Academic degrees in public health help develop health professionals, researchers, educators, and advocates. These professionals play vital roles in overarching public health missions.
Master's in public health (MPH) programs emphasize the practical aspects of public health, including disease investigation, health program development and evaluation, and community education. Graduates qualify for advanced positions and lucrative salaries. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health services managers earned a median annual salary of $104,280 as of 2020.
The following guide explores the requirements and benefits of earning a master's in public health online or on campus.
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What Can I Do With an MPH?
After earning a master's in public health, you can enter the workforce or pursue additional education opportunities. Employed graduates use their knowledge and skills in research, policy, management, and healthcare applications. Education opportunities beyond an MPH include doctoral degrees, additional graduate certificates, and professional certifications.
Master's in Public Health Jobs
Master's in public health jobs span sectors including research, management, education, government, and medical practice. In the list below, we cover four potential career paths.
Graduates can pursue certification to become more competitive on the job market. Popular public health certifications include certified in public health, certified health education specialist, and certified public health administrator.
Some common MPH careers include:
Health Services Manager
Some employers refer to health services managers as healthcare executives. In the public health sector, these professionals work to develop public health programs and outreach campaigns, hire and manage staff, and handle administrative tasks. Health services managers frequently communicate with medical staff, policymakers, and government agencies.
Epidemiologists investigate patterns and causes of public health problems. They work in private industry, along with local, state, and federal governments. Epidemiologists conduct research to help prevent or slow disease outbreaks, improve disease treatment, and aid in developing new public health policies and programs.
Healthcare Policy Analyst
Healthcare policy analysts evaluate, promote, and implement regulations, laws, and policies related to public and community health. Policy analysts primarily work behind the scenes rather than directly with community members. They often find employment with government agencies or non-government lobbying organizations.
Required Education: At least a bachelor's, though an MPH provides valuable, advanced knowledge that may increase job prospects
Average Annual Salary: $64,100
Public Health Education Specialist
Public health education specialists work with community members and other health officials to promote health, wellness, and safety. Commonly employed by health departments and nonprofit organizations, these professionals develop educational materials and programs, consult with policymakers, and provide information to the public and the media.
Master's in Public Health Careers: Average Annual Salaries by Experience, May 2021
Continuing Education in Public Health
After completing their master's in public health, some professionals consider additional education opportunities. Individuals who pursue doctoral degrees can qualify for top research jobs and faculty positions in academia. Terminal degrees typically yield increased salaries that reflect professionals' advanced knowledge and education.
Graduate certificates offer a short-term way to boost skills in specialized areas, like food safety and public health economics, without having to earn another full degree. Learners can also complement their education with certificates in related disciplines like health informatics, management, or political science.
Visit the links below to learn more about continuing education options.
What to Expect from a Master's in Public Health
A master's in public health takes approximately two years of full-time study to complete. Most degrees require 42-48 credits, though specific requirements vary among programs. Common concentrations include epidemiology, health policy and management, community health promotion, and health services administration.
Prospective students should note that MPH programs deliver professional degrees to prepare learners for specific careers in the field. This contrasts with related programs like the master of science in public health, which focuses on academic research and often precedes doctoral studies.
Students can pursue their master's in public health online or on campus. Online degrees typically offer greater flexibility in course attendance. However, on-campus and distance learners may need to complete in-person, career-centered practicum experiences to graduate.
MPH Admission Requirements
Prospective master's in public health students must hold undergraduate degrees from accredited institutions. However, a bachelor's in public health is not required. Applicants commonly enter MPH programs with academic backgrounds in the social sciences and humanities.
In general, undergraduate transcripts should demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA. Most schools also require a personal statement, resume or CV, plus several letters of recommendation. Some programs require GRE scores.
MPH programs rarely maintain specific work experience requirements, but each prospective student should expect schools to evaluate their professional history. Experience in public health or a closely related field increases your likelihood of acceptance.
MPH concentrations typically comprise 12-21 credits and allow enrollees to focus on specialized areas in the public health field. Each concentration complements the program's core courses while preparing learners for different career paths.
The most common MPH concentration areas include:
- Epidemiology and biostatistics
- Health policy and management
- Community health promotion
- Health services administration
Some schools offer interdisciplinary concentrations, with focuses on serving specific populations. Such concentrations may include:
- Food, nutrition, and health
- Aging and public health
- Humanitarian health
- Indigenous health
Not all MPH programs offer formal concentrations. Students without concentrations can still customize their studies with electives related to their professional interests.
Popular MPH Courses
Master's in public health students come from many academic and professional backgrounds. To accommodate all learners, MPH programs provide a combination of introductory classes and more advanced coursework. As a professional degree, the MPH emphasizes the practical study of public health concepts, techniques, and applications.
