Health Commissioner

A health commissioner is an individual who serves in a government position and is responsible for overseeing the public health initiatives of their jurisdiction. They may be appointed by the governor, mayor, or county executive, and their duties can vary depending on their location and role. Generally speaking, a health commissioner is charged with ensuring that their community has access to affordable healthcare services, promoting wellness through education and policy initiatives, advocating for health-related legislation, addressing public health concerns such as infectious diseases, managing emergency responses related to public health crises, and creating policies to ensure the overall well-being of citizens in their jurisdiction.

In the context of a global pandemic, health commissioners have become immensely valuable professionals in public and private healthcare. From overseeing finances to managing purchasing activities – they ensure that medical providers are running efficiently and effectively to provide needed patient care across an increasingly challenging public health landscape. For example, Judith M. Persichilli, MA, RN, is the health commissioner for the State of New Jersey’s Department of Health. In addition to minimizing the impacts of Covid-19, since 2019, she has worked with the governor of New Jersey to reduce health disparities related to maternal health, overdose epidemics, and healthcare access. 

Health commissioners bridge the gap between financial security and medical care, requiring an expansive set of skills to do their job effectively. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) predicts a significant surge for this role from 2021 to 2031, with 480,700 existing positions today. While there is no hard requirement that one has a master’s degree, those who pursue further education may reap tremendous professional success within the field as they will stand out among others competing for these growing jobs over the next decade.

Read on to learn more about what it takes to become a health commissioner, including degree types, admissions requirements, featured academic programs, a step-by-step guide to pursuing this career, salary, and related careers. 

Health Commissioner Specializations & Degree Types

Health commissioners specialize in diverse fields, from nursing home administration and clinical management to health information systems. The most commonly held degree type for these professionals is: 

  • Masters of public health (MPH)
  • Master’s of healthcare administration (MHA)

However, many also have degrees in healthcare-related disciplines such as public policy, social services, or business/administration. 

Admission Requirements for Health Commissioner Programs 

Prospective health commissioners should know that most people in this field have advanced degrees from accredited healthcare programs and related disciplines, such as public health, healthcare administration, nursing informatics, etc.  

Most MPH and MHA programs require the following:

  • Bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university
  • GRE scores (optional for some programs) 
  • Prerequisite coursework (e.g., statistics) to prove one’s academic readiness
  • Work experience (optional for some programs)

Health Commissioner Program Accreditation

Depending on the specialty, students should be aware that the field of public health administration has several accrediting bodies to meet rigorous standards of professional education. Here is a list of common accrediting bodies and their disciplines: 

On-Campus Health Commissioner Degree Programs

Ohio State University – Master of Health Administration (MHA)

Ohio State University is renowned for its highly regarded health program. Students can cultivate key management, leadership, and analytic skills as they prepare themselves for a career in healthcare through an external residency over the summer semester. This allows students to establish vital connections within their chosen field while affirming their decision of how they want to progress upon graduation.

Ohio State’s fellowships offer versatile and comprehensive opportunities for students to apply their knowledge within the state system and external entities, such as Cleveland Clinic or UC San Diego. The courses are divided into three main facets: public health foundations, required classes covering economic analysis, clinical rotations, and operations management. An array of electives, including nursing, business, and sociology, is also required. A robust application demands transcripts and GRE scores – with a better GPA, increasing acceptance rates.

  • Location: Columbus, OH
  • Duration: 21 months 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) 
  • Tuition: $723 per credit 

Portland State University – Health Systems Management and Policy 

Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University have formed an innovative partnership offering a program for students looking to gain insight into healthcare systems. Through community engagement, the curriculum is designed with real-world medical provider experience in mind so graduates can hit the ground running within their respective fields. As part of this unique offering, classes will enable learners from all backgrounds, from consumer advocates to nonprofits and government agencies, to collaborate alongside peers at various levels; thus providing them with more comprehensive knowledge upon graduation about where they’d like to pursue their future health commissions-related opportunities.

Portland State University’s Health Systems Management and Policy program offers an extensive educational experience that prepares students to tackle health equity concerns in the commissioner field. Alongside its core offerings, this program boasts a unique set of classes, such as biostatistics and community organizing, while also providing suggested electives tailored toward policy and advocacy topics. 

Moreover, those interested can pursue their studies further with PSU’s PhD Program without being expected to submit GRE scores—all they need is transcripts and references.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) 
  • Tuition: $748 per credit 

University of Colorado – MPH in Health Systems, Management & Policy 

The University of Colorado’s MPH in Health Systems, Management & Policy program offers an innovative and comprehensive approach to current health issues. Students can choose between 42 credits or 45 depending on their interests and career goals, the latter being tailored towards global health and policy with courses covering public health, economics, and healthcare equity and either non-profit management or public administration studies. With a heightened awareness surrounding the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic today, this degree may provide students with the skill sets necessary to thrive in our connected world while protecting against potential future epidemics.

The program offers students various courses, including five optional electives and a capstone and practicum course. In addition, for those aspiring towards global health-based work, the program’s more extensive pathway provides additional specialty courses covering international connections within healthcare systems, current issues in international healthcare, and data collection techniques. No GRE is necessary when applying; however, applicants must submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a statement of intent, and a personal resume – all with at least a 3.0 minimum GPA required for admission. 

  • Location: Aurora, CO
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)  
  • Tuition: $850 per credit (residents); $1,379 per credit (non-residents)

Online or Hybrid Health Commissioner Degree Programs

University of Maryland – Online MPH, Public Health Practice and Policy

The University of Maryland’s School of Public Health offers a fully online MPH in public health practice and policy, providing students with a unique opportunity to understand the principles, ethics, and real-world implications driving public health. 

