Public Health for Physicians: Adressing the Health of the Community

A public health physician is concerned not just with getting an individual patient better. He or she wants to improve the health of the entire community, and to try to prevent people from getting sick in the first place. These medical professionals work to ensure the health and safety of the local community is cared for, and also try to ensure that the spread of illness and disease is limited in the case of a pandemic.

Common duties of a public health physician include:

  • Working to keep any epidemic under control and minimize its spread

  • Work with many types of medical professionals to ensure there is strong support for health in the community

  • Ensure that the community is aware of medical concerns in the area, and know any precautions that should be taken

  • Cater to the health needs of the whole community, not just the individual patient

  • Continue to engage in research and study to learn of medical advances in the public health field.

Where They Work

Public health physicians can be employed by hospitals, but they often work for government agencies or public health departments at the state and local levels. Some public health doctors are working in group practices of related public health professionals, and some also are working for health care organizations.

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Public health doctors need to have:

  • Strong communication skills

  • Compassion

  • Highly detail oriented

  • Excellent leadership skills

  • Top organizational skills

  • High degree of patience

Career Opportunities

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the job growth in this field will be 18% by 2022. We anticipate that there will be a higher demand for doctors who are working in public health. The reason for this is that many government agencies and public health departments understand that caring for the public health can lead to fewer people becoming ill and lower health care costs.

One intriguing possibility for public health doctors is to work for the federal government’s Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service. In this career, you will truly be on the front lines of public health. You can help to develop national health policies, treat community members in underserved areas, and be a first responder to public health emergencies.

Case Study

A good example of a physician who has long worked in public health is Margaret Hamburg, MD, the current commissioner of FDA. After she earned her MD, Hamburg became the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health. She also has worked at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and has served as an advocate to deal with the dangers of bioterrorism. Hamburg graduated from Harvard Medical School and also did research at the National Institute of Mental Health, and also worked a great deal in AIDS research.

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BLS reports that primary care physicians earn $220,000 per year. Some public health doctors who work in the public health sector may earn a lower salary.

Additional Resources


Profiles in Public Health – LCDR Nancy Knight, MD, US Public Service Commissioned Corps

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