Two major issues in the U.S. health care industry are runaway costs and a continually declining level of preventive health care for lower-income populations, but how to best address these issues is highly controversial. The experts that advise elected officials on public health care planning are college-educated professionals called health policy advisers, public health advisers or public health consultants.
Health policy advisers typically have at least a bachelor's degree. Many have a bachelor's degree in public policy, public administration or public health, but some come from other undergraduate academic backgrounds. A few health policy consultants are physicians who went back to school to earn a master's and/or doctorate in public health, and most doctors have an undergraduate background in the natural sciences. Coursework typically includes classes in political science, political philosophy, management, statistics, demographics and psychology.
Although some entry-level positions are available for bachelor's degree holders, anyone planning a career in public health today should make the 2-year commitment to earn a master's degree. A master's in public health or public administration provides the credentials necessary to work as a private consultant or as a management-level employee in the private or public sector.
Finding an Internship
Like most professions, it can be difficult to find a good job as a health policy adviser until you've gotten a year or two of experience under your belt. Many recent public health graduates accept a 1- or 2-year internship at a government agency, large corporation, academic institution or think tank. Completing an internship and having 1 or 2 years' experience under your belt helps you get established in the profession and makes you a more attractive job candidate.
Health Policy Adviser Responsibilities
The responsibilities of a health policy adviser vary significantly based on who you are advising. Those who advise at the highest levels of the federal government prepare reports, make presentations and attend meetings. Public health consultants who work for city government or local nonprofit agencies probably make fewer presentations but spend a lot of time on the phone and in appointments and meetings with all of the stakeholders involved in the project. Most public health advisers also spend a good bit of time keeping up with developments in the field, as well as analyzing health care statistics and developing software models.