Studying Public Health

I’m interested in studying public health. What can you tell me?

Public health is a dynamic field that works to improve the health of entire communities. When you think of public health, you may think of your local public health department providing immunizations to prevent infectious diseases, or you may think of international organizations that provide safe drinking water to people in developing countries. Both of these images are correct, since public health is concerned with all kinds of communities throughout the world. Public health often focuses on the prevention and tracking of disease as well as the prevention of disasters, all in an effort to improve living conditions, and provide basic health care and health education. Working in public health offers opportunities to conduct research, get involved in public policy or work with people. Some public health professionals travel internationally and others work close to home. Many professionals find public health to be a rewarding career due to good pay, good job opportunities and personal fulfillment from improving the lives of others. If you are interested in studying public health, many degree options are available to you. You can start working in the field with a bachelors degree, but to advance in your career you will need at least a masters degree from an accredited school of public health. For some areas of public health such as conducting research, a doctoral degree is required.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Danielle Johnson

Danielle Johnson

Student, PhD in Public Health with Specialization in Community Health and Education,Walden University

“To succeed in a public health program, you have to be consistent, efficient and organized. There will be times when you are exhausted, but you have to push through and consistently complete your work. You also have to digest information quickly to turn it into a homework assignment.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Estefany Frias

Estefany Frias

Student, Bachelor of Science in Public Health,Syracuse University

“My best advice for students who are considering studying public health is to try it out. Public health graduates can help solve big problems in the world, so I am very proud of my major. But it is a lot of work too, so you will have to be prepared for that.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Ernest Drucker

Ernest Drucker

Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology,Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University

“I think that research methods will help you to succeed no matter what your area of specialization within public health. You need to be literate in statistics and be able to understand quantitative data. And you need to be proficient in analytical methods and data presentation whether you teach, conduct research or work with people one on one.”Read the Full Interview

Public Health Professional Overview

Policy Manager,Sarah Ross-VilesWatch Her Story
video

What exactly is a public health professional?

Public health professionals work toward improving the health of groups of people. There are many different professions within the field. All of them work toward improving the health of groups of people. Some public health professionals are involved with creating and running public health programs. Program managers, health educators and health services administrators are among this group. Other public health professionals, such as epidemiologists and biostatisticians, conduct research. Other professionals provide basic health services to communities, such as public health nurses and social workers. Then there are those who work in law and policy to affect public health at a broad scale.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Sylvia Carlson

Sylvia Carlson

School Nurse,Los Angeles Unified School District

“I particularly appreciate the long-term relationships that I get to build with children. I work so closely with students that I get to see them grow through the years, and it is rewarding to watch them mature into young men and women. It is such a wonderful experience to be able to assist with their health and their educational development.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Kareem Baig

Kareem Baig

Public Health Residential Technician,Community Mental Health

“Becoming a public health residential technician is a fulfilling career, but requires a big commitment. Earning your degree is 1 aspect of the commitment, but the job itself can be very demanding.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if public health would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a public health professional. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I am sociable and enjoy interacting with other people.

Many public health professionals interact with the public and their coworkers on a daily basis. Working well in social situations will help you to exchange information with community members and coordinate with a team.

I am efficient and can effectively manage my time.

Public health organizations often administer programs with a limited budget and staff. You will need to balance multiple time commitments such as collecting data, creating program materials and meeting with community members.

I am not squeamish and can work with people who have diseases.

Doing fieldwork in public health may require discussions about or visits to populations that have illnesses. If you are uncomfortable with discussing diseases or people who are sick, public health may not be a good choice for you.

I am a good communicator and can make myself understood in speaking and writing.

Public health professionals communicate their findings to the government, businesses, the media and the public. Your ability to make yourself understood will be important as you write reports, speak with community members and delegate tasks to other public health workers.

I am inquisitive and enjoy solving puzzles.

The field of public health involves problem-solving. As a public health professional, you will look for patterns in disease occurrence or think of creative ways to address issues.

I am caring and concerned with the wellbeing of other people.