This highly regarded 45-credit program is broken into three modules: principles of public health; practical applications & policy connections; and internship/capstone experiences. Applicants need three letters of recommendation, a current resume, a statement of intent, a SOPHAS application, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher to be considered for admission.

  • Location: College Park, MD
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)  
  • Tuition: $1,773.71 per credit 

Rutgers University – Online Master of Public Health (MPH) in Global Public Health  

Like the University of Colorado program, Rugter’s program focuses on global health, policy, and administration. Rutgers breaks down five sections: systems and policies, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, health education, and behavioral science. Classes are full- or part-time, with full-time students completing three courses per semester and finishing the program in five semesters. 

  • Location: Newark, NJ
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $973 per credit 

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill – Online MPH with Leadership Concentration

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s MPH program with a Leadership Concentration will develop the abilities necessary for aspiring health commissioners. This concentration focuses on building policy, ethics, and philosophies in healthcare to equip graduates with the expertise to create change through leadership roles. Upon enrollment, applicants can expect 15 credits of core classes and 200 hours of work experience within UNC’s Practicum Program. 

Admissions require prospective students to submit a transcript, resume, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and an application fee to be considered for acceptance into this unique program.

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $1,735 per credit

How Long Does It Take to Become a Health Commissioner?

Becoming a health commissioner requires dedication and sustained effort for up to 16 years from high school. Then, those interested must go through undergrad and graduate studies—perhaps even doctorate work—plus time for job applications to be nominated for, appointed to, or hired into this highly-sought position.

How To Become a Health Commissioner – Step-by-Step Guide 

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or obtaining a GED is the first step toward becoming a health commissioner. The foundational studies for this career include finance, statistics, medical-related courses, mathematics, hard sciences, and sociology. 

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Though there are no direct requirements for the undergraduate degree for a health commissioner, students will make their lives easier by majoring in something that their graduate degree will build upon. For example, nursing, sociology, business administration, finance, and chemistry can all be degrees that can lead to future success as a health commissioner. 

Step 3: Complete a Masters of Public Health (Two to Three Years)

With a master of public health, one embarking on this academic journey can achieve their goals with an array of options for CEPH-accredited programs. In selecting which program best suits them, students should investigate its ratings, the tailored courses available, and the networking/internship opportunities each institution offers. This two or three-year pursuit could open many doors in furtherance of successful professional development.

Step 4: Gain Work Experience (Timeline Varies)

As students may find it more fruitful to acquire work experience during their MPH programs, many schools offer supervised placements and networking opportunities. In addition, depending on the specialization of study, individuals looking for a career in end-of-life care can pursue volunteer or internships with healthcare providers experienced with such services.

Step 5: Earn or Maintain Certifications and Local Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Health Commissioners must remain up-to-date with the relevant professional licenses and certifications, ensuring all necessary continuing education credits are met. Maintaining licensure is instrumental in achieving success as a health commissioner and should be addressed. The certification and licensure section below details this critical preparation area for earning or renewing professional credentials.

What Do Health Commissioners Do?

Health commissioners have a variety of responsibilities that they must manage daily. These include:

  • Developing and managing health policy initiatives
  • Overseeing public health programs and services
  • Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data related to public health
  • Facilitating communication between governmental agencies and other stakeholders
  • Implementing health promotion campaigns
  • Ensuring compliance with regulations and laws

Health Commissioner Certifications & Licensure

Health commissioners must possess a wide range of knowledge and skills to be successful in the field. As such, they may have certifications such as an Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN) license or a Registered Health Information Administrator (RHIA) credential. These certifications demonstrate expertise and help health commissioners stay up-to-date on the latest developments in their field. 

Here is a list of standard healthcare administration certification organizations: 

  • American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA)
  • American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE)
  • American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)
  • Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
  • National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards (NAB)
  • National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)

How Much Do Health Commissioners Make?

According to Comparably (2023), Health Commissioners earn an average salary of $153,068 annually. Health Commissioners have a salary range from $68,600 to $187,200, with a median salary of $175,110.

By comparison, the BLS shows the following salary percentiles for medical and health services managers (BLS May 2021): 

  • 10th percentile: $60,780
  • 50th percentile (median): $101,340
  • 90th percentile: $205,620

Health Commissioner Career Alternatives

Most health commissioners have illustrious careers in healthcare management before working in these high-ranking public service roles. Here are some careers that can put one on track to becoming a health commissioner career. 

Become a Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical and health services managers help run and manage organizations by maximizing efficiency, training staff, and keeping track of resources to improve patient care. They plan, coordinate, and oversee all administrative, financial, and operational activities in health systems or facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes, group practices, clinics, and other healthcare units. They may hire personnel, train staff members, evaluate employee performance, and resolve human resources issues.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree, usually in human resources, finance, business, or a similar field; master’s of healthcare administration (MHA) is preferred.
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)

Become a Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses (PHNs) are community/public health specialists who promote and protect the health of populations using knowledge from nursing, social, and public health sciences. PHNs apply this population-based perspective to assess the needs of communities and develop appropriate interventions to prevent disease and promote health and well-being. They also play an essential role in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery by providing care to those affected and collaborating with other responders to ensure a coordinated effort.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN); master of science in nursing (MSN) with public health specialty; or doctorate of nursing practice (DNP). 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: State Boards of Nursing (SBONs)

Become a Health Information Technologist

Health information technologists ensure that the tech systems that help a healthcare provider run smoothly and that information is passed between IT and other staff quickly and efficiently. 

  • Typical Education: Associate degree or higher (depending on the position)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management (CAHIIM)
Nathan Stevens

Nathan Stevens


Nathan Stevens is a reporter, musician, and native Texan living in Austin. He received his degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and has worked in broadcast for over a decade. His website,, is a collection and retrospective of the best music of the 21st century.

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