The Certified Public Health (CPH) credential is a graduate level certificate. While this certification is not required to work as a licensed public health professional in the U.S., many organizations consider the CPH as a gold standard in the field. Alumni and current students of public health programs at the post-bachelor’s level are eligible to sit for this certifying exam through the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE).
Passing the CPH exam demonstrates knowledge in five core areas: biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health policy and social and behavioral sciences. Questions are also designed to test competencies required to apply this core knowledge in the field. These include leadership, systems thinking, programs planning and communication and informatics.
Educational requirements to qualify for this exam are rigorous. For now, only three types of candidates are eligible for certification:
- Alumni of master’s or doctoral public health programs accredited by the CEPH (current students can sit for the exam to earn a provisional CPH until graduation)
- Professionals with a minimum of five years of experience in public health
- Candidates who hold a relevant graduate degree (relevancy determined by NBPHE)
After earning initial certification through the exam, CPH professionals must earn 50 CE credits every two years to maintain their credential.
While some fields rely on multiple accreditation agencies to evaluate programs, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the primary national agency that issues accreditation to public health programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. CEPH evaluates the standards, outcomes, and quality of applicant schools and programs, based on objectives defined by its parent organization, the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA).
The CEPH Accreditation Process
Schools or programs must first apply for accreditation, conduct an internal review of their own performance and then subject themselves to a CEPH peer review and on-site inspection. Next, CEPH collects public opinions regarding the school or program, publishes a report on the total findings, hosts an evaluation review meeting, and then issues an accreditation decision.
Once a program or college becomes accredited, they are subject to ongoing reviews to ensure they meet CEPH standards, outcomes and objectives.
Schools vs. Programs
Due to academic and administrative differences, public health schools and public health programs are measured by different CEPH criteria:
- Schools of public health offer diverse undergraduate and graduate programs spanning the field of health and medical disciplines. For instance, a school of medicine might offer graduate degrees in public health, clinical research, biomedical science, and healthcare administration.
- Public health programs on the other hand, are narrower in scope. Students may still choose specialties like public policy or statistical research within these programs, but the degree conferred is standardized.
As of June 2013, CEPH instituted a process for granting accreditation to standalone bachelor degree programs, or degree programs that are not affiliated with a larger School of Public Health or graduate program in public health. Undergraduate students should note that public health minors, associate degree programs, and professional certificates are not accredited by this agency.
Those who qualify for the CPH exam may apply and register online. There are two application formats, one for graduate students from CEPH-accredited programs and one for public health professionals who hold relevant graduate degrees. In order to request an invitation to sit for the exam, applicants must:
- Create a user account at the CPH Registration Center
- Fill out the CPH Application, detailing all relevant coursework and professional experience
- Submit the application with an online test registration fee of $385 (check reduced fee eligibility)
Once application materials are submitted, the NBPHE will confirm academic and employment records and declare eligibility. From there, candidates can schedule the date, time, and location of their exam.
NOTE: Fees are non-refundable. Confirm eligibility for this exam before applying.
Public health education programs are growing quickly in popularity. Overall, annual graduates from U.S. schools of public health rose 69 percent between 2000 and 2011. As the field expands, degree concentrations available to students at all levels are growing. Here are the most common and high-demand focuses in public health today:
- Finance: These degrees prepare students for managing the large-scale budgetary needs for public health delivery systems. Potential subjects include healthcare finance, health economics, and nonprofit accounting.
- Marketing: Social media communications, grassroots organization, and media relations tie public health efforts together, creating strong bonds between stakeholders, administrators, and the public.
- Organizational Management: Prospective healthcare leaders delve into managerial decision-making strategies, governance, performance analytics, and stakeholder awareness in organizational management concentrations.
- HR Management: Students starting out in public health thrive when they are able to recruit effective and qualified talent. MPH students who pursue this specialization delve into employee selection, conflict management, labor laws, and staff retention.
- Gender and Sexuality: This specialization focuses on the concerns of the LGBT community, often an underserved population across public health initiatives.
- Research Methods: This specialization takes a research-intensive approach to crafting future public health policies and programs. Prospective courses prepare students to conduct targeted community surveys, statistical analyses, and ethnographic research.
- Family Health: Students in a family health specialization examine how family units influence health, development, and nutrition in individuals. Possible topics covered include divorce, domestic abuse, and childhood development.
- Health Education: Students who pursue this specialization plan, implement, and evaluate educational outreach programs for target demographics. Class topics include social media communications, community organization, and community nutrition.
- Biostatistics: The public health sector has a strong need for biostatistics researchers who can identify community health needs based on collected data. Statistics must also be monitored in order to assess the continued effectiveness of a given program. Possible subjects include clinical trials, probability theory, regression analysis, and statistical theory.
- Environmental and Occupational Health: Professionals with a background in this specialization ensure that schools, workplaces, and public facilities meet safety and environmental guidelines. Potential courses include workplace hazards, pollution assessment, chemical cleanup strategies, climate change research, and hazardous waste management.
- Epidemiology: This specialization prioritizes disease prevention and treatment efforts across environments with a variety of economic resources, cultures, government infrastructures, and communities. Professionals in this field often become experts on vaccinations, infectious diseases, and cancer prevention.
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