Public Health Career Education in South Carolina

Incorporating technology and the popularity of informal online media, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Live Healthy SC blog is a great example of a public health campaign that relates to citizens on a personal level while achieving its goals. With a simple-yet-attractive format, readers can learn about quitting tobacco, recycling, eating healthy, and the importance of exercise. Using basic computer skills and spending a little time to get a blog up and running, this public health initiative could potentially save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in healthcare expenses.

While South Carolina offers promising and attractive opportunities for public health professionals as a whole, it ranks competitively on a national level when it comes to salaries for several professional classes. Take the rural Lower Savannah area as an example. Of all non-metro areas in the nation, this region offers the fourth-highest average annual salaries for rehabilitation counselors ($48,770), social scientists ($67,580), and related professionals (US Department of Labor, 2014). Moreover, social services managers, community services managers, and statisticians are forecast to experience double-digit growth in the decade leading up to 2022 (South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, 2016).

High average salaries can be justified by the fact that many mid to upper-level public health positions require a master’s degree, according to the US Department of Labor.

Robust public health funding backs the state’s relatively high average salaries. Fiscal year 2014 saw $333.7 million dedicated to public health in South Carolina, coming from the state budget ($98.1 million), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ($105.3 million), and the federal Health Resources and Services Administration ($130.3 million). This budget will likely increase as the state’s population continues to grow and age.

Master’s Degrees in Public Health Available in South Carolina

The Master of Public Health (MPH) is often the preferred credential for public health careers in leadership. From epidemiology and program evaluation to policy advocacy and global health, the broad field of public health demands an interdisciplinary education. MPH programs are designed for professionals who want to augment their public health careers with an advanced education, as well as for bachelor’s-prepared candidates who earned their undergraduate degree in a different field.

Increasingly, MPH programs are being offered online. The utility of these online programs is appreciated among students who choose to maintain their careers while earning a graduate degree.

MPH Program Overview

Today’s leading MPH programs hold accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), which has set the standard for high quality interdisciplinary MPH programs for decades. The CEPH ensures that all MPH programs it accredits prepare students in these key areas of core-competency:

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

The CEPH also ensures that graduates of its programs have the skills they need for success in the real world. As such, CEPH also recommends that MPH programs incorporate some combination of these seven crosscutting domains:

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

Areas of Focus and Specialization

The MPH is a highly customizable degree that gives students the option to choose an area of specialization within the field of public health. These are some examples of different areas of concentration relevant to students aspiring to work in health policy and program administration:

Health Communication: The powerful tools of marketing and communication are explored in this concentration, which prepares students to be expert communicators and promoters of educational campaigns and public health programs. The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Live Healthy SC blog is a current example of health communication in action with a state agency.

Subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Leadership
  • Social marketing
  • Disparities in public health
  • Research and marketing for public health
  • Global health communication interventions

Health Policy: Health policy students cover the methods of achieving health policy goals through lobbying in the government and private sectors. The South Carolina Public Health Association is an example of a state-level professional organization that also engages in lobbying efforts. One 2016 issue it was advocating for involved additional funding for the Student and Fitness Act of 2005.

Subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Leadership
  • Public health law
  • Medicine, law, and ethics
  • Global health and diplomacy
  • Qualitative research methods for public health
  • Evaluation and monitoring of contagious diseases
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Program Planning and Evaluation: Students in this area of focus become adept with the intricacies of program planning and evaluation, covering topics like project research and collaboration. The Lexington Medical Center (LMC) provides an example of effective program planning and evaluation in its heart surgery unit. Because central line associated bloodstream infections are a serious threat to heart surgery patients across the nation, interdisciplinary health care teams at LMC develop programs to combat known risks through careful planning and evaluation.

Subjects covered within this specialization can include:

  • Social marketing
  • Marketing research for public health
  • Conducting domestic violence research
  • Qualitative research methods in public health
  • Monitoring and evaluation of transmittable diseases

Global Health: Diplomacy, international relations, and global policy are all within the purview of global health specialists. Students in this area of focus take an in-depth look at issues like pandemics, climate change, and disparities in public health. The South Carolina Public Health Association passed a resolution in 2009 advocating for public health communities to take a more active role in identifying potential local health and environmental risks associated with the climate change.

Subjects covered within this specialization can include:

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

Time to Complete an MPH

In addition to the traditional completion time period of between one and two years, many MPH programs, especially those with an online curriculum, offer their students different options for completion times. These options include the same total number of hours and credits:

  • Some programs offer an accelerated completion track for students who want to make a significant time commitment and complete their degree in 12 months.
  • Programs may also offer a part-time curriculum for students, allowing them to complete their studies in up to four years.

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

Continued funding from local and federal sources, a growing and aging population, and recommendations from behavioral health and long-term care task forces will undoubtedly foster an environment that encourages the growth and progress of public health in South Carolina.

The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce reports the following positions will increase by the specified amounts over the decade leading up to 2022. The US Department of Labor also identifies these positions as requiring a master’s degree:

  • Statisticians – 32 percent growth
  • Social and Community Services Managers – 18 percent growth
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – 10 percent growth
  • Microbiologists – 6 percent growth

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

The following salary figures are provided by the US Department of Labor. These ranges show the entry-level (10th percentile) and advanced (90th percentile) salaries for public health professionals in South Carolina:

  • Social and Community Services Managers – $29,790 to $87,060
  • Biological Scientists, All Other – $44,990 to $90,340
  • Rehabilitation Counselors – $20,660 to $51,890
  • Social Scientists – $54,310 to $83,410
  • Microbiologists – $40,390 to $95,290
  • Statisticians – $35,060 to $88,000
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Career Opportunities for South Carolina’s Master’s-Prepared Public Health Professionals

Students can get an idea of the state’s public health environment by examining job postings for master’s-educated public health professionals throughout South Carolina as surveyed in January of 2016. (These job descriptions are provided as illustrative examples only and are not representative of job offers or the assurance of employment.):

Clinical Nutrition Manager with Pelham Medical Center in Greer

The Clinical Nutrition Manager is responsible for the management of the hospital diet office, including menu nutrition as well as staff. Duties include working with patients to provide clinical nutrition services such as consultations and assessments.

Preferred applicants for this position hold a master’s degree in any of these fields:

  • Public Health
  • Food Science
  • Nutrition

Ryan White Medical Case Manager with BJH Comprehensive Health Services in Ridgeland

As a case manager with the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, this professional links clients who are HIV-positive with support services. Other duties include client assessments and support. Incumbents must be willing to support a caseload of more than 70 clients.

All applicants must have a master’s degree in a field related to any of the following:

  • Public Health
  • Social Work
  • Health Education
  • Counseling
  • Psychology

Director of Market Compliance with WellCare in Columbia

This Director of Market Compliance must be well-versed in federal/state healthcare contracts, laws, regulations and program requirements. As a director, this professional will work closely with corporate management as a liaison regarding ethics and company compliance with all state and federal laws.

Preferred applicants hold a master’s degree in one of the following areas:

  • Public Health
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Business Administration