Most of the time, Americans can keep public health policy out of sight, out of mind. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that, suddenly bringing the subject to the forefront of everyday life and reminding people of the significant role that political leaders and policymakers have in influencing wellness promotion, disease prevention and infection control.
Even beyond the pandemic, the need for robust public health policies is clear. For example, public health policies can shape nutrition in public school cafeterias; responses to surging diseases; and everyday practices regarding hydration, handwashing and mask wearing. To ensure clear and effective policies, policy analysts can play a substantial role.
For those who are interested in public health and passionate about developing stronger and healthier communities, policy analysis can be a rewarding career. When considering how to become a policy analyst, one crucial step can be an advanced degree in healthcare that can provide the skills needed for long-term success as a policy analyst.
What Does a Policy Analyst Do?
A good place to begin is by defining the role: What is a policy analyst, and what does a policy analyst do?
Policy Analyst Job Description
The role of the public health analyst is to evaluate public health policies, identifying vulnerabilities in current policies and areas for practical improvement. Policy analysts may work for a government institution, a health care organization or a nonprofit organization. Generally, policy analysts are charged with detecting potential problems and developing budget-conscious solutions. Additionally, policy analysts determine how current public health policies impact community members and predict how new policies will impact them in the future.
Policy Analyst Duties and Responsibilities
The day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a policy analyst can vary by position, but common responsibilities include the following:
- Conducting data analysis. One of the most important aspects of policy analysis is collecting and interpreting data. Policy analysts may gather data by sending out surveys to community members they serve or by conducting independent research on their own. Often, this involves assessing data that local hospitals and clinics have provided. In other instances, government or academic research bodies can provide key metrics. Policy analysts use spreadsheets and other tools to collect and analyze data, evaluating trends related to disease, infection, life expectancy, birth rate and more.
- Analyzing budgets. Policy analysts also perform budget analysis. Implementing public health policy will always involve some obstacles, and sometimes the biggest is determining how a policy will be funded. The policy analyst’s job includes determining whether a policy’s outcomes will justify its cost and suggesting means by which the policy or program can be paid for.
- Developing policies. Based on the data they collect and their understanding of budgetary and fundraising concerns, policy analysts may also draft public health policies. These can pertain to anything from needle disposal to funding for community clinics, from mask policies during a pandemic to public education about infectious diseases. Policy analysts have to be truly comprehensive in their policy development, touching on subjects including finance, scope of policy, possible obstacles, future outcomes, implications for preexisting policies and more.
- Creating programs. Policies and programs go hand in hand. Essentially, implementing a policy may require developing a public health program; for example, a policy analyst who determines that there should be a public policy encouraging mask wearing may also establish a program to distribute free masks to those who need them. Again, programs must be developed with an eye toward budgetary concerns, an acknowledgment of potential obstacles and an assessment of possible outcomes.
- Communicating with the public. Ultimately, policy analysts work to build better and stronger communities, so their policies and programs must be clearly conveyed to the general public. Communication skills are a vital part of the job, as policy analysts must make presentations to community leaders, develop written collateral, create policy briefs and reports, and provide interviews to the media.
Policy Analyst Work Environments
Policy analysts can be found in a number of common work environments, including the following:
- Government agencies. Policy analysts are needed in health departments at every level of government: federal, state and local. Often, analysts who work for government bodies must direct policies and programs to address pressing health concerns in a community and to allocate government funds appropriately. These positions generally involve direct communication with elected officials, who execute public health policies and make laws.
- Health care organizations. Private health care organizations can also show a real interest in communitywide health and wellness. Policy analysts who work for local health care organizations can play a vital role in planning where new clinics should be established or in developing wellness education programs for local schools.
- Nonprofit organizations. Policy analysts can also find work with nonprofit organizations, where their efforts may focus on specific health and wellness concerns. For example, a policy analyst for a lung cancer awareness nonprofit may focus on antismoking campaigns or on developing support groups for those who’ve received grim diagnoses.
- Political action committees. For those who are interested in electoral politics, it may be possible to gain a position doing health care policy work for political campaigns. In this capacity, policy analysts create health policies and proposals for officials to campaign on or to implement when in office. In this role, special emphasis must be placed on shaping public opinion and winning buy-in for the policies in question.
Policy analysts can serve the broader public and play a direct role in shaping public response to health- and disease-related issues in several ways.
Policy Analyst Education Requirements
For those who are passionate about health care issues and who gravitate toward the nitty-gritty work of policy assessment, wondering how to become a policy analyst is only natural. One of the most important steps down this career path is mastering the policy analyst education requirements.
What Are the Policy Analyst Education Requirements?
To become a policy analyst, a bachelor’s degree in healthcare or a related field is required, preferably with a concentration in data analysis. Enrolling in a degree program can provide familiarity with the basics of policymaking, while also offering an opportunity to hone data analytics skills.
