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Master of Public Health

A master’s degree in public health (MPH) or Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) prepares students for work in a number of exciting and diverse health focused settings. Students enrolled in an MPH, which typically takes two years to complete, will learn to think critically and effectively to develop solutions to local, national, and global health issues. Students will learn about biological, social, economic, cultural, political, behavioral, and environmental factors that contribute to the health and wellbeing of people, including underserved and disadvantaged populations. Because of the similarities to the study of social work, a number of programs offer combined master’s of public health and master of social work degrees (MPH/MSW). The intersection of these two areas is clear: a drive to create positive social change and health outcomes through the use of evidence-based, prevention-focused methods. Social work and public health complement each other because both aim to advance the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities as a whole. Students interested in this degree can expect to learn about such topics as contemporary health issues, social and behavioral health, statistical thinking, program planning, policy, grant writing, and research.

Because the career paths for an MPH degree are so diverse, the average annual salaries can vary. For epidemiologists, who investigate patterns in disease and injury, the median yearly salary is $69,450.1 For environmental scientists, a category that includes environmental health specialists and administrators, the median annual salary is $67,460.2 A master’s of public health degree can also help graduates gain positions in health administration, the government, and nonprofit or community health agencies.

Admission Requirements

Students looking to apply to a master of public health program must have a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. Students typically must provide the admissions department with prior transcripts, references, GRE or GMAT scores, and must have obtained a certain grade point average to be considered. Some MPH programs require a specific amount of work experience completed in a health setting prior to starting the master’s program. Applicants who are non-native English speakers may be required to submit Test of English as a Foreign Language scores (TOEFL).

Core Concepts and Coursework

Master’s of public health programs are designed to help students become experts in a number of disciplines that are instrumental to human health. Students can expect to learn about contemporary health issues, the importance of social policy, and evidence-based survey and research methods. Some course examples include:

  • Introduction to Statistical Thinking
  • Contemporary Health Issues
  • Health, Outreach, and Education for At-Risk Populations
  • Survey Sampling: Methods and Management
  • Principles of Epidemiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Social and Behavioral Health
  • Health Politics, Governance, and Policy
  • Program Planning and Evaluation
  • Public Health Practicum

Traditional Master of Public Health Programs

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Colorado State University (Aurora, CO)

The Master of Public Health degree offered through Colorado State University’s Colorado School of Public Health uses a combination of training, research, and service experiences to teach students how to tackle critical public health concerns. The Colorado School of Public Health curriculum teaches students how to address chronic and infectious disease, health care access, and environmental issues. Students can choose one of the following six areas of study as a concentration: Animals, People, and the Environment; Epidemiology; Global Health and Health Disparities; Health Communication; Physical Activity and Healthy Lifestyles; or Public Health Nutrition. Each concentration area requires students to complete 42 credit hours to graduate, half of which are dedicated to core public health courses and the other half of which are related to the student’s chosen area of study. Some core public health courses that students can expect to take are Public Health Foundations, Applied Behavior Change Theory, Health Systems, Management and Policy, Environmental Public Health and Policy, Practicum, and a Capstone Project.

The Colorado School of Public Health also offers three dual degree programs for students: an MPH-MSW (Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work), an MPH-DVM (Master of Public Health and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), and an MPH-Dietetics (Master of Public Health and Public Health Nutrition).

Harvard University logo

Harvard University (Boston, MA)

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers a Master of Public Health degree for students looking to develop the necessary analytical, quantitative, and problem-solving skills for this field. Harvard offers both 45-credit and 65-credit programs to meet the needs of students with varying levels of professional experience. Those interested in the 45-credit program will need to have completed a related graduate degree program or will need to have at least five years of professional experience in the public health field. Students in this track have the flexibility of completing the program in two years full-time or in three years on a part-time schedule. The 65-credit MPH program is designed for students who do not have a relevant educational background who are new to the field of public health. Most students are required to complete the 65-credit program on a full-time basis (three semesters, plus one summer semester). Both programs allow students to choose a concentrated field of study (although offerings may be different for the 45-credit vs. the 65-credit program). Courses include Principles of Environmental Health, Introduction to Epidemiology, Financial Management and Control, United States Health Policy, and Principles of Social and Behavioral Research. Students must complete a 300-hour field study experience (practicum) in order to graduate.

