Studying Environmental Health: Degrees at a Glance
The study of environmental health typically covers ways that the environment, whether natural or man-made, affect human health concerns. The three primary areas of environmental health studies are toxicology, epidemiology and exposure science. There are a wide variety of environmental health careers you could pursue after earning a master's or doctorate degree in the field. For example, you could potentially become a public health inspector, an environmental health officer, an environmental health practitioner or an educator.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs available for occupational health and safety specialists were expected to increase by 9% from 2010-2020, which was below average. Jobs for epidemiologists were projected to grow at the much faster pace of 24% in the same time frame. Medical scientist positions were projected to increase by 36%, while job growth for postsecondary teachers was projected to be at 17%, per the BLS.
|Who is this degree for?||People interested in working in environmental health professions in the private or public sector or teaching at the community college level||Individuals who want to become epidemiologists, medical scientists or work in postsecondary academia as researchers or professors|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| -Community college professor ($65,000)*|
-Occupational health and safety specialist ($67,000)*
-Environmental scientist and specialist ($69,000)*
| -Environmental scientist and specialist ($69,000)*|
-University professor or researcher ($99,000)*
-Medical scientist ($88,000)*
|Time to Completion||1-2 years full-time||3-5 years after completion of the master's degree|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| -Master's thesis/research paper|
-Master's comprehensive exams
| -Dissertation/thesis proposal and presentation|
-Doctoral comprehensive exam
|Prerequisites||Bachelor's degree in environmental health or a related field||Bachelor's or master's degree in environmental health or a related field|
|Online Availability||Yes||None found at this time|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Master's in Environmental Health
In a typical master's degree program in environmental program, you'll examine factors that affect individual and community health systems, such as chemical, social and physical influences. These programs are designed for working professionals seeking advanced environmental knowledge. While some of these programs are terminal, others are set up as a foundation for you to continue your education, whether it's in an environmental health doctoral program or medical school. These programs are usually interdisciplinary and prepare you to work in public health in the private or public sectors, as well as in program management for government health agencies.
Pros and Cons
- A master's degree in environmental health will prepare you for career in which you could potentially improve public health and living conditions
- You could apply for government environmental jobs at the state and federal level
- You'll gain research skills and techniques that are typically helpful in this field
- Earning your master's degree can be costly and time-consuming
- Not all positions in environmental health necessarily require a master's degree
- A terminal master's degree is usually not enough to enter a career in academia
Courses and Requirements
Although the courses that you'll typically encounter in a master's degree program in environmental health will vary based on your chosen area of expertise, there are many standard courses that you can expect. A few of these courses include:
- Health management, policy and law
- Behavioral and social sciences
- Infectious disease
- Public health and water
In addition to master's level exams and coursework, you'll also typically be required to research and write a master's thesis project. Some of the tracks that you might choose from are environmental health, population, human toxicology, sustainability and global environmental health.
Online Degree Options
If you're currently employed in the environmental health field or can't attend an on-campus program for other reasons, you fortunately still have options. There are part-time programs that allow you to complete your coursework and master's thesis online, although you may have to go to a certain location to have exams administered.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
As you earn your master's degree in environmental health, there are measures that you can take to get ahead in the job market. For example, gaining knowledge of local, state and federal health, safety and environmental laws and regulations can be helpful when searching for a job.
You might also consider seeking certification from the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). Becoming a credentialed Registered Environmental Health Specialist or Registered Sanitarian through the NEHA can be a solid way to beef up your resume and stand out from other job applicants with similar qualifications. You could also pursue career-specific credentials, such as a Certified Chemical Hygiene Officer or a Certified Safety Professional.
Doctorate in Environmental Health
Doctoral programs generally include a lot of one-on-one time with professors and advisors and are research-intensive. As an environmental health major, you'll learn how to solve complex environmental issues related to chemical, biological and physical health issues. Common career paths include research, consulting, academia and management. Some schools offer dual master's/doctoral degree programs in this field, but they can last up to five years.
Pros and Cons
- As you earn your doctorate degree in environmental health, your research could potentially improve public health conditions
- As an educator or scientific researcher, you could have many opportunities to travel to conferences, seminars and research facilities
- If you enter a career in academia, you could potentially gain job security by earning tenure
- Getting into a doctorate program in this field may be competitive
- If you're currently employed and can't attend an on-campus program, there are few, if any, online options available
- Tenured positions in academia can be difficult to attain and there are no guarantees
Courses and Requirements
The doctoral curriculum is often dependent upon your research area. Like the master's degree program in this field, you'll be required to choose a study track. A few doctorate-level classes could include:
- Environmental monitoring techniques
- Health risk assessment
- Environmental and industrial health
- Advanced toxicology
- Climate and health
While exam and classes are part of the program requirements, the bulk of the work will focus on research. You'll typically be required to present a dissertation proposal before a board. Once your specific area of research is determined and the board accepts your proposal, you'll be required to research, write and defend your dissertation.
Online Degree Options
Because a doctorate program in this discipline is so hands-on and research-oriented, there are few, if any, online programs available. Although you may be able to complete some of your research using the Internet, you'll need to attend an on-campus program to earn this degree and gain some of the real-world experience that many employers require.
Stand Out with This Degree
If you want to stand out to potential employers, there are various steps that you can take while still working towards your doctorate degree. The following are a few suggestions:
- Try to get research from your dissertation or other doctorate writings published in a peer-reviewed scientific, medical or academic journal. This option can help build your resume and garner you some exposure to the field.
- Staying abreast of the latest technological developments in the field of environmental health can be helpful. Many jobs also value computer literacy and knowledge of software like Microsoft Project, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
- As is the case when earning your master's degree, learning the rules and regulations of local, state and federal environmental agencies can be helpful when you eventually are seeking employment.