While a bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient for an entry-level position, those who wish to advance in the field will usually need to obtain a more advanced education. A master’s degree in a healthcare-adjacent field can pave the way to a more advanced position. Some of the most common options are to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA), with an emphasis on healthcare; a Healthcare MBA (HCMBA); a Master of Public Health (MPH); or a Master of Public Administration (MPA).
In some situations, policy analysts may benefit from pursuing even higher education, including doctorate-level degrees in health-related fields. Terminal degrees are usually required only for positions in academia.
What Are the Benefits of Earning a More Advanced Degree?
Though becoming a policy analyst with just an undergraduate degree is possible, many policy analysts will wish to seek an MBA or a similar advanced degree. Earning a higher-level degree has many benefits:
- Completing postgraduate training can provide a greater knowledge of policy analysis skills, allowing for even greater opportunities to make a difference on behalf of the community.
- Advanced training can create greater exposure not only to policy analytics but also to important related fields, such as political science.
- Policy analysts who have more advanced degrees can earn more prestigious positions, including roles of greater influence or with more opportunities for leadership.
- Advanced degrees can often yield more competitive salaries.
What Is the Policy Analyst Salary?
In considering entry into this profession, having some questions about practicalities such as salary range is understandable.
The annual median salary for health policy analysts was approximately $61,300 as of June 2022, according to Payscale. However, several factors determine policy analyst salaries and can potentially lead to even higher pay. These factors include the following:
- Level of education
- Years of experience
- Type of employer (e.g., private health care organization vs. nonprofit)
- Geographic location
Policy analysts with salaries in the top 10 percent earn about $86,000, according to Payscale.
Essential Policy Analyst Skills
Certain skills can be considered essential to success in the policy analyst field. The best ways to cultivate these invaluable policy analyst skills are to ensure a robust formal education, with a rich and varied curriculum, and to gain experience in the field.
Consider a few of the most salient policy analyst skills, all of which can be honed in a good MBA program.
At its core, the policy analyst role is about amassing and evaluating data to make informed decisions about policies and their implications. As such, anyone in this role must possess the basic skills and tools associated with data analysis. Examples are:
- Working with independent or third-party researchers to gather data
- Collecting, storing and organizing data using spreadsheets and other tools
- Conducting surveys, polls and focus groups
- Assessing current census data
- Implementing data analytics tools to create models and visuals
While a policy analyst’s job includes data analysis, it must also involve applying that analysis to make inferences about the real world. For this, critical thinking is a must. Examples of what critical thinking might look like in the context of this position are:
- Assessing causal relationships between policies and outcomes
- Brainstorming cost-effective ways to implement a particular policy or program
- Navigating public health needs in the context of political realities
The best way to develop critical thinking skills is through immersion in a formal training program, combined with experience doing the actual day-to-day work of policy analysis.
The ability to communicate is one of the most crucial policy analyst skills. Policy analysts must convey their findings to other decision-makers, winning their buy-in. Additionally, they have an important role to educate the general public about current matters related to health and disease.
Examples of important policy analyst communication skills are:
- Collaborating with other researchers and analysts
- Proposing programs, policies and budgets to political officials or other decision-makers
- Educating the public about important issues or promoting new programs
- Providing interviews or professional opinions to the media
- Drafting briefs and policy recommendations; exhibiting clear written communication skills
While leadership skills may be unnecessary for entry-level policy analysts, those who wish to assume higher-level positions should develop the ability to inspire and manage people. In particular, policy analysts with advanced degrees may be considered for positions in which they lead entire teams of analysts and policymakers.
Important leadership skills to develop include the following:
- Clearly conveying the aims of a new policy or program
- Providing clarity about common goals and objectives
- Collaborating to brainstorm solutions to an obstacle or a roadblock
- Providing development opportunities for lower-ranking analysts
Among the biggest challenges involved with public policy analysis is that it can be tricky to align public health goals with public opinion and with what political leaders can feasibly achieve. Policy analysts must be well read in political science and keep track of public consensus. Additionally, policy analysts must be prepared to adjust their own plans and expectations according to the political capital of a particular leader or administration. More broadly, policy analysts must study current trends, challenges and needs in the health care sector.
Help Create the Future of Public Health
Public health policies can shape the way people think about disease prevention. They can direct leaders as they assess public health crises or seek to make quality care more widely available. They can also provide clarity to citizens who simply want to live a healthy lifestyle.
Those who are passionate about shaping health policies may wish to pursue a career in policy analysis. To develop some of the skills needed for this role and to lay the foundation for a successful career, consider getting an advanced degree.
The George Washington University Healthcare MBA program provides essential data analysis skills, as well as a knowledge base more narrowly focused on the health care sector. The program includes classes covering key aspects of business administration and offers seven certificates in areas such as health care quality, regulatory affairs and clinical research practice. Find out how George Washington can help you start down the path toward impactful policy analysis work.