Public Health Career Education in Iowa

According to the 2012 U.S. Census, roughly 43% of Iowans reside in rural areas with limited access to proper health care. In order to provide appropriate access to primary care and emergency care as well as to prevent injury and disease, the Iowa Department of Health (IDPH) has implemented several new public health programs to prevent disease and strengthen early childhood medical care.

IDPH has specifically benefitted the state’s population by implementing a program called Access to Quality Rural Health Services. The most recent IDPH Community Health Needs Assessment and Health Improvement Plan ranked access to health as one of the primary public health concerns in Iowa. As a result, the Access to Quality Rural Health Services program was developed to help connect rural residents with primary and emergency care in their areas by providing resources in less populated areas as well as providing rural residents with transportation to larger clinics and hospitals located in the state’s urban centers.

This type of public health needs assessment and the subsequent programs that were developed are a perfect example of public health policy in action. With a Master of Public Health (MPH), aspiring public health leaders will have the opportunity to support IDPH’s many programs and health initiatives, as well as address public health issues in the global context. In addition, MPH degree holders may choose to work with private sector consulting firms or for nonprofits like Iowa Citizens Action Network, which seeks to educate the public on healthcare, clean energy, and environmental concerns.

With the recent push for healthcare initiatives to better serve Iowa’s many rural residents, public health leaders capable of developing policies that make the health of the state’s residents a priority, along with program administrators adept at implementing programs and evaluating their effects are in greater demand than ever before.

Earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Iowa

Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)-accredited Master of Public Health programs offers bachelor’s prepared students from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to earn an MPH that includes the competencies expected of leaders within the sphere of public health. CEPH aims to develop competency in five traditional areas and seven interdisciplinary areas, ensuring a high level of flexibility regarding employment opportunities.

Accredited MPH programs offer existing public health professionals an opportunity to pursue continued education as well as allowing professionals with varied backgrounds the chance to broaden their career prospects. Often, MPH graduate students come from a background in business, or teaching, while others come from a related profession such as health administration, statistics or nursing.

While Iowa offers two physical campuses with accredited MPH programs, degree seekers can also earn an online degree from one of many schools around the country. Online programs are often the preferred option for working professionals. The programs are completed in 40-60 credit hours and two-three years of study. Each MPH program may offer unique areas of emphasis, however, the core courses of MPH programs are very similar.

Academic Overview

All accredited MPH programs follow the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Core Competency Model in order to ensure consistency within MPH program curriculum. All programs will require graduates to show competency in these five traditional areas of public health:

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

Additionally, ASPPH’s Core Competency Model requires that all MPH programs establish competency in seven interdisciplinary areas of focus:

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

Core coursework for MPH programs includes related topics:

  • Applied Biostatistics
  • Principles of Epidemiology
  • Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Social and Behavioral Factors and Health
  • Health Systems, Management and Policy
  • Public health Administration
  • Ethical and Political Issues
  • Cultural Context of Health

Focus Areas and Specialization

Focus areas of study are offered within most MPH programs in order to provide students with an education specific to their career goals. These focus areas are not necessarily offered within every program, but the areas listed below represent the areas of focus most relevant to public health campaign marketing, policy development and program administration and evaluation:

Health Communication: Health Communication students may pursue careers that involve leading state and federal health initiatives, releasing vital health information to the public, and building awareness of health concerns. For example, in 2003 the Iowa Health Literacy Collaborative implemented an ongoing plan to improve patient to provider communication, including working with the American Medical Association to lead workshops designed to help provide healthcare providers with tools to more effectively communicate with their patients.

Courses within this specialization may include:

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

Health Systems, Management and Policy: Health Systems, Management and Policy students may pursue careers that involve improving current public health policies at the local level and beyond. This may involve government employment or a career with a nonprofit organization such as The Iowa Policy Project, which was founded in 2001 to engage state citizens in health policy decisions, which involve tax and budget proposals, economic concerns, and energy and environmental decisions.