Public health is a field of public service. If you care about others, it will motivate your work and the people you are serving will respond more positively to you.

I am a team player and work well with other people.

Projects in public health require the efforts of multiple individuals working in coordination. As a public health professional, you will need to work with colleagues in your organization and other public health organizations, healthcare providers and members of the community.

I am goal-oriented and can wait for results.

Working in public health can be frustrating, as it can take a long time for conditions to improve. If you can remain focused on long-term goals, it will help you stay motivated through setbacks.

I enjoy explaining things to others.

Education is an important component of public health. You will need to conduct one-on-one client consulting, create educational pamphlets and convey information to policymakers or funding organizations.

I am comfortable working with people who are from different backgrounds.

Public health professionals come into contact with diverse populations. In order to work in public health, you will need to be able to interact with people of different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful public health professional.

By my assessment, a career in public health is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career in public health may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career in public health. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if public health is the right choice for me?

In deciding whether public health is the right choice for you, consider your interest in obtaining a graduate degree. Many jobs in public health require applicants to hold a masters degree from an accredited program. This means 6 to 7 years of post-secondary education.

Public Health Professions

What public health professions can I choose from?

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$49,000

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies, nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Public health program managers, who also have job titles such as coordinator, project manager or associate director, plan and administer programs to promote public health. Some programs are targeted to specific populations, such as childhood obesity or victims of domestic abuse. Other programs are directed toward the general public, such as public health response to disasters.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years) or masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$45,830 (Lowest 10% earned less than $26,730; highest 10% earned more than $81,430)

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies, community health organizations

Job Description:

Public health educators, also known as outreach specialists, provide information to communities, the media and members of the public about health concerns. In public health departments, health educators run campaigns to raise public awareness about issues such as nutrition, dental hygiene and vaccination schedules. In community health organizations and other nonprofits, health educators create programs and materials to serve their particular community or the health issue that the organization is focused on. They may teach classes, distribute pamphlets or organize events.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years) or masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$54,000

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies

Job Description:

Public health nutritionists help individuals and groups in communities to meet their dietary needs. Nutrition programs in public health often target groups of people who are at risk for poor nutrition such as impoverished mothers and children, elderly people and individuals with diabetes. Public health nutritionists assess their clients’ current nutritional needs, educate clients about healthy choices, keep track of clients’ progress and refer their clients to assistance programs that they may qualify for. They also work with groups by presenting classes and workshops on nutrition principles.

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school) or doctorate (4 – 7 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$63,010 (Lowest 10% earned less than $42,360; highest 10% earned more than $98,380)

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies, colleges and universities, pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Epidemiologists collect and analyze data to determine how to prevent and treat public health problems. They may conduct fieldwork by observing and interviewing sick people, but most of their time is spent in the laboratory and in front of a computer. Their findings are used by public policy officials, healthcare providers and members of the general public.

Education Required:

Masters (1-2 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$72,830 (Lowest 10% earned less than $39,090 or less; highest 10% earned more than $119,100)

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals

Job Description:

Biostatisticians perform mathematical analysis of data. In pharmaceutical companies, they investigate whether drugs successfully treat diseases. In public health agencies and hospitals, they analyze public health data to identify sources of disease outbreaks. Most statisticians spend their day working in front of a computer using specialized software packages for analysis.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years), masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school) or doctorate (4 – 7 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$61,700 (Lowest 10% earned less than $37,850; highest 10% earned more than $107,990)

Work Environment:

Consulting firms, colleges and universities, analytical laboratories, government agencies

Job Description:

Environmental health scientists study environmental conditions that affect human health. Examples include water quality, food preparation, air pollution and hazardous waste. Environmental health scientists may work for the government inspecting food preparation facilities or waste disposal sites to make sure that safe procedures are followed. They may also work for private companies investigating possible problems and cleaning up contaminated areas.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:

$53,000

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies, community medical clinics, nonprofit organizations

Job Description:

Public health nurses improve community health by using nursing skills and knowledge. Most nurses see patients after some health problem has forced the patients to seek treatment in medical facilities. Public health nurses travel to patients’ homes, schools and community centers to try to improve people’s health before a visit to a medical facility is necessary. They educate community members on how to improve or manage their health. Some public health nurses provide healthcare to people who don’t have access to care. Other public health nurses develop programs to address public health needs or advocate for groups to receive assistance.

