I regularly meet public health graduates who regret their degrees because they cannot find employment opportunities in Mississippi. Like me, they had assumed that public health was a profession in demand. It’s not. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not recognize it as a profession because employers do not recognize it. But that hasn’t stopped universities from promoting public health degrees in a state where healthcare is king.
The $ 4.2 billion health care industry is the second largest in the state. In 2019, there were over 100,000 jobs in the health sector, compared to about 14,000 jobs in community and social services, which includes health educators. According to the 2019 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from the Mississippi Department of Economic Security.
The Mississippi Occupational Employment Project report says Mississippi is expected to create more than 11,000 healthcare jobs by 2026. Occupational therapists, physical therapy assistants and aides will make up the majority, followed by supportive healthcare jobs. (nurses, psychiatric assistants and home helpers). ). Conversely, only 70 jobs for health educators are planned.
These reports are important guides for anyone considering a new profession that may involve obtaining a college degree. Unfortunately, many people make their academic and career choices based on hearsay, internet advertisements, and information from college and university recruiting staff whose primary goal is to increase enrollment. This helps explain the growing number of Mississippians investing in public health education, even though the data does not support the need for more public health graduates.
Data from Mississippi institutions of higher learning shows that in the 2017-2018 academic year, Jackson State University, Mississippi University for Women, and University of Southern Mississippi conferred a combined total of 190 undergraduate degrees, from graduate and doctoral studies, mainly in public. education and health promotion.
These degree programs are supposed to produce community health educators, who teach and encourage groups of people to adopt healthy behaviors such as healthy eating and exercise that reduce the risk of illness, injury or death.
In Mississippi, there were 530 health educator positions in 2016 and 393 in 2018. However, 50% worked in hospitals, clinics, and care facilities, 41% in state government, 6% in education, 1% in non-profit, religious and civic organizations. organizations, and 1 percent in professional, scientific and technical services and petroleum manufacturing. The average annual salary for health educators is $ 43,140.
To work as a health educator in health care facilities, a potential employee must be a registered nurse, dietitian or social worker; a diploma in public health is not required nor a certification in health education. In contrast, people with a public health degree but who have no clinical training, especially a bachelor’s degree, will find it almost impossible to attain a health educator or health management position in a health facility. . As a result, they are often limited to working in a state or nonprofit agency where career opportunities are scarce and low wages plentiful.
A review of 100 Linkedin profiles of employees at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, one of the state’s largest employers, showed that 50 percent had graduated in health care and only 7 percent in public health. Additionally, the typical healthcare-related job ad targeting Mississippi residents is looking for people with a degree and license to practice or certification and experience, not public health, health education or health promotion.
So, anyone considering a degree in public health should instead seriously consider a degree in health care, such as paramedical care, as it is much more marketable and lucrative. Reports identify 21 allied health professions directly related to university programs offered at community colleges. These university programs are associated with the growth of the health care industry.
For example, the MDES has forecast an annual total of 2,125 health technologist and technician jobs for 2026, compared to just 70 vacant health educator positions. Two popular positions in health technology, cardiovascular technology and licensed practical nurses, earned average salaries of $ 42,000 and $ 37,000, respectively, and are expected to increase.
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The big picture is that few employers recruit public health graduates in Mississippi because there is a tiny investment in disease / injury prevention rather than disease treatment primarily with drugs and surgeries. In addition, nurses, social workers or dietitians are much more likely to access the few public health positions that exist, and these health professionals are not required to have a public health degree. A public health graduate who has no clinical training simply cannot compete with a licensed medical professional in Mississippi.
According to MDHS data, the low employment rate of public health graduates will continue. Additionally, Mississippi college administrators are doing a terrible disservice by continuing to enroll gullible students in public health education programs. Until employers move from clinical care and disease management to disease prevention, earning a public health degree will remain a huge waste of time and money for most residents.
Getty Israel is Founder and Executive Director of Sisters in Birth, Inc.