Occupational Health & Safety Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's or PhD in occupational health or safety? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and occupational health and safety programs.
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Studying Occupational Health and Safety: Degrees at a Glance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to grow by 9% from 2010-2020. Although this rate of growth is slower-than-the-average for all occupations, the BLS expected growth to stem from new environmental regulations and laws that specialists must enforce in the workplace.

Occupational health and safety careers typically require a bachelor's degree in occupational health, safety or a related field (including engineering and chemistry). Some management positions may require a master's degree. Employers in this field strongly value work experience, so applicants with a combination of educational and professional experience are best poised for career opportunities.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? - Bachelor's holders new to occupational health and safety or seeking a career change - Individuals seeking careers in academia, policy and research
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual salary) - Occupational health and safety specialist ($67,000)*
- Loss control manager ($96,000)**
- College professor ($74,000 - may vary with experience)*
Researcher (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion Typically 2 years (full-time) 3-4 years (full-time) beyond the master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Internship/practicum
- Thesis or capstone project
- PhD qualifier exams
- Research, write and present a dissertation
- Residency requirement (if applicable)
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Resume
- GRE scores (if required)
- Letter(s) of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Prerequisite courses in science and environmental health (if applicable)
- GPA requirements
Relevant work experience (if applicable)
- All of the master's requirements plus
-Master's degree (varies by program)
-Knowledge of the core issues/topics in occupational health
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 mean figures), **Salary.com (September 2012 median figures).

Occupational Health and Safety Master's Degrees

Occupational health and safety master's degree programs prepare students for careers in public and private organizations. Throughout the program, you'll learn to identify and assess safety hazards that affect human health, and how government programs and policies are created to prevent these hazards. Students should note that master's programs typically focus on hands-on application and research. In addition to coursework, you may be required to complete a research paper/project, internship or practicum.

Pros/Cons

Pros

  • Hands-on training gained through direct activities, internship and practicum experience
  • Prepares you for admission into a PhD program
  • Financial assistance from federal and private sources may be available to students in the form of research assistantships, which include tuition

Cons

  • Occupational health and safety specialists may be exposed to dangerous or stressful work conditions*
  • Some specialists may work weekends or irregular hours in emergencies*
  • A bachelor's degree is the baseline degree for this occupation
  • Some online programs may require you to hold three or more years of work experience prior to applying for the program

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

A typical occupational health and safety master's program consists of required 'core' courses, electives and an internship/practicum or thesis requirement. Courses typically feature a mixture of management and safety topics. In your internship, you learn to apply your classroom knowledge to real-world settings. You may also need to complete a capstone research paper (thesis) or project.

Sample courses may include:

  • Safety engineering
  • Occupational health
  • Health risk assessment
  • Occupational safety management
  • Environmental monitoring methods

Online Course Options

There are online course options for working professionals or other students interested in occupational health and safety distance learning. Some schools offer online degree programs, while others offer a combination of online and offline requirements (such as a practicum). As a student in an online degree program, you will likely satisfy requirements similar to those of an on-campus program. Online programs may be designed for mid-level professionals and require additional work experience.

Stand Out With This Degree

According to the BLS, job growth for occupational health and safety workers will be best in nuclear power and loss prevention. Students that tailor their research or internship experiences towards these fields may be in increased demand. Additionally, graduates well versed in policy and regulation areas, as well as managerial roles and functions may have greater opportunities for advancement.

Moreover, you can stand out from your peers in the occupational health and safety field by obtaining a voluntary certification. Industry certifications show potential employers that you meet current industry quality standards, and you can maintain your expertise through re-certification (typically every few years). Depending on your specialty, you can obtain certification through professional or industry organizations in your field. General certification, such as the Certified Safety Professional (CSP) credential, is also available. Typically, individuals must meet academic standards (such as obtaining a degree in a related field) and have several years of professional work experience before they are eligible to sit for a certification exam.

Alternative Degree Programs

If you would like a degree program that examines environmental science, but are interested in a field with greater job prospects, you could consider a graduate degree in environmental science. While both of these programs examine the environmental hazards and policies, environmental science master's programs delve further into the science behind resource management and resource sustainability. According to the BLS, environmental scientists are projected to see a fast-as-average job growth of 19% from 2010-2020. While only a bachelor's degree is required to get into the field, a master's degree can provide job advancement opportunities.

Occupational Health and Safety PhD Degrees

Occupational health and safety PhD programs emphasize research and scholarly contributions and prepare students for professional careers in research, government and academia. Students in a PhD program must meet certain requirements, for example, passing qualifying examinations or completing a dissertation. As a PhD candidate, you may be able to tailor your studies to an area of interest, such as toxicology or ergonomics.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Academia positions can open the door to research and travel opportunities
  • PhD holders in academia may have scheduling flexibility
  • Allows you to specialize in occupational health and safety subfields

Cons

  • You may be over-educated for careers outside of academia and research
  • Even with a PhD, students who do not have relevant work experience may have a challenging time finding a job upon graduation
  • Several PhD programs have a residency requirement, requiring students to enroll full-time for two semesters

Common Courses and Requirements

In a typical occupational health and safety PhD program, candidates will need to complete academic courses and pass preliminary examinations in their field, as well as research, write and present a dissertation. Additionally, some PhD programs may require doctoral students to complete a residency. As a student, you may take courses in managing services, health and safety training, loss control and experiment design.

Online Course Options

Students who are interested in online and distance learning courses may be able to complete some prerequisites or professional development courses; however, fully online occupational health and safety PhD programs are not typically available. If you plan to enroll in an online PhD program, ensure that it is part of an accredited academic institution or professional organization.

Stand Out With This Degree

  • Specialize in emerging research areas - design and conduct research on emerging areas effecting human health and the environment.
  • Since most employers value work experience, you may want to consider completing teaching assistantships while in graduate school.
  • Many tenured positions require you to demonstrate excellence in the field through research contributions. You may want to seek out additional research opportunities that can lead to publication in scholarly journals.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Health
      • M.S. in Health Education
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
    Associate's
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
  • Online Programs Available
    2. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    4. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nutrition Education
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Health
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Regulatory Science
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Government - Healthcare Policy and Ethics
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Public Administration - Healthcare Policy and Ethics
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Leadership Studies
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology
      • Bachelor of Science in Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • DUAL MBA/MPH
      • DUAL MPH/MSMOB
      • Masters in Public Health
      • MPH - Epidemiology Focus
      • MPH - Health Education and Promotion Focus
      • MPH Certificate in Epidemiology
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Baker College Online

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Widener University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master of Public Health
  • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
  • AAS in Public Safety and Security

Which subject are you interested in?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

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George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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American University

  • Master of Science in Nutrition Education
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Purdue University

  • Master of Public Health

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Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Regulatory Science

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Government - Healthcare Policy and Ethics
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Leadership Studies

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Benedictine University

  • DUAL MBA/MPH
  • DUAL MPH/MSMOB
  • Masters in Public Health

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