PhD in Public Health

Degree Information


Public health is a multidisciplinary field that houses disciplines such as environmental health, biostatistics, epidemiology, and healthcare management. Professionals interested in a doctorate in public health can earn a Ph.D, MD/Ph.D, Sc.D, or doctor of public health (DrPH). A DrPH program is more practice-based and prepares graduates for leadership roles in public health organizations. The other doctoral degree options are more academic in nature and prepare individuals for teaching or academic research positions.

While a public health doctoral program prepares graduates to operate at the top of their field, students interested in a more professionally focused public health degree should first consider a master of public health.

Employment Outlook

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Doctorate in Public Health Salary

Though annual salaries differ by individual workplaces, professional experience and education level also impact how much public health professionals make in a given year. The following table includes data from PayScale that highlights salary growth for five public health professions over the course of a typical career.

Median Salary for Public Health Careers by Experience
Job TitleOverall Median SalaryEntry-Level EmployeesMid-Career EmployeesLate-Career Employees
Career1-4 years5-10 years10-20 years20+ years
Public Health Specialist$49,251$58,411$459,000$60,000
Public Health Analyst$58,779$73,232$91,159$113,891
Scientific Researcher$58,283$72,255$83,273$100,872


Doctorate in Public Health Careers

Graduates with a doctorate of public health generally enter one of two fields: academia or research. There is a great deal of variety within those two fields. Below, we outline five professions that students pursue after becoming a public health doctor. These opportunities are particularly exciting because the BLS projects the number of jobs available in all five professions will grow at least as quickly as the national average over the next decade.

  • Medical and health services managers: Medical and health services managers are in charge of an entire facility, which could include a clinic, a hospital, or a nursing home. Though a doctorate is not required for this position, students with a doctorate will have an advantage in the hiring process.
  • Professors: Professors conduct research and teach classes at universities and colleges nationwide. Most professors need a doctorate to qualify for their position, making the profession a strong option for students with doctorates in public health.
  • Epidemiologists: Epidemiologists study the causes and prevention of human diseases. They often work in a laboratory setting or conduct research in the field. Though a doctorate is not required to become an epidemiologist, possessing a doctor of public health is an advantage for career advancement.
  • Medical researchers: Medical researchers spend their time in a laboratory conducting clinical trials and experiments. Research is a common career path for students with a doctorate in public, and having an advanced degree is valued in this field.
  • Environmental scientists: In the context of public health, environmental scientists work to protect human populations from environmental hazards. Though a doctorate is not required, it is a boon to any professional entering the environmental science field in terms of starting salary and advancement opportunities.
PositionMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate
Medical and Health Services Managers$100,98018%
Medical Researchers$88,7908%
Environmental Scientist$71,3608%


Public Health Professional Organizations

The public health field operates a variety of professional organizations that include epidemiology and laboratory-specific associations, and more general advocacy and policy groups. Students should identify their interests — whether they are clinical or non-clinical — and identify associations that further their professional goals. Many organizations offer conferences, publications, directories, job boards, and professional development opportunities. Some organizations also offer webinars and continuing education.

  • American Public Health Association: APHA is one of the best-known organizations in the field and provides advocacy, publication, and continuing education opportunities. The organization also offers a list of fellowships and internships that is useful to anyone looking to get started in the field.
  • Association of Public Health Laboratories: APHL furthers the cause of public health laboratories around the globe. The organization operates programs in food safety, environmental health, and global health, and also publishes a newsletter and a blog.
  • Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists: CSTE advances epidemiology and public health policy by offering technical advice, peer consultations, and access to publications.


Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Public Health Programs

The best online doctorate in public health programs hold national accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health. This organization vets and evaluates undergraduate and graduate public health programs. Schools must schedule an evaluation date with CEPH, and once accredited, they must periodically apply for the renewal of their accreditation to ensure that they continue to meet standards.

In addition to national accreditation from the CEPH, programs and schools can also be regionally accredited by one of six geographic regionally accrediting organizations in the United States. The regional accreditation process is similar to the national accreditation process, however each accrediting organization is arranged by geographic location. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) certify all accreditation processes.

All students seeking an online doctorate in public health should ensure their chosen program is both regionally and nationally accredited. If a program is not accredited, it may not have scheduled an evaluation date with a third party, or may not meet standards set by the CEPH or CHEA. Students can ensure that their chosen program is accredited by either checking the program website or visiting the CEPH and CHEA websites.

