U.S. graduate schools offer several types of doctoral degrees in public health, including joint degree programs that allow scholars to specialize in two or more fields. Most graduate degree programs prepare scholars for the Certified in Public Health (CPH) professional credential, which is issued by the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE). Earning and maintaining a CPH credential shows public health employers you have mastered current academic concepts and professional standards.
As the field of public health is so multidisciplinary, doctoral candidates focus on a wide range of social, economic, medical, and statistical topics that influence public health policies and methods. Applicants are generally expected to have a master’s in public health or a related field, such as healthcare administration.
Related Graduate Degrees
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): This is the most common doctoral degree conferred by academic institutions. PhD programs generally emphasize research, theory, and pedagogy. Your studies culminate in a dissertation that demonstrates your mastery and research contributions to the field of public health.
- Doctor of Public Health (DrPH): These programs award a more career-oriented degree that emphasizes leadership in public health and medical organizations. DrPH dissertations tend to focus on the practical application of theory in public health practice.
- Doctor of Science (ScD or DSc): This path is similar to a PhD, placing a strong emphasis on academic research and theory.
- MD/PhD: Physicians can bring invaluable experience and knowledge to the field of public health. This joint degree enables graduates to serve as physician researchers, investigators, or scientists for a number of academic, medical, and government agencies.
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.
Graduate applicants to CEPH accredited schools that are members of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPPH) gain access to the Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS). SOPHAS is a streamlined applications system available for CEPH-accredited public health schools and programs. SOPHAS allows students to fill out a single, centralized application to multiple schools. This system can help you save a significant amount of time, allowing you to apply to a network of schools with a single application.
Whether or not you opt to use SOPHAS, you'll need to prepare unique application materials to each school. Carefully review the required application materials for each school well before admissions deadlines:
- Online or print applications
- Sealed copies of official transcripts
- Official score reports from all required tests (GRE is the most common, however some academic institutions also accept the GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT)
- Letters of recommendation from professors who know your work and interests well
- Resume or curriculum vitae
- Personal statement and/or research samples demonstrating your knowledge and experience in public health
- If using SOPHAS, supplemental materials
Keep in mind that graduate applicants in public health are expected to have a few years of professional or volunteer experience in their field of interest. For instance, the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, requires candidates to have at least two years of postgraduate professional experience. Requirements at these levels involve significant time commitments; be sure to review admissions requirements well in advance.
Contact your local health agencies and universities to learn more about volunteer and internship opportunities near you or consider involved in a national service program:
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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