Best Doctorate Degrees in Public Health Online

A doctorate in public health is a terminal degree designed to prepare graduates for academic opportunities, research positions, and top leadership roles in public health organizations. Public health professionals are in high demand across the U.S. and perform critical work improving the overall health of communities.

Those in the field provide invaluable services such as advocating for the healthcare of marginalized groups and communities, researching and combating diseases, and developing health education programs. Graduates may also work in top-level positions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and other disease outbreaks.

A doctorate in public health may lead to high-paying careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical and health services managers earned median salaries of $104,280 as of May 2020.

The following guide offers a variety of resources for prospective doctoral students in public health and helps them choose from the top programs in the field.

Explore This Page:Why Get This Degree? | What To Expect | Jobs | Top Program Descriptions

Why an Online Doctorate in Public Health?

At all degree levels, professionals in the public health field work to prevent disease and promote individual, family, and community health. Public health doctoral programs align with these core concerns and build additional skills in research, policymaking, program development, and program evaluation.

Learners are often drawn to the doctor of public health (DrPH) for career advancement opportunities. Public health doctoral programs prepare students to enter high-level leadership positions in administration, practice, research, and education.

Three key benefits of completing a doctor of public health online include:

  1. Learning Flexibility: Several universities offer public health doctoral programs through remote learning formats. Studying online enables public health professionals to pursue a terminal degree without relocating or sacrificing their current employment.
  2. Diverse Job Opportunities: With a doctorate in public health, graduates can pursue advanced leadership positions in public health organizations, healthcare facilities, and government agencies. Opportunities also exist in public health research, consulting, and higher education.
  3. Salary Potential: According to the BLS, epidemiologists earn median salaries of $74,560 and biostaticians earn median salaries of $93,290 as of May 2020. With a terminal degree and extensive experience, public health professionals can earn wages in the top percentiles.

What to Expect From Public Health Doctoral Programs

Public health professionals interested in a terminal degree can select from two different pathways: the Ph.D. or the DrPH. We explore the differences between Ph.D. and DrPH programs in the following section. The DrPh program is outlined in more detail below

Completing a DrPH typically requires 45-60 credits, including an extensive dissertation project. Some programs also require a practicum. Courses focus on leadership, ethics, program and policy development, and practice-based research.

DrPH students may select a concentration based on their professional interests. Possible specialties include epidemiology, environmental health, or health policy and management.

In an online DrPH, students complete most classes through remote learning. However, some programs may require on-campus attendance.

Admission requirements typically include a master’s degree, several years of relevant professional experience, and, in some cases, GRE or GMAT scores. Full-time students can complete their DrPH degree in about 3-5 years. Part-time students may take 6-9 years to graduate.

Learn More About Public Health Ph.D.s

Public Health Degree Options

Terminal degree seekers in the public health field can pursue either a Ph.D. or a DrPH, depending on their career aspirations and interests.

A Ph.D. program focuses on scientific research and applications, while a DrPH program is practice-oriented in nature. A Ph.D. in public health tends to lead to careers in academia. In contrast, a DrPH typically prepares graduates for jobs in research, practice, consulting, or leadership.

Characteristics of a Ph.D. in public health include:

  • Theoretical, research-focused degree for scientists and academics
  • Admission requirements prioritize academic experience over work experience
  • 4-7 years, full-time program
  • Dissertation required

Characteristics of a doctorate in public health include:

  • Applied, professional degree for public health practitioners
  • Admission requirements include several years of relevant work experience
  • 3-5 years, full-time program
  • Dissertation required

Students in DrPH or Ph.D. programs may select a concentration. For the Ph.D., common options include epidemiology or social and behavioral sciences. DrPH students may pursue concentrations in environmental health, health policy and management, or global health.

Popular Doctoral Program Courses

While completing a doctor of public health online, students can expect to complete core and elective courses. Core courses provide foundational knowledge to all students. Electives, which often double as concentration courses, allow for degree customization according to interests and goals.

Organizational Theory and Leadership

This common core course offers an advanced exploration of various organizational theories, leadership principles, and the evolution of healthcare organizations. Coursework addresses behavioral, power-influence, trait, and situational approaches to leadership. Students learn how to create positive organizational change through strategic and transformational leadership.

Introduction to Epidemiologic Methods

Commonly required for those students without a master’s in public health, this class introduces students to the methods and principles of epidemiology. Learners also discuss the various applications of epidemiology within the public health field. Topics covered include measures of occurrence, statistical testing, study design, and bias.

Health Policy Analysis

Students in this course learn how U.S. health policies are made at the legislative, regulatory, and judicial levels. Coursework examines how to identify and analyze policy options to address specific health problems. The course may also cover topics in health policy advocacy.

Public Health Equity

While course titles vary by school, many DrPH programs cover equity and disparity in public health. Coursework explores historical perspectives of health equity and the relationships between culture and health. Students gain an understanding of how health equity and disparity are measured. They also explore strategies and policies used to promote health equity.

The Doctoral Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation is a major research and writing project that serves as the culminating project for a terminal degree. While both Ph.D. and DrPH degrees require dissertations, the scope and goals of each project differ.

Ph.D. dissertations contribute new research, theories, and knowledge to the field. In contrast, DrPH dissertations expand upon existing knowledge and research and apply findings to current problems in the field.

