What Is a Health Specialist? Definition, Types and How To Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 26, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Although healthcare often focuses on individuals' medical needs, some health careers involve assessing and addressing the health of groups or entire populations. Health specialists analyze the effects of an environment on the health of its people and offer recommendations for improvements. Understanding what health specialists do can help you determine whether becoming one is the right decision for you. In this article, we discuss the role of health specialists and provide several steps that you can take to pursue this career.

What is a health specialist?

A health specialist, sometimes called a public health specialist or health education specialist, is a healthcare professional who specializes in assessing and analyzing health conditions within an environment and recommending new processes or solutions to improve the health of the citizens in that environment. These professionals also educate citizens and authority figures about how the conditions in their environment can affect health.

Health specialists can work in the public and private sectors. Public health specialists consult on the health conditions in public areas, such as neighborhoods, cities, states and countries. Health specialists working for private organizations analyze internal conditions, such as the health conditions in a private building or a workplace.

Related: What Is Public Health? Education and Career Options

What does a health specialist do?

Health specialists work with government bodies or organizations to understand and assess people's general health and discover the conditions that can affect health. Their day-to-day responsibilities involve completing such tasks as:

  • Meeting with governmental or workplace authorities

  • Developing tests to assess the population's health and area's health conditions

  • Analyzing the test results

  • Preparing and delivering reports to relevant stakeholders

  • Creating plans for improving the general health of the population

  • Recommending improvements for health conditions, such as environmental stressors or cleanliness

  • Developing education materials, such as pamphlets, videos and lectures, about an environment's potential health effects

  • Organizing training programs to prepare healthcare and other professionals on how to prevent and treat the health effects specific to that environment

  • Developing public policies and regulations that improve health

  • Creating and implement methods of tracking the spread of diseases and viruses

Types of health specialists

Because of the many types of health effects, environments and methods for analyzing and treating these effects, health specialists can choose from several areas of focus. Examples of specialized health specialists include:

  • Health educators

  • Epidemiologists

  • Healthcare administrators

  • Medical and health services managers

  • Biostatisticians

  • Health and safety engineers

  • Environmental scientists

  • Occupational health specialists

  • Health system specialists

  • Environmental health specialist

  • Nutritionists

Related: What Is Environmental Health? Definitions and Careers in Environmental Health

How to become a health specialist

Depending on your specialization within the discipline, you can choose from many paths when pursuing a health specialist career. However, you can follow several common steps no matter what role you desire. If you want to become a health specialist, consider the following steps:

1. Earn a relevant bachelor's degree

Most employers list a bachelor's degree as the minimum educational requirement for health specialist candidates. Because of the various specializations, you can choose from several health-related degrees depending on your chosen path. You may also consider degrees in mathematics, statistics or other data and analysis majors, combined with a focus in health fields. Examples of relevant degrees for health specialists include:

  • Public health

  • Community medicine

  • Behavioral aspects of health

  • Environmental health

  • Health communication

  • Health education

  • Health specializations, such as epidemiology

Related: What Can You Do With a Public Health Degree?

2. Pursue a health specialist certification

Some positions, such as a health educator, require certification to apply. The certifications you pursue often rely on your specialty, and you can identify necessary certifications by researching job postings in your field. Some programs offer online courses, while others require attending classes in person. You can make your decision by choosing the option that best fits your schedule. Certifications typically require passing an exam to demonstrate that you understand the required material.

3. Consider earning a master's degree

Some health specialist positions that focus on a specialization, such as a public epidemiologist, may require obtaining an advanced degree in a related field. The degree you pursue differs depending on your specialty, so try to research the specific educational requirements of the positions in your field to understand the qualifications sought by employers.

Related: 14 Masters In Public Health Jobs

4. Complete an internship

Public health degree programs may require students to participate in an internship to graduate. You can find these opportunities in various public health settings, such as an office that focuses on public health or a public hospital or clinic. Your chosen degree likely specifies the hours and other requirements needed for completing this internship. Your school may have relationships with organizations that host internship programs. You may find it helpful to consult a guidance counselor or academic adviser to discover the internship options that best fit your career goals.

5. Gain relevant work experience

When applying for health specialist roles, you probably need at least a year of professional experience in your field. You may also encounter this requirement when pursuing a doctorate, as some schools prefer candidates to have relevant professional experience. Sometimes, a college internship qualifies as work experience, so consider researching the workplace or program to which you wish to apply to make sure you meet its requirements.

6. Pursue a doctoral degree

Some health specialists are also medical doctors or teach at the university level. Depending on your specialization, you may need to earn a medical degree or doctorate related to your chosen field. Even if your specialization does not require this advanced degree, it can demonstrate your expertise and may help you qualify for higher-level positions with more responsibilities and increased wages.

Related: How To Get a Doctorate Degree

7. Research your position and employer

Because of the many areas covered by health specialists, you may find it helpful to understand the specifics of what your desired career entails. In job postings, employers often list additional requirements they prefer when hiring health specialists. Consider searching online for the qualifications or certifications you need to obtain this role. Networking with other health specialists and healthcare professionals may help provide additional insights while allowing you to learn and share helpful tips and potential job openings.

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