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$40,210

Work Environment:

Government public health agencies, nonprofit organizations, community medical clinics, hospitals

Job Description:

Public health social workers help both individuals and communities with social functioning. The focus of public health social work is on preventing problems as much as possible, rather than intervening after problems have occurred. Public health social workers create programs to prevent suicides, train emergency responders to recognize drug problems in families and collect data on domestic violence. Public health social workers also help individuals find services, such as food stamps or drug dependency counseling.

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:

$63,000

Work Environment:

Federal or state government agencies, community health organizations, consulting firms, hospitals

Job Description:

Health policy analysts provide information for planning, evaluating and implementing policies affecting healthcare. Health policy analysts that work for government agencies focus their efforts on regulating and financing healthcare services. In organizations that provide healthcare, health policy analysts assess and analyze existing policies so that they can propose new policies that will better suit the community’s needs and the organization’s goals.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for public health professionals?

The job outlook for public health professionals varies from poor to excellent depending on the type of job. There are managers and educators, researchers, healthcare providers and policymakers working in the field of public health.

Public Health Managers and Educators

The job outlook for public health managers and educators is good, although job growth will be limited by government agency budgets. The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for social and community service managers, a group that includes public health managers, predicts employment growth at a rate of 27% from 2010 to 2020. Employment for public health educators is expected to increase by 37% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics health educators employment projections.

Public Health Researchers

Job opportunities for researchers in public health will be good. Epidemiologists, biostatisticians and environmental health scientists will see job growth that is as fast as or faster than the average for all professions. Epidemiologists in particular are already in short supply in many states. Epidemiologists are expected to see a 24% increase in jobs from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for epidemiologists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for statisticians, which includes biostatisticians, predicts job growth of 14% from 2010 to 2020. Environmental health scientist jobs will grow by 19%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics environmental scientist employment projections.

Public Healthcare Providers

Public health nurses are a type of registered nurse. The job outlook for registered nurses is excellent, with employment expected to grow by 26% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for registered nurses. Social workers’ job opportunities will also increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics social workers employment projections predict growth of 25% from 2010 to 2020. However, government budgets will limit jobs for social workers in public health agencies.

Public Health Policymakers

The job outlook for public health policy analysts is poor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment projections for political scientists, which include policy analysts, predict job growth at a rate of 8%, which is slower than the average for all occupations.
Profession Employment 2010 Projected 2020 Average Growth
Epidemiologist 5000 6100 24%
Health Educator 63400 86600 37%
Healthcare Social Worker 152700 203900 34%
Medical Or Health Services Manager 303000 371000 22%
Occupational Health Or Safety Specialist 58700 63700 9%
Community Health Worker 121300 147700 22%
Occupational Health Or Safety Technician 10600 12000 13%

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Epidemiologist 60290 63600 64500 64950 68280 69660
Health Educator 45370 47340 48590 49060 50270 52150
Health Specialties Teacher 91260 95440 102000 103340 103960 99210
Healthcare Social Worker 44690 46320 47560 48340 49200 50500
Medical Or Health Services Manager 81160 84980 88750 90970 93670 96030
Occupational Health Or Safety Specialist 59270 61310 63030 64200 65610 67340
Community Health Worker 37410 38590 39950 40530 41250 41250
Occupational Health Or Safety Technician 44340 46200 47410 47280 47520 48240

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th
Epidemiologist $43380 $51830 $64220 $80170 $100020
Health Educator $26860 $34970 $47940 $65520 $85490
Health Specialties Teacher $39210 $53560 $79860 $126130 $187200
Healthcare Social Worker $31160 $38610 $48620 $60280 $73040
Medical Or Health Services Manager $52730 $67450 $86400 $112260 $147890
Occupational Health Or Safety Specialist $39770 $50710 $66270 $82560 $96030
Community Health Worker $22900 $29720 $37840 $50560 $64710
Occupational Health Or Safety Technician $27520 $35270 $46030 $58940 $73360

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a public health professional?

