Public Health Career Education in Missouri

Missouri takes the health and well being of its residents seriously, devoting $34.2 million from its state budget to public health programs in fiscal year 2014 alone. This is on top of $155.2 million in federal grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration, and another $97 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With a combined $286.4 million budget in 2014, Missouri spent an average of $47.07 per person that year.

Recent measures taken by Missouri’s public health officials include:

  • Response to a measles case Branson, June 2015 – Taney County Health Department officials investigated this instance to determine if any members of the public were exposed or at risk of infection
  • West Nile Virus detection, September 2015 – the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released a public notice detailing widespread detection of this virus throughout the state, instructing the public on ways to prevent and minimize infection
  • Public announcement regarding an increase in accidental overdose, October 2015 – working in cooperation with the CDC, the Missouri Department of Health released an advisory to its citizens noting a rise in accidental deaths caused by prescription drug overdoses

The professionals who research, develop, plan, and implement the state’s public health initiatives are effective leaders in the field who very often hold a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a specialized focus in policy development, public health communication, program management and evaluation, or global health.

Earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Missouri

Holding an interdisciplinary master’s degree in public health is one of the best ways today’s professionals can position themselves for long-term success over the span of a career. The Master of Public Health (MPH) is designed for current public health professionals looking to advance, as well as bachelor’s-prepared professionals with experience in other areas interested in a career in public health.

Online MPH programs give students the option to pursue advanced study while remaining competitive in the workforce. Many programs offer options for both full- and part-time students.

MPH Program Overview

Since the 1970s the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) has been recognized nationally as setting the bar for quality education in MPH programs. With an emphasis on the importance of an interdisciplinary approach, CEPH-accredited MPH programs include a focus that spans several core-competency areas:

  • Biostatistics
  • Environmental health sciences
  • Epidemiology
  • Health policy and management
  • Social and behavioral sciences

To ensure graduates can fluidly apply their core-competency expertise across the broad multidisciplinary arena of public health, CEPH-accredited programs may also incorporate some of these crosscutting domains:

  • Communication and informatics
  • Diversity and culture
  • Leadership
  • Public health biology
  • Professionalism
  • Program planning
  • Systems thinking

Areas of Focus and Specialization

To augment the interdisciplinary approach to public health, many graduate programs offer students an option to focus in a specific area. The following are examples of some of the most relevant focus areas within the field of public health:

Health Communication: This area of focus emphasizes the strategic value of marketing and communication tools to achieve public health goals when working in challenging environments.

Public information releases regarding West Nile Virus, a case of measles, and prescription drug overdoses are some of the most recent examples of health communication professionals in action, working as part of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Course subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Leadership
  • Global health communication interventions
  • Disparities in public health
  • Social marketing
  • Research and marketing for public health
  • 10-15 semester credits total

Health Policy: Students will learn the ins and outs of forming public health policy at the grassroots level, and how to translate policy into action.

The Missouri Foundation for Health is an example of an organization where health policy specialists can make a difference. This agency provides grant funding to other organizations that advocate for improvements to the state’s overall health system, with the goal of ultimately improving public health statewide. In June of 2015 the Foundation convened an event in Cape Girardeau with local public health representatives to promote infant health and breastfeeding.

Course subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Leadership
  • Evaluation and monitoring of contagious diseases
  • Qualitative research methods for public health
  • Public health law
  • Global health and diplomacy
  • Medicine, law, and ethics
  • 10-15 semester credits total
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Program Planning and Evaluation: A public health response is a product of planning, assessment, implementation, and management – as well as incorporating knowledge gained from past experience. This concentration prepares students to effectively address these important aspects of public health.

The Kansas City Health Department’s childhood immunization program is an example of one of the state’s adeptly planned programs. Each year clinicians immunize thousands of infants during set hours at no charge. The arrangement of advertising, clinical hours, and decision to provide services at no charge have all been determined as having the greatest benefit to public health through a careful analysis of similar programs in the past.

