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  • Writer's pictureMereya Quintana, MPH

Consulting: “The Unsung Career for Public Health Professionals”

Varied words describing consulting

Since the pandemic, the world has gained a renewed sense of respect for public health professionals. More than ever, there was a demand for public health professionals to serve as essential workers, assisting with COVID-19 surveillance, contact tracing and case investigation, test kit preparation, and culturally appropriate healthcare communication to the public. The following three questions would stump the public: What is a public health professional? Where do public health professionals usually work? What do public health professionals do? Most responses would surround the statement, “I don’t know, but they probably work at the health department.” This response is limited in accuracy, as public health professionals can work in a wide variety of preventive and responsive entities, including hospitals, clinics, universities, laboratories, and private consulting firms, to name a few.

Overview of Consulting

A wheel showing the different expertise of public health

Consulting is "being in the business of giving expert advice to people working in a professional and technical setting." Public health consultants are subject matter experts specializing in a particular area of public health (i.e., epidemiology, maternal and child health, occupational health) and working in organizations like healthcare organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies. Public health consultants work to address public health-related issues through the planning and execution of effective programs, policies, and other procedures to prevent a health issue, manage its transmission, and treat its symptoms.

Consulting is a flexible and rewarding career where daily duties vary depending on the specialization. For example, Healthcare Equity Solutions (HCES) is a consulting firm that provides culturally competent and equitable healthcare services for historically excluded populations. Some of those services include grants management, managing state or federal contracts, and conducting data analysis and collection. Notably, we were among the early responders of the COVID-19 pandemic and managed a state contract for COVID-19 case investigations. Our role involved develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for case investigators to conduct case interviews on exposed and ill individuals of the coronavirus.

Areas of Lucrative Interest

Three areas are particularly lucrative for public health consulting: data analysis, project evaluation and management, and grants administration.

  1. Data analysis is the process of working with data to glean useful information and thus make informed decisions. Public health professionals use data to understand how different factors (predictors) may be associated with specific health outcomes of interest. Data analytics also are used to determine how effective different interventions may be. Public health data analysts will be. Common data platforms are Python, R, and SAS.

  2. Project evaluation and management are the process of seeing a program or project from inception to closure and development to evaluation. A program is any set of related activities to produce an outcome toward public health action. Evaluation is a systematic method for collecting, analyzing, and using data to examine the effectiveness and efficiency of programs and contribute to continuous process improvement. The project management life cycle describes high-level processes for delivering a successful project. Effective project management can prevent wasted money and resources. In addition, project evaluations are essential to demonstrate impact to funders, generate support for continuing the program, and see if the approach would be appropriate to replicate in other locations with similar needs. Although it depends on the industry and the project, they are usually overseen and managed by project managers. Project managers must be competent in managing several aspects of the project (i.e., scope, schedule, finance, risk, quality, and resources). It can be a monetary benefit also if project managers have these certifications: Project Management Professional (PMP), Agile Scrum Master/Certified Scrum Master (CSM), Lean Six Sigma (CLSS), and Certified Project Director (CPD), to name a few.

  3. Grants administration entails the identifying grant opportunities, preparing grant opportunities, securing grants of all types, appropriating grant funds, holding client meetings, and assisting in managing approved grants in a program area. Grants administrators should have excellent communication, math, and organizational skills and pay close attention to detail. They are an essential asset to any nonprofit or for-profit business, as they follow grants throughout their life cycle, and grants provide businesses with the financial opportunity to expand programs, services, or products. Understanding local and federal systems (i.e., is critical to being effective in this type of consulting role.

Concerns about Consulting

A blue keyboard button that says consulting jobs

Getting into consulting, more specifically contracts, can make workers feel uneasy. Although contracts come with the ability to make and have extra/multiple income and flexibility, it also comes with concerns around uncertainty because of a lack of job stability. Taking on federal or state contract opportunities is a component of consulting and, depending on the logistics, can come with a 6-month, 1-year, or on an as-needed basis, with possible extension. The owner requesting bids or proposals defines the contract terms. For example, some COVID-19 case investigation contracts were extended for two or more years, depending on the severity of COVID-19 cases in the contract's service area. Although contracts may have an established end date, this can change abruptly depending on community needs, funding, and contract owner satisfaction with the work being provided by the subcontractor. This ambivalence can leave workers with a source of income today but less than two weeks to find another opportunity tomorrow.

Searching for Opportunities

Searching for public health consulting opportunities may seem challenging, but it all depends on the keywords you are typing in your search engine and the platforms you are looking for them on.

Keywords to look for when searching:

  • Program Manager, project manager, project coordinator, policy analyst, public health liaison, health educator, health specialist, outreach coordinator, health researcher, epidemiologist, biostatistician, data analyst, research associate, public health analyst, public health advisor, health equity coordinator, health communications specialist, community health educator, public health project manager, and public health program coordinator.

With those keywords, you can locate multiple opportunities across different specializations and organizations that fit your interests and working style. Sites that should be frequented and recommended to use when applying for public health jobs are LinkedIn, Indeed, Handshake, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health job search portal, American Public Health Association (APHA), and Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. In addition, if there is a particular company you are interested in working with, for example, you want to work in the public health segment of top consulting firms like Deloitte or Guidehouse, go directly to their careers page, filter, and search using the keywords above for available options.

Closing Remarks

All in all, the field of public health is vast, with the field of public health consulting included. Although there may be concerns, public health consulting can be a very lucrative and rewarding career with multiple areas and fields and opportunities for upward mobility - including starting a consulting firm.

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