Public Health Career Education in Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s public health policymakers teamed up with the American Lung Association to get new legislation passed in the state that further restricts access to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products for youth. After a careful analysis, program managers have determined the best way to achieve this goal is through a combined effort that entails prevention, addiction treatment, outreach, and disincentives. This is just one example of many public health successes in Rhode Island.

Attracting public health professionals of all stripes, Rhode Island ranks nationally among several professional categories when it comes to salaries. For example, Rhode Island offers the second highest average annual salary of all states in the nation for social and community services managers – $81,850 in 2014 (figures provided by the US Department of Labor). Rhode Island’s relatively high salaries are justified in part by the fact that most mid to upper-level public health positions require at least a master’s degree, according to the US Department of Labor.

State, local, and private organizations can afford to maintain high standards to support public health in Rhode Island through robust funding. In fiscal year 2008, public health funding from the state, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Health Resources and Services Administration totaled $113.2 million. By the end of fiscal year 2014 the amount from those agencies had risen by 10.6 percent to $125.2 million.

Master’s Degrees in Public Health Available in Rhode Island

An interdisciplinary Master of Public Health (MPH) prepares graduates for leadership positions in public health policy, program administration and evaluation, public health marketing and communication, and more. MPH programs are designed for experienced public health professionals pursing career advancement, as well as those with a bachelor’s degree and experience in other areas looking to make a career change.

An increasing number of graduate schools nationwide are offering their MPH programs online. These online programs provide added flexibility – including accelerated and part-time programs – for students who want to maintain their career while pursuing graduate studies.

MPH Program Overview

Experienced students and faculty in this field will recognize the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) as being the trusted accrediting organization for master’s programs in public health. The CEPH values MPH programs that provide their graduates with competencies in these five core disciplines:

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

MPH programs that are accredited by the CEPH also prepare students with important skills through these seven crosscutting domains:

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

Areas of Focus

In addition to an interdisciplinary approach, MPH programs also provide students the opportunity to specialize in a particular area of focus. Some of the most popular and important areas include:

Health Communication: This focus area explores the strategic value of communication and marketing as tools in achieving public health goals, especially in challenging environments. Examples of public health communication include the Rhode Island Department of Health’s informational pamphlets about maintaining a healthy weight and good oral hygiene.

Key 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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Health Policy: This area of focus reveals the inner workings behind health policy, including its conception, development, sale, and evaluation. Rhode Island’s new anti-smoking legislation is an example of effective public health policy that was translated into legislative action through lobbying efforts.

Key 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

Program Planning and Evaluation: Students in this focus area learn the methods of program planning, management, implementation, and assessment. Using the state’s anti-smoking campaign as a reference, the Rhode Island Smokers’ Helpline is a good example of a mature program that has been developed after careful planning and thoughtful evaluation.

Key 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 specialization prepares students to be global health leaders in areas that relate to epidemics, pandemics, diplomacy, climate change, and international health policy. Rhode Island Hospital in Providence has one of the best institutes for global health in the state, the Center for International Health Research. Global health professionals at this location specialize in linking lab and population-based sciences.

Key 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

Admission Requirements for MPH Programs

Each school has its own unique admissions standards, however many share common requirements such as the following:

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

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

Rising over 10 percent in a period of just six years, continued and increasing funding for public health is one of the main signs that professionals in this field can expect a secure career in Rhode Island. The growing number of state residents who are at least 65 years of age – 15.7 percent or 165,662 people – is another factor in the continued and rising demand for public health professionals. Certain professions are even expected to experience a three-fold increase when compared to the national average job growth rate.

The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training projects strong job growth in these professions during the ten-year period leading up to 2022:

  • Statisticians – 23 percent growth
  • Sociologists – 15 percent growth
  • Social and Community Services Managers – 14 percent growth
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – 9 percent growth
  • Social Scientists – 7 percent growth (more than triple the national average)

The US Department of Labor identifies a master’s degree as the standard education requirement for these positions.

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

The ranges represent the entry-level (10th percentile) and advanced (90th percentile) salaries for public health professions in Rhode Island that require a master’s degree (US Department of Commerce, 2014):

  • Social and Community Services Managers – $37,910 to $133,330
  • Statisticians – $53,500 to $99,160
  • Biological Scientists, All Other – $30,910 to $95,890
  • Social Scientists – $50,880 to $102,380
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – $22,970 to $74,020

Career Opportunities for Rhode Island’s Master’s-Prepared Public Health Professionals

The following job descriptions are sourced from vacancy announcements that were taken from a statewide survey completed in January 2016. These are provided as illustrative examples only and do not represent job offers or the assurance of employment.

Environmental Health and Safety Manager with Tiffany and Co. in Cumberland

The incumbent in this position is responsible for keeping the company compliant with state and federal occupational safety and health laws, as well as environmental regulations. This is accomplished primarily through the development and implementation of safety and health programs.

Candidates for this position must have a degree in occupational health and safety or a related field. Preferred applicants hold an MPH.

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Director of Community Care Management with Thundermist Health Centers in Woonsocket, Wakefield, and West Warwick

Providing clinical and technical support to nurse care managers, behavioral health clinicians, and community outreach workers are the primary responsibilities of this incumbent. This includes identifying problems and developing solutions.

Applicants must be licensed as nurses or clinical social workers in Rhode Island. Preferred applicants hold a master’s degree and a background in public health, disease management, or community health.

Patient Safety Officer in with 3iPeople Exeter

This professional is responsible for overseeing the company’s system-wide patient safety improvement program. This includes developing methods to reduce medical errors and other factors that result in adverse patient outcomes.

Preferred applicants hold a master’s degree in any of the following listed fields, while candidates must have a bachelor’s degree in one of these areas:

  • Public Health
  • Epidemiology
  • Any other healthcare-related field