Job Description of a Health Economist

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Health economics is an applied specialty that focuses on health care and the health of individuals and populations. For example, some health economists study how poverty affects people's health, while others research ways to make the health delivery system more cost-effective.

Getting Required Education

  • A large majority of health economists have a doctorate degree, and it's required for most university jobs. A master's degree in health economics or a master of business administration with a concentration in health economics may qualify you for a job as a health economist. Some master's degree programs take as little as one year, but doctoral programs typically take at least four to five years after the bachelor's degree. A doctorate in health economics typically requires coursework on epidemiology, policy research, health economics and econometrics. Doctoral candidates must also complete a thesis based on original research.

Choosing an Industry

  • Most health economists are employed by colleges or universities. The federal government is the second-place employer, but the states also have some jobs. Some health economists work as consultants or contract researchers, while others are employees of providers such as health maintenance organizations or hospitals. The pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, trade associations, foundations and non-government organizations also employ health economists. Many health economists fill a part-time academic position in addition to primary employment.

Allocating Work Time

  • Health economists typically spend their time in some combination of research, teaching and management or administrative duties. Those with academic jobs spend most of the day teaching and doing research, with a small portion of their time devoted to administrative tasks such as grading papers. For example, a professor might teach one undergraduate class and two graduate classes each term. Government and private sector health economists spend most of their time in research and administrative duties.

Doing Reseach and Producing Results

  • Health economists provide advice to government, businesses and nonprofits based on their research. They use methods such as surveys, data analysis and mathematical modeling and produce their results as tables, charts, reports and published articles. The specific focus of an economist's research largely depends on the employer. For example, economists in a health maintenance organization or hospital may evaluate the effectiveness of a particular antibiotic in preventing infections. Government economists might research the economic costs of various disabilities, and public health economists might study the most cost-effective way to provide vaccinations.

Qualifying for Advancement

  • Full-time university economists can advance from assistant professor to associate professor and finally to tenured full professor, a process that may take seven years, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some academics also rise into administrative jobs. Universities typically base the promotion of economists on their success in teaching, service on committees and acquisition of government grants, as well as on their being published in professional journals. For health economists in the private sector, the major factors in promotion are job service and obtaining grants, while service is the major factor in promotion for government economists.

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