of lead in gasoline and paint as well as asbestos insulation. A few current examples of environmental health science issues are:
- Looking at the impacts of cell phone wireless networks on human health
- Examining how climate change is affecting public health
- Researching the consequences of oil spills like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico
- Refining and studying responses to the Coronavirus outbreak to increase effectiveness
It takes a wide range of professionals covering a broad field of scientific disciplines to make headway towards the goal of preventing disease and disability. Examples of fields that can be considered to be under the purview of environmental health sciences include:
- Reproductive and developmental biology
- Epigenetics, genomics, and structural biology
- Stem cell research
- Biomolecular screening
- Immunity, inflammation, and disease
- Toxicology and toxicokinetics
- Pediatric environmental health
- Pediatric neuroendocrinology
- Public health
- Clinical research
- Biostatistics and computational biology
- Cellular and molecular pathology
- Environmental health and disease prevention
- Cellular signal transduction
- Population health
Work environments for professionals in environmental health science fields can include:
- Research centers and institutes
- Academic research positions at colleges and universities
- Positions at federal, state, county, and city public health departments
- Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare providers
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Medical and clinical trial companies
- Advisory boards and councils for government agencies
- Medical and healthcare consulting companies
Environmental health science professionals are vital for public health. They are the ones who design experiments, gather data, perform analyses, and research the important environmental factors that most affect public health and well-being. With their scientific input, working beside and in the role of public health officials, those in environmental health science fields provide the basis on which informed public health decisions are made.
Starting a Career in Environmental Health Sciences
Pursuing a career in the environmental health sciences can be very satisfying for the right type of person. If you like using your mind to its full extent combined with seeing medium and long-term public health improvements this may be just the field for you.
There generally aren’t any federal, state, or local licensing or certification requirements to work in the environmental health sciences. The most important qualification is education. Having relevant work experience is important too.
Step 1 – Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Field of Science
A bachelor’s degree is a must for anyone who wants to work in the environmental health sciences. As the name suggests, science is key. That means a Bachelor of Science degree in subjects like the following:
- Environmental science
- Data science
A bachelor’s degree is good for getting your foot in the door at a local hospital or health department. Those are great places to gain work experience while you’re completing your undergraduate education. They can also offer relevant volunteer opportunities for high school graduate or GED holders.
For example, to work as a Program Analyst with the Los Angeles County Public Health Department you’ll need at least a bachelors degree plus two years of relevant full-time work experience, or a master’s degree plus one year of relevant full-time work experience.
To seriously get into environmental health science fields you’ll need to build on your undergraduate degree with a graduate education.
Step 2 – Earn a Master’s Degree in a Field You Want to Focus On
Careers in the environmental health sciences are professional and specialized. For many the de-facto industry standard is at minimum a master’s degree, usually a Master of Science (MS), in areas like:
- Public health
- Clinical neuroscience
- Environmental science
- Molecular and cell biology
- Data science
A master’s degree in these areas can unlock positions in research and lab study at places like public health departments, hospitals, schools, and private research companies.
For example, a relevant master’s degree is required to work:
- As an Epidemiologist Biostatistician with the Houston Health Department
- As a Public Health Informatics Specialist with the Chicago Department of Public Health
- As an Environmental Specialist-Consultant (food and waterborne outbreak epidemiologist) with the Florida Department of Health
You likely won’t be able to work in director or managerial positions until you have at least some solid experience under your belt, if not also additional education.
Step 3 – Consider a Doctoral Degree
You can certainly excel further in the environmental health sciences with a doctoral degree. This opens up more senior-level positions and can even make you one of the relatively few people in the world to specialize in your area of expertise. The books on new and emerging fields like genetics and data science are literally being written by experts in the field right now.
For example, many senior-level and tenure-track positions with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), like those in clinical research, require a doctoral-level of education.
There are countless niche doctoral specializations that branch off from your master’s subject area that could focus on subsets in everything from neurology to epidemiology. By the time you finish your master’s degree you’ll have a good idea how you could effectively focus your education next if that’s where you want to go.
On the other hand, you may want to take your master’s degree in hand and begin applying for environmental health science positions in your local area or nationally. This stage can also be the perfect time for you to gain some real-world experience in you haven’t already.
Related organizations and resources
You can find additional information about environmental health sciences related to professional standards, careers, and networking opportunities with the following:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)
Association for Environmental Health and Sciences (AEHS) Foundation
National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC)<