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
  • Law, Medicine and Ethics
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Program Planning and Evaluation: Program Planning and Evaluation students may pursue careers that involve developing and implementing public health programs, and evaluating the outcomes to initiate changes as needed. As of 2015, the Iowa Department of Public Health released its 2017-2022 Healthy Iowans Health Improvement Plan. Public health professionals in Iowa will conduct a citizen needs assessment in 2016, which will be used to further inform the 2017-22 plan, with the goal of improving access to health services, reducing incidence of chronic disease and injury, and providing better mental health services.

Courses within this specialization may include:

  • Researching Violence against Women and Girls
  • Qualitative Research Methods in Public Health
  • Social Marketing
  • Marketing Research for Public Health

Global Health: Global Health students may pursue careers in international policy reform and program implementation. The U.S. has been involved in many global efforts to stop deadly diseases such as HIV and malaria, and in 2009 launched the Feed the Future initiative, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the goal of helping to stabilize world hunger while improving access to food in third world countries.

Courses within this specialization may include:

  • Global Health Communication Interventions
  • Preventing Health Disparities
  • Global Health Diplomacy
  • Environmental and Occupational Epidemiology
  • Climate Change and Social Change

Admission Requirements:

MPH program admission requirements vary, but most MPH programs require the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA in undergraduate study
  • Official GRE scores
  • Personal essay
  • Three letters of recommendation

Accelerated Programs and Part-time Options

Select MPH programs offer an accelerated track that allows students to finish the program in one year rather than two or three. Accelerated programs consist of a higher course load which is completed year-round, and most programs require additional admission requirements such as a higher minimum GPA, 60-90 completed undergraduate coursework, and quantitative GRE scores at least in the 40th percentile.

Part-time programs, offered at select schools, allow students to take just one course per semester and finish the degree within four years.

Job Growth Projections in Iowa for Public Health Professions that Require a Master’s Degree

In Iowa, job growth is driven by a growing population, which demands more rigorous attention to health policy.

The US Department of Labor expects steady job growth for these public health professions in Iowa for the ten-year projection period between 2012-2022:

  • Rehabilitation Counselors: 8.1%
  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors: 9.1%
  • Community and Social Service Specialists: 9.1%
  • Health Educators: 9.8%
  • Community Health Workers: 14.2%

Salaries in Iowa for Public Health Professions that Require a Master’s Degree

Average annual salaries for public health occupations in Iowa range from $25,310-$90,260. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded salary ranges for key public health professions in 2014 as shown here for those new to the field (tenth percentile) and experienced professionals (90th percentile):

  • Substance Abuse/Behavioral Disorder Counselors: $25,310-$61,420
  • Community Health Workers: $20,790-$60,360
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: $21,200-$59,810
  • Community and Social Service Specialists: $23,610-$68,860
  • Health Care Educators: $29,650-$90,260
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Career Opportunities in Iowa for Public Health Professionals with Master’s Degrees

Many public health job opportunities are available in Iowa, including but not limited to careers in environmental health, health education, and community health services. Listed below are several representative job opportunities found in a January 2016 survey of job vacancy announcements. (Examples shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to imply a job offer or assurance of employment.):

Environmental Health Specialist at Cerro Gordo Department of Public Health in Mason City, Iowa


  • Candidate will conduct environmental health inspections, investigations, and testing of potential health hazards
  • Candidate will conduct food inspections, food safety and food education seminars


  • A Bachelor’s degree in public health from an accredited institution
  • One year of experience in an environmental health sector

Director, Division of Child and Community Health at Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa


  • Candidate will develop new clinical and research programs and oversee existing programs


  • Master’s degree in public health or related field
  • Experience in public policy

Epidemiologist at PAREXEL in Iowa


  • Candidate will lead internal teams in developing delivery models
  • Candidate will develop and pursue new business opportunities
  • Candidate will mentor project leaders


  • Master’s Degree or higher in Public Health
  • Ten or more years of Epidemiological experience

Health Services Program Coordinator at Heritage Area Agency on Aging,


  • Candidate will develop and coordinate health promotion programs for the community
  • Candidate will network with hospitals, home health care services, insurance providers, and other local agencies to enhance health communication
  • Candidate will manage teams in charge of health promotion programs


  • Bachelor’s degree in public health or related field