Course subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Monitoring and evaluation of transmittable diseases
  • Conducting domestic violence research
  • Qualitative research methods in public health
  • Marketing research for public health
  • Social marketing
  • 10-15 semester credits total

Global Health: Local public health issues often have a global counterpart, which is emphasized in this area of focus. Students of global health gain the knowledge necessary to effectively address the world’s most challenging global health issues.

The Saint Louis Department of Health’s smoking cessation classes can be viewed as an effective example of global health policy in action. Global health professionals work within the health department to combat smoking, a global health threat, by comparing what has worked and what hasn’t throughout the state, country, and international community.

Course subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Evaluation and monitoring of contagious diseases
  • Researching violence against girls and women
  • Communication during global health intervention
  • Prevention of disparities in health
  • Global health diplomacy
  • Climate and social change
  • Occupational and environmental epidemiology
  • 10-15 semester credits total

MPH Admission Requirements

Each school determines its own admissions standards, with typical requirements often including:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Completion of certain undergraduate prerequisite courses
  • Completion of the GRE or other tests such as the MCAT, GMAT, or LSAT
  • Statement of purpose regarding a student’s professional goals and motivations
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Current CV or résumé

Accelerated and Part Time Options

Each graduate school has its own policy regarding course loads and schedules, with online MPH programs recognized as being exceptionally flexible. Some programs can be completed in as little as one year, with students completing the same amount of education condensed into a shorter time frame.

Programs may also admit part-time students who wish to complete their MPH at a slower pace. These part-time programs may allow students up to four years to complete the traditional MPH curriculum.

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

The challenges that come with an aging population is one of the most pressing issues the state’s public health professionals face, as indicated by the agency’s official name: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. According to the US Census, 15.4 percent of the state’s residents were at least 65 years of age as of 2014, and that number is only projected to grow. This aging population is one of the reasons why the job outlook for public health professionals in Missouri is so strong.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development projects the following public health occupations will grow by the specified amount over the decade leading up to 2022:

  • Social and Community Services Managers – 9 percent growth
  • Statisticians – 21 percent growth
  • Microbiologists – 9 percent growth
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – 8 percent growth

These positions typically require a master’s degree according to the US Department of Labor.

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

The following ranges represent the entry-level (10th percentile) and advanced (90th percentile) salaries for a number of public health professions in Missouri (US Department of Commerce, 2014):

  • Social and Community Services Managers – $35,070 to $89,760
  • Statisticians – $39,040 to $107,430
  • Microbiologists – $33,120 to $119,330
  • Biological Scientists, All Other – $35,660 to $90,670
  • Epidemiologists – $41,820 to $82,800
  • Social Scientists – $47,910 to $104,690
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – $23,840 to $61,880
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Career Opportunities for Missouri’s Master’s-Prepared Public Health Professionals

MPH programs prepare students to be leaders in their field, opening up career opportunities in diverse settings and focus areas. The following job descriptions and requirements were taken from a statewide job survey completed in December 2015 (provided as illustrative examples only and do not represent job offers or the assurance of employment):

Infection Preventionist with Ascencion Health in Saint Louis

Working with this healthcare organization, the infection preventionist is responsible for planning, implementing, and evaluating infection control and prevention measures.

A bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience in infection control/prevention are required, while preferred applicants hold a master’s degree, such as an MPH.

Healthcare Operational Planner with BSA LifeStructures in Saint Louis

The Healthcare Operational Planner is responsible for providing innovative design and guidance for healthcare or other public health projects. This especially includes analysis of healthcare trends.

All applicants must have at least a master’s degree in a relevant field, such as an MPH, MHA, MBA, or MSN.

Community Specialist Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) with Gilead Sciences in Saint Louis

The professional serving in this position holds the responsibility of developing community-related market initiatives. This means identifying opportunities for growth and fostering the development of such in markets that can benefit from HCV intervention.

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in public health, public health policy, business, or the sciences, while holding an MPH can greatly improve an applicant’s professional qualifications.