Application Process

The Doctorate in Public Health Application Process

Most students applying to a doctor of public health online will face similar admission requirements. Prospective students should have a master’s degree in public health and a cumulative graduate GPA of at least 3.0. Applicants may also submit GRE scores, along with transcripts and letters of recommendation.

Additionally, students can maximize their chances for admission by having already completed doctoral coursework or by having professional experience in public health. Many programs also offer regular and priority admissions deadlines, and applicants can further increase their chances by meeting the priority date. Below are more detailed descriptions of common application requirements.

  1. Transcripts: These are comprehensive lists of courses a student completed, along with the grades they earned. Students should have separate transcripts for undergraduate and graduate work. The greater a student’s academic success, the higher their chances of admission.
  2. Resume/work experience: A resume is a listing of previous work experience. Though not all online public health doctoral programs require previous work experience (or even a resume), professional experience can enhance any application.
  3. Test scores: The GRE is the most common standardized test required by online doctorate in public health programs; however, many programs also accept MCAT scores since they indicate aptitude in a related field.
  4. Statement of purpose/essay: This essay outlines why a student wants to become a doctor of public health and how earning the degree helps their professional goals. Some of the strongest candidates write letters that explicitly detail how an individual program’s stated goals or vision aligns with the student’s.
  5. Interview: Since doctoral programs often involve smaller cohorts and closer student/faculty interaction, many programs interview each applicant to ensure they are a good fit. Students succeed in the interview by studying a program beforehand, and by offering details on why they are a good fit.
  6. Letters of recommendation: Former professors or supervisors write letters of recommendation for previous students or employees, and describe why programs should accept those students. Those with professional experience in public health should submit letters from their supervisors, as these often carry a lot of weight.

Earning an Online Doctorate in Public Health

An online doctorate in public health may represent a better option than a traditional on-campus program for many students. Online doctoral degrees can be earned from some of the top public health universities in the nation without students ever having to leave their homes. Additionally, many programs deliver coursework asynchronously, which means there are no scheduled class times and students complete assignments over the course of a defined period of time. Asynchronous learning allows students to work full time and still participate in their classes as a full-time or part-time student.

Many online doctorate in public health programs run on cohort models, where students complete the same prescribed set of coursework with the same group of peers. This model creates a support system and increased accountability for asynchronous learning, and can also create greater networking opportunities for students after they graduate.

Most online doctorate programs in public health include few or no on-campus requirements. Programs that include practicum or internship experiences often allow students to complete these requirements at a site in their own community. On-campus requirements usually consist of orientations at the beginning of the program, concluding experiences at the end of the program, or week-long residencies throughout the program.


Public Health Specializations

Though most DrPH programs specialize in public health leadership, Ph.D programs are more diverse and offer specializations in areas such as health education, epidemiology, and biostatistics. Students interested in future leadership roles in public health organizations should pursue DrPH programs, while those wanting a career in academia or research should pursue a Ph.D. Below are five possible specializations in public health doctoral programs and a summary of what students can expect.

  • Leadership: Students enrolled in a leadership DrPH program prepare for senior leadership roles in various public health organizations. Coursework includes core public health areas like healthcare management, environmental health, and biostatistics. Leadership is a generalist track that provides a broad background in public health.
  • Executive: An executive DrPH specialization is similar to a leadership specialization; however, it includes foundational business courses to prepare graduates for leadership and management roles in healthcare organizations. Students also complete coursework in health policy and management.
  • Health education: Graduates who earn a Ph.D in health education teach other students to become health educators. A common health education doctorate curriculum combines health education coursework with teaching coursework. This track often requires applicants to have professional experience in health education.
  • Biostatistics: As a clinical field that prepares graduates to work in laboratory settings, a Ph.D in biostatistics leads to careers in research or academia. A biostatistics Ph.D program includes plenty of clinical trials and experiments, and students may be required to publish original research to graduate.
  • Epidemiology: A doctorate in epidemiology — a field that studies the causes and prevention of human disease — prepares graduates to work in academic or lab settings. Students spend plenty of time in the lab throughout the program, conduct clinical experiments, and eventually publish research in the field.

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