At a minimum, it would take you 4 years to become a public health professional. In this time you would complete a bachelors degree in public health or a related field such as health education, nursing or nutrition. However, depending on what type of public health jobs you are interested in, a masters degree will qualify you for more jobs. In that case, it would take you 6 to 7 years to complete your post-secondary education and become a public health professional.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while pursuing public health?

While studying public health, you can expect to gain both knowledge and skills, which include the 3 core functions of public health: assessment, policy development and assurance.

KNOWLEDGE

Biostatistics

Biostatistics is the study of using statistical analysis to address issues in public health, healthcare and biomedical research. Biostatistics in public health seeks to answer questions such as whether there is a significant increase in the occurrence of a disease and whether certain factors are associated with the prevalence of the disease. Biostatistics can also be used to critique the validity of claims made about healthcare treatment.

Epidemiology

Epidemiology is the study of patterns in health problems among populations. Descriptive epidemiology seeks to describe health conditions and their frequency and severity. Examination of existing health data leads to the formation of a hypothesis about how people are exposed to a disease and how it spreads. Analytical epidemiology uses experiments such as clinical trials to understand how a disease occurs and the consequences of actions to control it.

Environmental Health

Environmental health is the study of environmental factors that affect the health of a community. It is a multidisciplinary field that incorporates knowledge from toxicology, chemistry, immunology and microbiology. Environmental health is often categorized by the environmental factors that are being studied, such as air pollution, hazardous waste, water pollution, solid waste and occupational hazards.

Health Policy

Health policy is the field concerned with government decisions and actions that affect the health of society. Policy includes regulations on how healthcare is delivered, services offered by the government and laws that protect individuals and communities. For example, public health policy professionals are responsible for the passage of seat belt laws and nonsmoking laws. Health policies affect the availability, delivery, quality and costs of healthcare. Courses in public health policy teach students how to analyze health issues by assessing related concerns, public needs and economic considerations.

Social and Behavioral Science

Social and behavioral science in public health is the study of how people’s behavior and social environment affect their health. This field creates theories to explain health-related behaviors and uses these theories to design education and other public health programs. For example, the health belief model can be used to explain why some people pursue immunizations for diseases and other people do not. Other behavioral theories in public health explain how people quit smoking, how communities are organized and how new ideas spread through societies.

SKILLS

Communication

As you study public health, you will learn communication skills. Your coursework will require you to process and present information by writing papers and giving presentations. You will also learn about communication methods to reach community members. Many public health programs have an educational component, and your class projects and internships will involve planning how to convey information successfully to communities and individuals. You will use public health theories in order to predict and promote healthy behavioral changes within a community setting.

Leadership

Your public health curriculum will teach you leadership and management skills. Public health coursework describes many types of leadership. Professionals in public health lead groups and collaborate with individuals from multiple organizations and disciplines. You will also learn how to advocate for solutions, influencing government policymakers as well as healthcare providers and community members.

Planning

You will learn planning skills as you progress through your education in public health. Public health professionals plan strategies to improve health in the community, such as free screenings to detect common diseases and education about children’s health needs. You will learn to define goals and expected outcomes for public health programs as well as evaluate program success.

Teamwork

Your courses and internships in public health will teach you how to work effectively as part of a team. You will learn how to begin a team project with clear goals and expectations and ways to divide labor among the team members. As you continue to work in teams, you will learn how to address communication issues and deal with conflict.

Cultural Competency

Cultural responsiveness and competency is key to being a public health professional. As you study public health, you will develop cultural competency skills. Your courses and field experiences will provide you with skills to interact sensitively and effectively with people of different cultures, ages, ethnicities, educational levels and professional backgrounds. You will also become familiar with the impact of culture on health, such as likelihood of seeking help, attitudes about caring for oneself and the involvement of family members.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of public health?

