Top Jobs in the Public Health Sector

Access to and the quality of a country’s health care has a tremendous effect on the emotional and economic wellbeing of its people. South Africa needs public health professionals and there are opportunities for those with public health or health sciences degrees. We have put together a short list of careers in public health to help you determine whether the public health sector may be for you.

Medical Doctor

There are a wide variety of doctors required in the public health service. They cover fields such as general practice; orthopaedics; paediatrics; oncology; ear, nose and throat; endocrinology; urology obstetrics and gynaecology; and radiology, to name a few. Only about half the medical doctor positions in Gauteng are filled at the moment, leaving a gaping hole for those who wish to qualify.

Public Health Dentist

Research has found that while 84 to 90% of South Africans depend on public oral health services, only 25% of dentists work in the public sector. This means that dental care in disadvantaged communities is getting worse and access even more limited. A dentist plays a major role in the awareness and prevention of dental disease and underserved communities.

HIV Specialist

This is a qualified health professional who specialises in the field of HIV/Aids, helping the government get back on track in its efforts to arrest the spread and treatment of the disease. According to Avert, there are more than 7 million people in South Africa (about 20% of the population) living with HIV/Aids. Of those, 90% are aware of their status, and of that 90%, only 68% are on HIV treatment.

Mental Health Specialist

Although mental health services are written into South Africa’s human rights framework, the implementation and delivery of these services in the public sector is sorely lacking. Research shows that the entire contingent of personnel working in public mental health facilities is 11.95 per 100,000 of the population. Of these, 0.28 per 100,000 are psychiatrists and 0.32 are psychologists.


There are myriad requirements in the public health system, among them are researchers for mental health, diseases, and vaccines.

Public Health Administrator

Health care administrators see to the management of a healthcare facility, some act as general managers, and others oversee the particular duties of a specific department.


Nurses have been described as the glue that holds a patient’s health care journey together. They provide primary care and are at the foundation of patient care. About a quarter of nursing positions in South Africa remain vacant.

Nurse Educatorn

This is someone who teaches nursing students and may provide continued education to working professionals. Some nurse educators may join the administrative part of education, becoming the head of school, for example.

Community Health Worker

A community health worker is a member of the community in which they work, and they respond to the needs of the community. They are generally stationed in communities that do not have access to adequate healthcare. Due to the fact that they are part of the community, they are acutely aware of the health challenges faced in these areas and can help address them. They also have an education role regarding disease prevention.

Policy Advisor

Policy advisors work in the academic and legislative fields of public healthcare. Policy advisors focus on key issues affecting public health and advice on changes to policy which would improve the lives of people.


Nutritionists are medically qualified to examine diets and suggest appropriate changes. For example, nutritionists in the public sector advise patients who have cancer, diabetes and other illnesses where nutrition is affected.

There are many more career possibilities and opportunities in the public health. People who work in this sector are unsung heroes. They aim to improve the health of individuals and communities by encouraging healthy lifestyles, controlling infectious diseases, and preventing injuries and disease. The health and wellness of an entire population depend on them.