I would like to move into public health after working in private clinical practice for the past 25 years. I am a licensed dental hygienist with a bachelor’s degree. Do I need additional education to have any luck securing a position with my state’s public health department? Any tips on making myself more attractive to public health employers? Thank you!
An important consideration is that 25 years of clinical practice may not necessarily prepare you for public health practice. While earning a bachelor’s of science or arts is a good start, much will depend on the quality/depth of the public health portion of that baccalaureate dental hygiene education. Additionally, the breadth and nature of other experiences during your 25 years of practice will impact how well prepared you are for working collaboratively with groups, evaluating evidence for particular interventions, and monitoring/evaluating progress of programs (eg, continuing education that may have included public health disciplines like epidemiology or statistics). It also will depend on where you live—some states require graduate public health training for dental hygienists, while others do not. Public health seems is a difficult field because it involves working with groups of stakeholders. A strong background in applied social and behavioral science serves as a good foundation for life as a public health professional.
During the last course I needed to earn my bachelor of science degree, my professor told me, “You need to get a Master’s of Public Health (MPH)… it’s a very powerful degree.” I didn’t know what he meant, what an MPH was, or why he thought it was so important at the time, but he couldn’t have been more right. I took his advice and within a month of earning my MPH, I had a full time position with the state health department. A year and half later, I was the state dental director. There were two other highly competent dental hygienists who applied for the position at the same time I did. I strongly encourage not only an advanced degree, but earning a true MPH degree.