You can earn bachelors, masters and doctorates in public health. Bachelors degrees are usually broad in focus, and will provide an overview of the entire public health field. A bachelors degree in public health qualifies you for some entry-level positions in the field. A masters degree will qualify you for most jobs in public health. Masters degrees in public health often require specialization in a core area such as epidemiology, maternal and child health, public health education or global health. Doctoral degrees require further specialization in a narrow area of research. Doctoral degrees are not common in public health, and are typically only required for jobs as professors or at the highest levels of leadership in public health organizations. These degrees generally require that you work in the field before attaining a DrPH.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctorate

Bachelors Degree

A bachelors degree will prepare you for entry-level jobs in public health or for an advanced degree in public health. Majoring in public health will provide you with a broad introduction to the field of public health. However, public health professionals hold bachelors degrees in many other subjects as well, including mathematics, sociology, business, biology and chemistry.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in public health?

Bachelors of Arts BA

The BA is oriented toward social services and public policy. This option is a good choice for students interested in public health policy, health services administration and behavioral science in public health. It is similar to the BS.

Bachelor of Science BS

The BS is oriented toward the scientific basis of public health. This option is a good choice for students interested in research, statistical analysis, environmental health and infectious disease control. It is similar to the BA and identical to the BPH.

Bachelor of Public Health BPH

The BPH degree is the same as a BS in public health and focuses on the science used in public health.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in public health?

It takes 4 years or 120 credit hours to complete a bachelors degree in public health.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in public health?

A bachelors degree program in public health will require core courses in the fundamentals of public health, public health, statistics and biology. Additional course requirements depend on the focus of your degree program. In a degree program concentrated in health science, you will be required to take additional courses in subjects such as chemistry, environmental health, epidemiology and global health. In a program focusing on social science and public policy, you will take courses in health policy, behavioral science, anthropology and economics. Many degree programs in public health also require a practicum or an internship working with a community health organization, public health agency or public healthcare provider.

Besides a bachelors degree in public health, there are many other undergraduate majors available which will prepare you for work or graduate study in public health. Some examples are mathematics for students interested in epidemiology and biostatistics, sociology for students interested in health education and chemistry for students interested in environmental health. These options are described in the article What should my undergraduate major be if I want to work in public health? by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH).

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in public health?

With a bachelors degree in public health, you are qualified for entry-level positions such as community outreach coordinator, research assistant, public health educator or environmental health scientist. If your bachelors degree focuses on nutrition or dietetics, you can work as a public health nutritionist. Working as a public health educator may require a degree program specifically focused on public health education.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my bachelors degree in public health?

There are not many schools offering bachelors degrees in public health. For a current list and map, see Schools with Undergraduate Public Health Programs on the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) website. If a degree in public health is not available in your area, you may need to consider other majors, described in the ASPH article What should my undergraduate major be if I want to work in public health?

What about getting an online bachelors degree in public health?

An online public health bachelors degree has several drawbacks. Work in public health requires a high level of personal interaction. If you pursue a public health bachelors degree online, you will not have the opportunity to learn interpersonal skills that you would have in a traditional degree program. In addition, as of 2012 there are no schools that are members of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) offering a public health bachelors degree online. Therefore, an online public health bachelors degree is not recommended because employers may not recognize degrees from unaccredited schools.

Masters Degree

A masters degree will qualify you for most jobs in public health. Many employers and public health departments prefer to hire applicants who have a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, although for some jobs another type of masters degree may be acceptable. Masters degrees allow you to concentrate your studies in an area of public health such as child health, nutrition, global health, policy, epidemiology or health leadership.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in public health?

Master of Science MS

The MS degree is research oriented. Coursework focuses on research methods and analysis of health data. This degree is a good choice for students seeking careers in research.

Master of Public Health MPH

The MPH is a professional degree focusing on the factors that affect population health. This option is a good choice for students who want to manage public health programs and services.

