Public Health Career Education in Montana

In 2015 Montana received over $50 million in public health funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Divided among all Montanans, this amount represents the second-highest HRSA funding per capita among all states in the nation. That year, Montana also received federal public health funding in the amount of $29.4 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and an additional $22.5 million in funding from state sources.

State and federal funding combine to support public health initiatives at the state, county, and local level throughout Montana.

In 2014, the US Department of Commerce reported that Montana was home to the third highest concentration of biological scientists in the nation. Microbiologists contribute vital research that helps epidemiologists better understand the factors behind the spread of communicable diseases and the best methods for disease control and prevention, including the development of strain-specific flu shots each year. Armed with the right information, epidemiologists are able to work with public health policy advisors, program directors and public health communication specialists to develop educational campaigns and effective strategies for making inoculations widely available.

Epidemiologists, public health policy specialist, program evaluations specialist and other vital members of the public health community, all draw from the expertise they gain while earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a specialty track in their particular area of focus. In 2015 alone, public health professionals with the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) led campaigns to encourage breastfeeding for infants, improve vaccination awareness, prevent the spread of diseases like norovirus and influenza, and to educate the public about bedbugs.

Earning a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Montana

The Master of Public Health provides an interdisciplinary education in core areas, while also allowing graduate students to choose specialty tracks that support careers in public health policy, program administration, health communication, epidemiology and more. MPH programs are designed for professionals in the field of public health looking to advance to leadership positions, as well as for those with bachelor’s degrees in other majors looking to transition to a career where they can influence public health, both locally and around the world.

An increasing number of schools of public health now offer flexible online MPH programs. These programs can be especially advantageous for working graduate students working toward career goals while simultaneously attending graduate school.

MPH Program Overview

For decades the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) has defined the quality standards in MPH programs. Emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach, CEPH-accredited MPH programs ensure graduates are competent in several core-competency areas:

CEPH core competencies are in the areas of:

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

In addition to core-competencies, CEPH-accredited programs may also include some combination of these seven crosscutting domains that support proficiency in public health:

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

Areas of Specialization

MPH graduate schools often provide their students with the choice of specializing in a particular area within the field of public health. The following areas of focus are some of the most relevant examples:

Health Policy: This area of focus examines lobbying for public health policy and funding at all levels of government. Thanks to recent efforts by public health policy professionals, the Montana Occupational Health and Safety Surveillance Program recently secured funding to create a position for an epidemiologist to examine worker health throughout the state.

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

Health Communication: This area incorporates marketing and communication as key tools in promoting education campaigns and public health programs to achieve public health goals. Public health awareness campaigns led by Montana’s DPHHS to prevent the spread of bedbugs, influenza, and norovirus are examples of health communication specialists in action.

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
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Program Planning and Evaluation: Assessment, planning, implementation, management, and foresight are critical elements of pubic health programs, covered in-depth in this specialization. In January of 2016 Montana’s DPHHS announced it was looking for planning and evaluation specialists to lead its teen pregnancy prevention and rape prevention programs.

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: This area of focus examines public health on a macro level and its potential impact on millions – if not billions – of people. As part of a global health initiative against measles, mumps, and rubella, public health professionals run vaccine programs in Montana to encourage all parents to get their children immunized with an MMR shot.

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

Accelerated and Part-Time MPH Program

Each school offers its own set of options for students when it comes to the completion time for MPH programs. Online programs are known for being particularly flexible, and can offer everything from accelerated options to part-time options. Both options would include the same total number of hours, courses, and credits. Fast-track programs can be completed in as little as one year, while part-time programs may allow up to four years for completion.

Admission Requirements for MPH Programs

While each school of public health has its own specific admissions requirements, common standards include the following:

  • CV or résumé
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Bachelor’s degree in public health or any other subject
  • Completion of undergraduate prerequisite courses
  • Completion of the GRE or other tests like the LSAT, MCAT, or GMAT
  • Personal statement regarding professional motivations and goals

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

The Montana Department of Commerce identified public health as a fundamental parameter around which to base economic growth, as described in the publication Montana’s Growth Policy Resource Book. Public health in Montana is a vital field that will continue to receive funding and support through the long-term.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry projects the following public health occupations will show strong job growth during the ten-year period leading up to 2022:

  • Social and Community Services Managers – 12 percent increase
  • Statisticians – 29 percent increase
  • Microbiologists – 10 percent increase
  • Epidemiologists – 15 percent increase
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – 8 percent increase

The US Department of Labor identifies these positions as requiring a master’s degree.

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

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

  • Social and Community Services Managers – $28,760 to $79,240
  • Statisticians – $27,910 to $77,980
  • Microbiologists – $34,460 to $117,180
  • Biological Scientists, All Other – $35,200 to $83,400
  • Social Scientists – $40,350 to $93,660
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – $21,520 to $47,590
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Career Opportunities for Montana’s Master’s-Prepared Public Health Professionals

The interdisciplinary nature of MPH programs, and the ability to customize them through specialty tracks, allows the degree to support a wide array of possible career paths in public health.

The following job descriptions are provided as illustrative examples only and do not represent job offers or the assurance of employment. These are actual announcements taken from a survey of vacancies from across the state (January 2016):

Epidemiologist with the Montana Occupational Health and Safety Surveillance Program in Helena

This epidemiologist is responsible for developing and implementing an epidemiological analysis of occupational health throughout the state. Another important function is surveillance and research in support of occupational health and safety activities.

Candidates must meet one of these education requirements:

  • MPH with a focus in epidemiology or statistics
  • Master’s degree in epidemiology or statistics
  • Other related master’s degree (considered on a case-by-case basis)

Health Education Specialist with the Department of Public Health and Human Services in Helena

Montana’s DPHHS is looking for a professional to coordinate the teen pregnancy prevention program with its Women’s and Men’s Health Section. This person is also responsible for coordinating its Rape Prevention Education program. Key duties include public health training and outreach.

Candidates must meet one of these education requirements:

  • MPH or another combination of education and experience equivalent to an accepted bachelor’s degree and two years of relevant job experience (considered on a case-by-case basis)
  • Bachelor’s degree in public health, the behavioral or social sciences, clinical sciences, or a related field plus two years of related work experience

Wellness Analyst with the Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) in Helena

This professional works with HCSC wellness programs for customers and clients. Specifically, this professional researches, develops, and conducts these programs, with education being a significant component.

Preferred applicants hold a degree in public health, health promotion, clinical psychology, or social work, while all applicants must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Master’s degree in a health or clinical field
  • Bachelor’s degree plus one year of related work experience
  • Three years of related work experience