Public health has been a buzzword on the media’s lips for many years, but you don’t have to become a doctor or nurse to help improve health care in your country. If you have a mind for economics and a yearning to help people in a health-related career, becoming a health economist may be the right choice for you.
To become a health economist:
- Determine what type of field you wish to work in.
- Pursue an applicable bachelor’s degree.
- Depending on your field, pursue a master’s degree in health economics or public policy.
- Focus your studies on economics, international relation, public health issues, and political science.
- Work on skills such as analytical and critical thinking, communication, understanding math and statistics, and analysis of data sets.
- Publish your research in a peer-reviewed publication.
- Pursue a doctorate if you want to conduct research through a university.
But what does a health economist do, and what are the ways you can become one? Read on to find out.
What is health economics?
The field of health economics is related to the effectiveness and value of health care. This section of economics investigates behaviors, values, efficiency, production, and the consumption of public health care to improve the overall health of a group of people, along with influencing positive change to lifestyle choices through health care providers.
Health economics also studies our current health care systems and what behaviors affect health, such as obesity, smoking, and the spread of diseases. They consider other influences of health—not just health care; economists also look at the supply and demand for health care across their geographical area.
What makes health economics different from other sections of economics are a few factors of largescale intervention—whether it is the government making laws against some sort of health choice, such as the sugary drinks portion cap rule in New York City or some sort of barrier to entry, like a higher cost for better medical treatment.
Determine what type of field you wish to work in.
Because it is in the health care field, becoming a health economist does require significant schooling. When you start with your bachelor’s degree, you can go one of two ways—some sort of practical career path or an administrative one.
Tip: do your research on the jobs that may be available to you in the health economics field. A health economist can work either in the public or private sector. If they focus on the private sector, many will work for a technology company or within health insurance. A more public role would be working for a health care provider, like a hospital.
The job description includes strategic planning for products or services and making sure that any newly implemented program or product increases profits and efficiency.
Those who work in the public sector may focus on the efficacy of health care policies or conduct research through clinical trials. Public sector duties can also include providing information on whether a cure or prevention of a disease is more economical for a legislative body. They also can help project the economic impact of an epidemic or focus on finding funding for disease research. Health economists can also work with lawmakers to provide advice on health-based decisions and laws.
When working with a hospital, a health economist may consider how medical professionals are allocated across a large-scale health care facility or the financial feasibility of building a new center. They also may research the increasing cost of health care in the U.S. and the need for better training among the work force.
Health economists may also work within a university conducting research or function as financial consultants for pharmaceutical companies.
Others are independent consultants who can provide advice to a health care provider, business, or someone looking into the forecast of the health care field for any number of reasons.
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Pursue an applicable bachelor’s degree.
Health economists may not be practicing surgeons or general practitioners but having a decent understanding for the health care system is key to trying to improve it through your research. If you find yourself shifting more towards the health care part of the health economist path, consider going into some sort of medical bachelor’s degree program.
Tip: A Bachelor of Science in nursing is one of the best majors to pursue, as you will have experiences in many different fields before you receive your degree. If you are considering more of a science based major, consider a major where you can learn laboratory and medical technology, so you have a better understanding of how to analyze tests and make diagnoses.
Trick: On the other hand, receiving an administrative degree is also beneficial to becoming a health economist. This tends to be the more popular pathway to the job title; a degree in health care administration both teaches students how to work within a health care system while also teaching the business aspects of management. Focusing on the business administration portion allows you to learn marketing, finances, human resources, and general management of a health care provider. A degree in health information management, much like the science-based majors of working in the lab, will help you learn how to analyze data provided to you through a health care provider.
Depending on your field, pursue a master’s degree in health economics or public policy.
Because it is such a specialized and competitive field, you must receive a master’s degree before you can pursue a job in health economics. Typically, this master’s degree must be in health economics or in public policy. Applied economics is also an option for health economists.
Trick: A master’s degree can also give you the broad spectrum of knowledge you need on the job, including international relations, epidemiology, public heath issues, policy management—even international relations and political science. Finding a master’s degree program that also teaches you those skills will make you most competitive in the field when you graduate.
Focus your studies on economics, international relation, public health issues, and political science.
Tip: These programs require you to have some sort of degree or work experience that focuses on statistics, finances, or economics. They will take your previous knowledge of economics and the health care system and start to put them together, like how to use economics to work through finances for a hospital or how the health care industry works at an intricate level.
Work on skills such as analytical and critical thinking, communication, understanding math and statistics, and analysis of data sets.
There are also skills that make you more marketable to an employer when considering the health economist career.
Tip: Because of the demands of the job, all health economists, regardless of specialized field or focus, needs to have excellent critical thinking skills and a mind for analytics.
Health economists must have good written and verbal communication skills, as they will be providing in-depth information to people who may not have as much of an understanding of the health care field or of economics that you do.
Understanding statistics and working with datasets should not daunt you if you want to go into the field.
Publish your research in a peer-reviewed publication.
Trick: Consider getting your research published in a peer-reviewed publication—it will increase your visibility in the competitive job market and help add to your credibility.
Pursue a doctorate if you want to conduct research through a university.
Most institutions where you would be conducting your research will require you to have a doctorate in health economics. While getting your doctorate may seem daunting, if you are considering becoming part of a research team at a university, it will typically be required.
Trick: Pursuing a doctorate in public health, health economics, or medical economics is best when looking at this career path. While this may seem specialized to just university work, a Ph.D. will also help you to pursue any of the other career paths as well—in such a competitive field, pursuing and receiving the additional degree may give you the edge you need over less qualified candidates.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for the next decade for economists is 14 percent. To put that into perspective, the average growth rate for all occupations is 4 percent, meaning economists—which includes health economists—is a field that is growing at an incredibly fast rate. The job market will be open to you for many years to come, so if this is the job for you, consider pursuing the track you need to get there now. If you have already started, consider working on those soft skills and getting yourself published—visibility is key to make sure you are the best, most well-rounded candidate for the position.
How long does it take to become a health economist?
Health economists must have both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree before they can pursue employment in the field of health economics. For a typical student, this would take a combined 6 years. Before getting a job, many institutions require several years of experience, which you may receive during your schooling through an internship. If you wish to pursue a Ph.D. to work at a university, it would take at least an additional four years.
What is the typical salary of a health economist?
According to Glassdoor.com, a health economist makes an average of $100,300 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms this median pay and states that most economists receive about $52 per hour. You can expect to make between $66,000 and $152,000 per year in this career.
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