Master of Health Services Administration MHSA

The MHSA is a business degree oriented toward the management, organization and financing of healthcare services. This option is a good choice for students who want to work in areas such as emergency services management, planning, policy analysis or consulting.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in public health?

It takes 2 to 3 years to complete a masters degree in public health. Programs vary in requirements. Typically, an MS, MPH or MHSA requires 45 to 60 credit hours. Some MPH programs require as much as 80 credit hours.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in public health?

While studying for your masters degree in public health, the courses you take will depend on the focus of your degree program. You will be required to pick a concentration when you enter a masters program. Traditionally, schools of public health offer 5 areas of concentration for an MPH program. You may have to take classes related to each concentration. The 5 core disciplines are health policy and administration, social and behavioral sciences, biostatistics, epidemiology and environmental health. However, many schools offer concentrations that cut across these disciplines, such as global health.

An MHSA program will include many of the same courses as an MPH program, but will also include subjects such as accounting, finance and organizational theory. Both MPH and MHSA programs will include a practicum or internship, during which the student works full time or part time in a public health or healthcare organization. At the end of the internship or practicum the student may be required to present to their college and compose a report based on their work.

An MS program will focus more on research methods and statistics. It will also include a thesis based on independent research. A thesis is not typically required for an MPH or an MHSA.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in public health?

A masters degree will qualify you for most positions in public health. The specific jobs you can obtain will depend on your professional experience and the focus of your masters degree. New masters degree graduates without much professional experience can obtain entry-level jobs in health departments and nonprofit organizations. Graduates interested in research can work as research study coordinators.

With more work experience or specialization, you can work as an epidemiologist or a health educator. Public health graduates also work in consulting firms, injury prevention or industrial hygiene. Public health professionals with expertise in epidemiology or infectious disease control work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as public health advisors.

Public health professionals with additional degrees have other job opportunities open to them. Doctors, dentists, nurses and veterinarians often go into public health and can use a masters degree program as a way to transition into the field.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my masters degree in public health?

If you are considering an MPH degree, consider whether the school or program is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). There are several advantages to CEPH accreditation. Some public health employers such as the U.S. Public Health Service require job applicants to have completed a CEPH-accredited MPH program. Some internships and fellowships are only available to students at accredited programs and schools. And if you want to continue on in academia and pursue a doctorate in public health, graduation from a CEPH-accredited masters degree program may allow you to transfer credits to the doctoral program.

However, it is a long process for a school or program to become accredited, so a new program that is of good quality may not have had the chance to become accredited. The American Public Health Association has a thoughtful discussion of this issue in the October 2011 issue of Careers in Public Health.

If you are considering an MHSA, choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). CAHME-accredited programs meet commonly accepted standards for health administration education.

What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program in public health?

A bachelors degree is required for admission to a masters degree program in public health. The bachelors degree does not need to be in public health, but it will help your application if there is some relevance to public health, such as science, mathematics or social science. You may choose to take classes in order to fulfill the requirements of a graduate program even if you do not have a degree related to public health.

The admissions process for MPH programs is very competitive. Many individuals applying already have a masters or doctorate in a related field, or have 2 to 3 years of relevant work experience. Some MPH programs are specifically designed for health professionals with medical doctor or veterinary medicine degrees. Most programs require test scores from the GRE or from the MCAT.

What about getting an online masters degree in public health?

Obtaining an online public health masters degree is an acceptable option, but has some drawbacks to consider. Masters degree programs in public health teach many hands-on skills such as collaboration, negotiation and cultural sensitivity. If you attend an online public health school, you will not have the same opportunities to learn these skills as you would in a traditional school. Some online public health degree programs require students to be present on campus for workshops, seminars or capstone courses to gain skills in public speaking and working in groups. Other masters degree programs are offered completely online.

The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accredits several online public health masters degree programs. As of 2012, there are 72 masters degree programs accredited by CEPH that have an online component. Some of the most respected schools in the field offer a public health masters degree online, so there is no stigma associated with having obtained your degree online. You may face more difficulty in pursuing your degree, however, due to limited support from teaching assistants. Pursing an online MPH requires that you be highly motivated and seek out educational experiences independently.

