A Public Health Career in Environmental and Occupational Health

If you’re interested in conducting environmental research, collecting elemental samples, and developing solutions to maintain the health and safety of workplaces and communities, you may find a career in environmental and occupational health meaningful and fulfilling.  

By pursuing a Master of Public Health (MPH), you can choose to focus in environmental and occupational health and address the need for competent public health experts who have the ability to control and prevent exposure to hazards where people work, live and play.

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

Environmental and occupational health professionals research and study natural sciences to ensure human health, protect the environment, inform state and federal legislators, and reduce waste. Although there are different applications of environmental and occupational health, environmental scientists typically focus on regulations that protect human health, or focus on policy designed to mitigate society’s impact on the ecosystem.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental scientists usually perform the following job functions:1

  • Determine data collection methods for research projects, investigations and surveys
  • Collect and compile environmental data from samples of air, soil, water, food and other materials for scientific analysis
  • Analyze samples, surveys and other information to identify and assess threats to the environment
  • Develop plans to prevent, control or fix environmental problems, such as land or water pollution
  • Provide information and guidance to government officials, businesses and the general public on possible environmental hazards and health risks
  • Prepare technical reports and presentations that explain their research and findings

How Do I Get Into Environmental and Occupational Health?

A career in environmental and occupational health typically begins with a bachelor’s degree that has courses in statistics, biology, toxicology, chemistry and physics. Those who have experience in science-related fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences or engineering may have a better chance at finding employment.

Many in the field earn a Master of Public Health and then choose to focus in environmental and occupational health. Acquiring an advanced degree may position the graduate for more high-level positions in both private and government agencies.

Where Do Environmental Scientists Work?

Professionals who work in environmental and occupational health can find employment in both private and governmental capacities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest employers of environmental scientists are:2

  • State government, excluding education and hospitals — 24 percent
  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services — 23 percent
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals — 12 percent
  • Engineering services — 9 percent
  • Federal government, excluding postal service — 6 percent

Why Enter the Environmental and Occupational Health Field? 

With climate change, industrialization, insufficient water resources and expanding populations affecting communities around the world, public health professionals are needed to address and mitigate these environmental issues.

Environmental and occupational health professionals may be interested in the following fields:

  • Environmental Sustainability: Promote analysis needed to ensure healthy water, food, air, consumer products and home environments, as well as understand the effects of environmental contamination and climate disruption on health worldwide.
  • Infectious Diseases: Reduce the spread of disease and the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by improving food and sanitation systems.
  • Occupational Health: Focus on the health and safety of workers across the country and around the world, while emphasizing vulnerable workers in the auto, construction and food production industries.
  • Risk Science and Policy: Promote better public health choices by improving methods for translating scientific discoveries and using science in policy decisions.
  • Social and Community Dimensions: Study the relationships between communities and environments in order to discover social factors that contribute to better quality of life and overall health. 

Job Growth and Salary Outlook for Environmental Scientists

As the public becomes more aware of the damages and hazards that are hurting the environment, the public health field will need to find skilled professionals to respond to the growing concern. Strains due to population growth and abuse by industrialization are also reasons why there is a need for professionals in environmental and occupational health.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.3

The median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $71,360 in May 2019. In May 2019, the median annual wages for environmental scientists and specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:4

  • Federal government, excluding postal service — $102,910
  • Engineering services — $73,410
  • Management, scientific and technical consulting services — $70,590
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals — $68,190

Learn More About MPH@GW

Located in Washington D.C., the nation’s hub of health policy, the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health is the No. 11 public health school in the country.5

MPH@GW offers you part-time or full-time completion tracks with an option to earn your degree online in as little as 12 months. You will also have the opportunity to tailor your curriculum and concentrate your electives in public health disciplines such as environmental and occupational health. 

Fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), MPH@GW enables you to advance your public health career online from a top-ranked school without relocating.