Graduate programs require core, elective, and capstone courses. Exact course requirements and descriptions vary among schools, but common MPH core and elective courses include:
Principles of Epidemiology
This essential core course introduces epidemiological theory and methods used to study health and disease patterns in community populations. Through lectures and laboratory examples, students learn about research design, distribution, and determinants of health events. Coursework prepares degree-seekers to apply techniques and concepts to professional fieldwork.
Environmental Health Concepts
This course provides a survey of key areas in environmental health — the study of biological, physical, and chemical agents that affect communities. Students examine sources, health outcomes, and media associated with environmental concerns.
Social, Psychological, and Behavioral Issues in Public Health
Students enrolled in this core course examine various social, psychological, and cultural factors that affect public health practice at the community, national, and global levels. Coursework employs theories and perspectives from social and behavioral sciences, providing degree-seekers with methods and tools to address public health issues and disparities.
Leadership for the Health Professional
This course prepares students for leadership careers in public health and healthcare settings. Coursework introduces leadership methods, styles, and situations unique to the healthcare field through case studies. Additional topics include managing teams, leading individuals, and developing and delivering public health programs.
Public Health Nutrition
MPH programs commonly feature electives focusing on how nutrition affects individual and community health. Coursework often emphasizes nutrition in aging, food access, or foodborne diseases. These courses help prepare enrollees for public health nutrition careers. Topics commonly include malnutrition, nutritional biochemistry, and nutrition policy.
The Master's Practicum and Thesis
As a culminating experience, the master's in public health may require a thesis, practicum, or capstone project.
A thesis involves extensive research and writing to introduce new knowledge to the public health field. Planning and creating a thesis often takes two or more semesters to complete. Afterward, each student must defend their work to a faculty committee.
A practicum provides real-world experience relevant to the student's career goals. Depending on the school's requirements, an enrollee typically accrues 130-200 hours of field experience at an approved public health organization.
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Selecting Your Master's in Public Health Program
Many factors can affect your graduate school selection. Four key areas to consider include:
Accreditation certifies that a school or program meets standards set by an external regulating body. Make sure you attend a regionally accredited institution. Some MPH programs hold additional programmatic accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health.
Compared to undergraduates, graduate students receive increased opportunities to connect and work with professors. Look for programs led by faculty with credentials, experience, and perspectives that can benefit you.
Consider choosing a program that offers a concentration relevant to your career goals, and determine whether you prefer to complete a thesis, practicum, or other type of capstone project.
Attending a more prestigious school may not dramatically affect your job prospects or earning potential. However, prestigious universities often maintain top-tier facilities and resources, impressive alumni networks, and prize-winning faculty.
Should You Get Your Master's in Public Health Online?
According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, over 30% of all post-baccalaureate students in fall 2018 exclusively took distance education courses.
Individuals pursuing master's in public health degrees may find online education especially beneficial. Consider the following to determine whether the online experience is right for you:
- Your comfort level with communicating through remote methods
- Your preferred learning style (in class vs. independently)
- Your ability to manage time effectively
- Your at-home learning environment
Professional Organizations for Public Health
- American College of Epidemiology ACE launched in 1979 to develop professional standards, promote recognition, and address concerns of epidemiologists. The organization serves admitted members through advocacy, publications, and educational activities.
- American Public Health Association For nearly 150 years, APHA has championed the public health profession and its communities. The organization builds key partnerships, advocates for federal funding of critical programs, and provides benefits to more than 25,000 members.
- National Environmental Health Association NEHA serves 6,000 members interested in advancing the environmental health profession. The organization maintains high professional standards, offering certification, networking, and training resources. NEHA also publishes the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Health.
- Public Health Foundation Founded in 1970, PHF is a nonprofit, non-membership organization dedicated to improving public and population health practice. This foundation develops workplace core competencies, along with providing training and learning opportunities to millions of professionals.
- Society for Public Health Education SOPHE is an independent, nonprofit professional association with nearly 4,000 members. The organization raises awareness of the connection between behavioral science and health education, participates in advocacy efforts, and offers professional development membership.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you do with a master's in public health?
A master's in public health prepares graduates for careers in research, administration, community education, and healthcare. Popular career titles include epidemiologist, public health educator, policy advisor, and healthcare executive. These professionals find employment in private, nonprofit, and government facilities.
Is a master's in public health worth it?
Many professionals identify MPH degrees as a valuable step in their education and career. A graduate degree allows for the pursuit of advanced opportunities and leadership positions. These typically correlate with higher salaries.
What is the highest-paying job in public health?
How much do MPH graduates make?
Your master's in public health salary will vary depending on position, employer, geographic location, and years of experience. PayScale reported an average annual salary of $65,320 for MPH graduates as of May 2021.