Skip to main content

The Big Picture: Careers in Health

The Big Picture: Careers in Health

Careers in health are not just for doctors! Health is a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary field dedicated to creating, delivering, and monitoring solutions for a healthier society.

  • 49.9 million people in America are without health insurance, and uninsured working age Americans have a 40% higher death risk than their privately insured counterparts.1
  • One in five children in the developing world lack access to safe water, which results in the loss of 443 million school days from water-related illness and 1.4 million child deaths each year.2
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 600,000 people a year.3

The majority of careers focus on the following areas:

  • Infectious Diseases: Preventing contagious or transmissible diseases from spreading (including HIV, influenza, and tuberculosis).
  • Chronic Diseases: Combating some of the most common and preventable health problems in developed countries (including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes).
  • Maternal and Child Health (family planning): Reducing the risks of pregnancy and giving birth and increasing child survival rates.

The lowdown

Because careers in health are so diverse, there’s generally a role fit for anyone who’s passionate about improving health.

Want to be on the front lines?

If you become a global health professional, chances are you’ll find yourself immersed in a developing country at some point in your career. Be prepared to face dire poverty, harsh climates, and even civil unrest. If you prefer to stay closer to home, community health gives you the opportunity to engage directly with under-resourced communities in your backyard (many of the same caveats apply).

Prefer to be behind the scenes?

If you want to use your analytical skills, consider research, monitoring, and development. If you never shy away from a good fight (and you often win), health policy and advocacy might be a great fit. There are plenty of health causes that can use a good advocate, but be prepared to face potential opposition when battling entrenched systems, or working to change long-term habits and assumptions.

Meet the players

Who's addressing health issues, and how?

Nonprofits and foundations

Organizations like One World Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation develop and deliver funding and interventions to low-resourced communities. For more information, check out our Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy overviews.


Corporations like Johnson & Johnson create new products and medications for health and wellness domestically and abroad. Pharmaceutical companies like Merck focus on making drugs affordable in developing countries. Large behind-the-scenes companies likeMcKesson play a vital role in making our healthcare system more efficient.


Institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitor health data and inform constituents to protect health.

Specialized agencies

Agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) lead health initiatives within larger organizations (such as the United Nations, in the case of the WHO).

All of these organizations address health issues using different approaches. Examples of the different angles available in the health field include:

  • Research and Development: Discovering answers to questions such as, “What are the most pressing health issues?” “How do we cure, prevent, and monitor them?”
  • Clinical Field Work: Developing, implementing, and assessing a health program in a local community or abroad.
  • Statistics and Monitoring: Gathering and analyzing data from populations across the globe.
  • Administration and Funding: Providing operational and financial support for treatments and organizations.
  • Policy and Advocacy: Developing and promoting policies to improve the health of a community.
  • Health Education: Spreading awareness and influencing behaviors to improve health issues.
  • Health Equity: Closing the gap in health disparities.