Study Public Health: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in public health can lead to careers in and out of academia. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Public Health Master's and PhD: Degrees at a Glance

The field of public health offers rewarding careers in a wide range of industries and positions. Individuals in this field address a wide range of problems related to the overall health and quality of life of populations on a local, national and international scale. Public health programs contain curricula that hone the math, science, business management and research skills of the students enrolled in such programs.

People with advanced degrees in public health are employed by government agencies, hospitals and private organizations. Specific positions in the field have different duties and require different skills; therefore, your career interests should factor into your choice of public health program. For example, epidemiologists and biostatisticians rely heavily on their math and analytical skills, while health administration officials display a high aptitude for business. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the healthcare industry is projected to increase by 29% from 2010 to 2020.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? People who want to enter the public health field or advance within their current public health career through specialization Individuals interested in research or teaching careers in academia or high-level positions within the government or private sectors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Biostatistician ($77,000 - salary figure includes all statisticians)*
- Epidemiologist ($70,000 - some epidemiologists possess PhDs)*
- Medical and Health Services Manager ($96,000 - a bachelor's degree may suffice)*
- Medical Scientist ($88,000)*
- Postsecondary health specialty teacher ($99,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Practicum or internship - Comprehensive exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Master's degree
Online Availability Yes Limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Master's Degree in Public Health

The Master of Public Health (MPH) is an advanced degree that addresses health concerns from a population-based perspective. This emphasis on population and group demographics distinguishes public health from other disciplines, like clinical health. Public health focuses on general health, quality of life, the prevention of diseases and education, while other healthcare fields are based around the diagnosis and treatment of individuals. Due to the macro interests of public health, master's degree programs contain a core curriculum that requires the study of behavior, statistics, epidemiology, ethics, law and policy.

Pros and Cons


  • Degree concentrations allow students to differentiate themselves from other job seekers and gain special insight into specific fields
  • Many programs offer summer sessions and extended weekend classes to accommodate students who work full-time
  • Obtaining an MPH qualifies graduates to work in a variety of industries (epidemiology, biostatistics, etc.)


  • Some entry-level positions may only require a bachelor's degree
  • Residency requirements inhibit the ability for students to take courses online
  • Job availability may be regional and require graduates to move

Courses and Requirements

Each course affiliated with an MPH program is designed to give you competency and knowledge within the field of public health. You'll learn to identify the factors that impact the health of a population, techniques for conducting research and how public health is administered. Many programs allow you to concentrate on one specific area of public health in order to gain expertise. The practicum or internship requirement is designed to give you practical experience by requiring you to perform community service related to your specialty.

Online Degree Options

Some schools offer online program options. The majority of these programs are hybrid in nature and require students to attend some classes on campus in order to satisfy a residency requirement. There are also institutions offering master's degrees in public health that can be completed entirely through Internet coursework. However, an in-person internship may still be required. People who choose such programs should be aware that these programs tend to be general in nature and lack the number of concentration options that traditional programs provide.

Stand Out with This Degree

Student organizations provide individuals seeking a master's degree in public health with a wealth of knowledge and networking opportunities. These groups organize speaking engagements and faculty chats designed to provide you with information beyond that found in your curriculum. Such organizations are also good sources for job contacts. Performing well during practicums and internships is another way you can stand out with this degree. Although these positions may be unpaid, you have the opportunity to showcase your expertise and develop relationships that may lead to future job opportunities.

PhD in Public Health

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Health is a research-intensive degree that allows individuals to further study specialty fields in public health. Doctoral programs help students understand and apply conceptual frameworks, quantify public health issues through statistical analysis and determine the causation of public health problems from a multi-disciplinary viewpoint rather than a singular approach. Many schools require students to commit to a particular concentration or specialty prior to the commencing of classes.

Pros and Cons


  • A PhD is the highest academic honor available in the field
  • PhD programs allow students to have their theories reviewed by faculty members and eventually published in academic journals
  • Obtaining a PhD provides the holder with a certain level of credibility and authority within the public health profession


  • Requires a large time commitment
  • Residency requirements make PhD programs virtually inaccessible to individuals seeking to work full-time during their studies
  • A PhD is unnecessary for many positions outside of academia

Courses and Requirements

During their studies, doctoral candidates specialize. Possible concentrations include:

  • Health Policy
  • Community Public Health
  • Global Public Health
  • Environmental Health and Safety

You'll also learn skills that will help you deal with community and public issues. These skills may include:

  • Ability to acknowledge and determine economic consequences of public health issues in the community
  • Ability to conduct research as it pertains to public health
  • Ability to communicate effectively with scholars and other professionals in the field

To ensure that you have a proper grasp of such principles, some programs require you to pass a written and oral exam before you are allowed to enter the dissertation phase of your studies. A dissertation is an issue or subject researched and analyzed by a student. Upon completion of your research, you must present and defend your findings or conclusions before a board of faculty members.

Online Degree Options

Due to the comprehensive nature of PhD programs and the importance of research and advising, there are few online degree options available. The programs that do exist typically require some on-campus time during the dissertation phase of research. Senior-level executives and people content with their current state of employment may benefit from such programs more than students seeking teaching positions or having limited work experience.

Stand Out with This Degree

PhD candidates should attend as many conferences and workshops within the field of public health as possible. These gatherings often feature the leading executives, scholars and policymakers within the field. Consequently, conferences and workshops provide great networking opportunities. They also allow you to share your theories and hear the ideas of others. This will provide a larger perspective and enhance your understanding of public health issues.

Popular Schools

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