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How Do I Become an Environmental Health Specialist?

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  • Originally Written By: Archana Khambekar
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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There are a couple of different ways to enter the field of environmental health, but becoming a specialist usually requires a combination of university training and hands-on experience. A bachelor’s degree in a field related to the environment or the science underpinning contamination is a common starting place. Environmental studies, chemistry, and geology majors tend to be some of the most desirable, and certain schools are known to have stronger programs in these fields than others. It’s often a good idea to continue on to earn a graduate degree, as well, usually in a discipline more specifically related to your interests in the field. You’ll also want to get at least some experience. Sometimes you can do this in the form of an internship while you’re still in school, but starting out as an assistant or trainee is often the best way to build up the reputation and in-field knowledge required to be hired as a true specialist.

University Training

It is usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to become an environmental health specialist without formal university training. In most cases, the actual degree you earn isn’t as important as the fact that you graduated, ideally with strong grades; just the same, some areas are more attractive to hiring managers than others. Many schools offer a bachelor of science in environmental health, which is often the best choice. Related studies in math and science are typically also good choices.

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No matter your specific studies, you’ll want to be able to demonstrate expertise in statistical analysis and data interpretation, epidemiology, and environmental law, in addition to courses in physics, chemistry, and biology. Taking as many classes as you can that have relevance will give you a more robust resume and a transcript that will likely make you a desirable candidate either for work right away or admission into a graduate program.

Value of a Graduate Degree

A masters or doctoral degree in an environmental health specialty area may open up better job opportunities and make it more likely that you’ll be promoted to senior management positions. Most of the best paid and most influential specialists in the world have terminal degrees.

Given the extensive scope of environmental health science, there are many areas of specializations. Specialties in this field include radiation biology, hazardous waste control, and water resource management, to name a few. People with the “specialist” job title can work in communities educating people about environmental health hazards and helping search for the causes of certain diseases or outbreaks; others focus on the health of the ocean or certain waterways, or may focus on forests, air quality and pollution, or the broader effects of urbanization on native animals.

Professional Credentials and Licenses

It also pays to earn professional credentials through local and regional organizations. These can set you apart as a leader and can certify your knowledge against an objective rubric. Certification programs are typically offered in various areas of practice in environmental health, and can often be earned while still in school. Employers frequently prefer candidates who are professionally certified, and this credential can act as one more means through which you distinguish yourself from other candidates.

Building Experience

Getting started in almost any new career can be challenging, and the field of environmental health is no different. It’s important to accept that, in most cases, you may not be hired as a specialist right away. You may need to begin as a researcher or an associate in an environmental health firm or consulting group, which will often give you the experience you need to advance. Some time spent working in the field can also help you build a reputation and create a name for yourself, which can make it easier for you when it comes time to apply for jobs or seek out promotions with more leadership responsibility.

In the Larger Business Sector

Most environmental health specialists work in the private sector, usually for corporations or consulting firms. Private companies and factories typically employ environment health experts to assess and reduce environmental factors in the workplace. They may also examine procedures that can potentially impact the health and safety of employees.

Specialists typically also spend a lot of time interacting with business owners, managers, and the public. They may educate these groups on things like eco-friendly practices and health issues that can affect the community, and frequently also answer questions about safe disposal techniques and things companies can do to me more mindful of natural resources.

Government Jobs

Some government departments also employ environmental health professionals to carry out inspections at business sites and do things like inspect for violation of environmental statutes and verify if food and water quality in various public facilities is as stipulated. They check soil samples, monitor the functioning of drainage systems, and regulate water levels. They may also be involved in disaster preparedness and controlling the spread of contagious diseases in the community. You may be required to complete additional training and certification in order to become an environmental health specialist for a government department or agency. p>

Greater recognition of environmental concerns and "green" initiatives undertaken to address environmental quality issues has created a demand in many places for experts in this discipline. With more businesses and industries moving towards environmentally safe processes, the job market for environmental health professionals is projected to grow well.

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Discuss this Article

BigBloom
Post 3

Health is adversely affected by things we ignore on a daily basis. Our negative impact on the environment is among these things that we decide to dismiss. Instead of doing this, it is important that we recognize our negative effect on the world and the fact that it will harm both us and our descendants if we let ourselves do whatever we want. We need to set the pace for change.

arod2b42
Post 2

The health department needs to learn to pay attention to the fact that so much of the world is suffering from a lack of legal restrictions on environmentally harmful practices. We feel just fine about causing the air to lack good oxygen and make everybody else sick, so long as we're making a dollar. This utter negligence and selfishness must be stopped.

Leonidas226
Post 1

Understanding what chemicals are harmful for health and for the environment is a good start. Many industries have dumped harmful chemicals into lakes and into the air. Grasping how the ecosystem works and what flora and fauna have been negatively affected is also another important part of understanding the devastating health effects of a bad environment.

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