Doctorate

Doctorates in public health are useful for students seeking to become professors or for experienced public health professionals preparing for advancement to high-level positions in policy and administration. Doctoral degree programs provide advanced training in a specialized area of public health.

What are the different types of doctorates that I can earn in public health?

Doctor of Philosophy PhD

The PhD is a research degree. It is oriented toward conducting research and analysis in a narrow area of specialization. If you are interested in becoming a researcher or professor of public health, the PhD would be an advisable route.

Doctor of Public Health DrPH

The DrPH is a professional degree. It is focused on training public health professionals in creating, implementing and assessing public health programs and policy. This degree is advisable for experienced public health professionals seeking high-level positions in policy and administration.

Doctor of Science ScD

The ScD is a research degree that is equivalent to a PhD in the United States. It is offered by only a few schools of public health in the U.S.

How long will I have to study to earn my doctorate in public health?

PhD, DrPH and ScD programs in public health take 4 to 7 years to complete and require between 60 and 90 credit hours beyond the bachelors degree. For students who have completed a masters degree in public health, a doctoral program may require 30 to 60 credit hours.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my doctorate in public health?

While studying for your doctoral degree in public health, the courses you take will depend on the type of degree and your area of specialization. In a DrPH program, you can expect to take courses in public health law and ethics, financial management, leadership, research and development of public health programs. In addition to coursework, you will be required to complete a practicum and a dissertation. Depending on the requirements of your DrPH program, your dissertation may be based on independent research or on program evaluation or design.

In a PhD or ScD program, you will be required to take courses in research methodology and statistical analysis. Most of your course requirements will be customized to your research interests. For example, a doctoral program in biostatistics will require mathematics courses while a program in environmental health will focus more on chemistry.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a doctorate in public health?

A doctoral degree in public health qualifies you for jobs at the highest level in public health. You can become a professor, high-level policy analyst, consultant or director of a public health organization.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my doctorate in public health?

When deciding on a school to earn your doctorate in public health, consider whether the program is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Some fellowships are only available to graduate students in CEPH-accredited programs. Some employers require job applicants to have graduated from programs accredited by CEPH, but if you already hold an MPH, that requirement will not be a concern for your doctoral program.

What are the requirements for admission to a doctorate program in public health?

Doctoral programs in public health vary in their admissions requirements. A bachelors degree is required for admission to a PhD or ScD program in public health. Most programs do not require a masters degree, although having 1 may allow you to complete your doctoral program in a shorter amount of time. Some DrPH programs require applicants to hold an accredited MPH degree and 2 years of work experience.

What about getting an online doctorate in public health?

There are significant drawbacks to obtaining an online public health PhD or ScD. Earning your public health degree online will not give you the opportunity to form a close relationship with your faculty advisor. This relationship is important to your success in graduate school and to a career in academia, if you choose to become a professor.

However, if you do not plan to become a professor and intend to pursue a DrPH, an online public health degree may be an acceptable option. As of 2012, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) has accredited 2 schools offering the DrPH online. You will not have the same opportunity to learn hands-on skills in an online public health school as you would in a traditional classroom. But if you are already working in public health, particularly if you are located in a remote area or travel for your job, an online DrPH may be a good choice for obtaining additional credentials.

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying public health?

Most public health professionals do not need to be licensed. Dietitians and nutritionists are an exception. They must be licensed in most states. Employers may also require that job applicants hold the Registered Dietitian (RD) certification, which has the same requirements as state licensing.

Questions & Answers

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Resources

What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree in public health?

ASPH – Association of Schools of Public Health

ASPH – What is Public Health?

ASPH – Reach for a Career in Public Health

Council on Education for Public Health – Frequently Asked Questions

APHA – American Public Health Association

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Social and Community Service Managers

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Health Educators

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Dietitians and Nutritionists

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Epidemiologists

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Statisticians

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Environmental Scientists

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Registered Nurses

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Social Workers

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Political Scientists