For example, a Ph.D. student’s dissertation may explore the effects of COVID-19 on senior care facilities, thereby contributing new research and knowledge to the public health field. Alternatively, a DrPH student’s dissertation may explore ways to improve employee retention in senior care facilities.

Dissertations require roughly 1-2 years to complete. Key stages of the process include:

  • Topic identification
  • Prospectus and research proposal development
  • Proposal presentation and approval
  • Dissertation completion (research, data analysis, writing, etc.)
  • Draft review by committee
  • Oral defense

What Jobs Can You Get as a Doctor of Public Health?

Earning a doctorate in public health prepares students for the most advanced opportunities in the field. Graduates commonly work in community and public health agencies, universities, and in consulting.

While many public health leadership positions are obtainable with a master’s degree, a DrPH can enhance a candidate’s job competitiveness and salary expectations. The BLS reports that the top 10% of medical and health services managers earned a median annual salary of $195,630 as of May 2020. Median earnings and job descriptions for three potential public health careers are outlined below.


Biostatisticians are specialized statisticians in the field of bioinformatics. They work in the healthcare field for pharmaceutical companies or government entities. These professionals help identify sources of disease outbreaks and design studies to test the efficacy of drugs. Common duties include interpreting data, using mathematical theories to solve problems, and analyzing data to improve business decisions.

  • Requirements: Typically a master’s, at a minimum. DrPH holders earn the highest salaries.
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+33%
  • Median Annual Salary:$93,290

Postsecondary Teacher

Postsecondary teachers educate students in colleges and universities. DrPH holders often find work as public health professors. Common duties for postsecondary faculty include developing instructional plans, helping students develop career skills, and staying informed about innovations in their field. University faculty may also conduct research.

  • Requirements: At least a master’s, though terminal degrees are commonly required.
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+9%
  • Median Annual Salary:$80,790

Medical and Health Services Manager

Medical and health services managers plan, direct, and coordinate health services. Common duties include improving efficiency and quality of services, developing goals and objectives, and preparing and monitoring budgets. DrPH holders may manage public health departments, community health agencies, or other medical facilities.

  • Requirements: At least a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Terminal degrees can increase salaries.
  • Job Outlook (2019-29):+32%
  • Median Annual Salary:$104,280
Explore Public Health Careers

How to Find the Right Public Health Program

Factors like cost, prestige, and competitiveness can impact your doctoral program selection. Make sure to choose a regionally accredited program to guarantee the value of your investment. Other considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Faculty Credentials

    Doctoral students rely on faculty to teach courses and serve as advisors during the dissertation process. Look for program faculty you want to learn from by reviewing their credentials.

  • Program Length

    Earning a DrPH is a significant time commitment. However, different programs maintain varying schedules and pacing options. Consider whether you want to study on a full- or part-time basis and how that will impact your degree completion timeline.

  • Location

    Do you want to study close to home? Are you willing to relocate?Even if you earn your doctor of public health online, some travel may be required for on-campus sessions.

  • Concentration Availability

    Look for programs with concentrations that align with your professional goals. Alternatively, you may want to choose a degree with a general track, which provides more flexibility in elective selection.

Should You Get Your DrPH Online?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 30% of all post baccalaureate students took courses exclusively via distance learning in fall 2018. Prospective doctoral students often have careers, families, and other obligations that make relocating for school or taking on-campus courses difficult. For these learners, online degrees offer a flexible solution.

Earning your doctor of public health online allows you to learn virtually wherever and whenever you want. Some programs require limited on-campus attendance and/or set class meeting times. Before committing to an online program, make sure you can reliably access a quiet place to study and that your computer meets the school’s technology requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it take to get a DrPH?

DrPH programs require between 45 and 60 credits of coursework focused on practice and leadership. Students typically graduate in 3-5 years. Online programs may require some in-person sessions. DrPH students must complete a dissertation to graduate.

What is the difference between a DrPH and a Ph.D. in public health?

The DrPh and Ph.D. in public health are both terminal degrees. A DrPH is a professional program leading to advanced leadership careers in public health. A Ph.D. is a scientific degree leading to research and academic careers in the field.

Is a doctoral degree in public health worth it?

The answer to this question largely depends on your interests and goals. While many public health leadership positions can be obtained with a master’s, a doctoral degree can give you more leverage in the job market and increase your earning potential.

What can you do with a doctorate in public health?

DrPH holders serve in a variety of advanced leadership positions. After completing a doctor of public health online, graduates may find employment in public health agencies, government, healthcare facilities, higher education, or consulting.

Public Health Online Doctoral Programs in 2021

If you want to start your doctor of public health online in 2021, consider the list of schools below. You can find out more about each program by clicking the corresponding link.

Each program listed holds accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) and one of the following regional accrediting bodies:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

East Carolina University

  • Doctor of Public Health
  • Accreditation: CEPH, SACSCOC
  • Delivery Format: On-campus or online
View Program

Johns Hopkins University

  • Doctor of Public Health
  • Accreditation: CEPH, MSCHE
  • Delivery Format: On-campus or online with some on-campus requirements
View Program

University of Illinois at Chicago

  • Doctor of Public Health Leadership
  • Accreditation: CEPH, HLC
  • Delivery Format: On-campus or online
View Program

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Executive Doctoral Program in Health Leadership
  • Accreditation: CEPH, SACSCOC
  • Delivery Format: On-campus or online with some on-campus requirements
View Program

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