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Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, MD)

John’s Hopkins offers an 80-credit Master of Public Health (MPH) degree through its Bloomberg School of Public Health. Students enrolled in this master level degree program are educated and trained to become leaders in the public health field, using evidence-based research and a multidisciplinary lens to tackle global health issues. Students choosing to work full-time towards this degree will complete five eight-week terms over the course of 11 months. Students who choose to complete this degree on a part-time basis can complete it in two to three years, with the majority of credits offered through online courses. Both full-time and part-time students spend approximately half of the curriculum completing required core courses, with the remainder devoted to electives. Students can choose from one of 12 concentrations with topics including Aging and Public Health, Global Environmental Sustainability & Health, and Women’s and Reproductive Health. The Bloomberg School of Public Health offers a number of dual degree programs, including an MPH/MSW program in partnership with the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Online Master of Public Health Programs

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The George Washington University (Washington, DC)

The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University offers an online master’s in public health program for students who are looking to complete this professional level degree in a flexible environment. Offering both part-time and full-time completion options, students are able to tailor their online educational experience to their pre-existing commitments and schedules. This web-based MPH program helps students to build critical skills and competencies related to the field. Students can choose one of the following focus areas: Environmental and Occupational Health, Global Health, Health Communication, Health Policy, and Program Planning and Evaluation. This MPH program includes required courses such as The Biologic Basis of Disease in Public Health, Biostatistical Applications for Public Health, Principles and Practices of Epidemiology, Management and Policy Approaches to Public Health, as well as a practicum experience. The program is comprised of 45 credit hours. Those looking to complete this program quickly can apply to the accelerated 12-month and accelerated 18-month programs, although these programs have strict requirements regarding outside prior work experience.

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The University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ)

The University of Arizona offers an online master’s degree in public health that engages students in collaborative and interactive discussions on groundbreaking research, theory, and current public health concerns. This online program takes two years to complete for students who are enrolled full-time. Students who require a more flexible schedule can take up to six years to complete their degree on a part-time basis. Classes are designed with a working professional in mind, requiring only one course to be completed at a time over the course of each seven-and-a-half week quarter. Students must choose from three areas of concentration: Applied Epidemiology, Health Promotion, or Health Administration. Coursework includes Disease and Public Health in History, Personal Health and Wellness, Introduction to Epidemiology, Human Sexuality, Health Disparities and Minority Health, and Contemporary Community Health Problems. Students must complete 42 credit hours and a six-unit internship to graduate.

University of South Carolina logo

University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC)

The University of South Carolina’s online Master of Public Health program teaches students to become leaders and advocates for public health improvement. Students learn how to develop programs that boost human health and wellness and evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs. This MPH program is fully online, with no on-campus requirements, and takes approximately two years to complete. Students are able to set their own schedules due to pre-recorded lecture delivery on the Blackboard learning management system (LMS). Blackboard allows students to connect with professors and classmates through Skype, chat rooms, discussion boards, and group projects. The same faculty who teach students on campus are typically the same faculty providing instruction for the online courses, meaning that online students will receive the same education as those attending classes in person. The MPH program at USC can be completed with 45 credits. Students can expect to take courses like Approaches and Concepts for Health Administration, Introduction to Biostatistics, Concepts and Methods in Health Promotion, Community Health Development, and Applied Health Communication. Students must complete a 14-week field experience internship in a public health setting in order to graduate.

Social Work Licensure with a Master of Public Health

While there is no licensing requirement for public health degree holders, the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE) does allow those who meet the requirements to become Certified in Public Health (CPH). Bachelor of Public Health (BPH) graduates with five years of professional experience in the field, as well as MPH degree holders, can sit for the CPH exam. In order to maintain this credential, individuals must earn 50 continuing education credits every two years.

MPH-MSW dual degree holders who received their degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited college or university can sit for the Association of Social Work Boards exam in order to become a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW). Those interested in obtaining this licensing will need to check with their state regulations to ensure they have met all the requirements. You can also check out our licensing guide for an overview of social work licensing requirements in your state.

Jobs with a Master’s of Public Health Degree

A master’s in public health can open the door for a number of careers in the public health field, such as:

  • Biostatistician
  • Community Health Worker
  • Disaster Response Leaders
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Healthcare Administrator
  • Health Educator
  • Policy Analyst
  • Reproductive Health Specialist

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need to take the GRE to get into a Master of Public Health Program?

Answer: Many MPH programs do require applicants to take and submit GRE or GMAT scores. However, there are schools for which this is not a requirement. Make sure to keep that criteria in mind as you look at potential programs.

Question: What is a public health physician?

Answer: Instead of focusing on an individual’s health and wellbeing as a traditional physician does, public health physicians look at populations and specific health outcomes of particular groups. They use education and research and oftentimes their leadership positions to make critical decisions to improve clinical outcomes for groups.

Question: What are the benefits of online master’s in public health programs?

Answer: Online MPH programs provide a degree of flexibility for prospective students who have a rigorous work schedule or personal responsibilities. Using the latest technology, online students are able to receive a comparable educational experience to those who choose the traditional brick and mortar route. Online programs may also offer competitive tuition to out-of-state students, without requiring relocation.

Question: Why should I consider a dual MPH-MSW degree?

Answer: Deciding to pursue this joint degree program can create a number of professional opportunities. Earning a dual MPH-MSW can provide you with a more holistic understanding and approach to human health and wellness. It also broadens your career opportunities, as you can qualify for a greater range of career opportunities and may also be qualified to pursue social work licensure.

Question: What is the difference between an MPH and an MSW degree?

Answer: While both degrees can set you onto a promising career path, these two programs have different focuses. Students enrolled in an MSW program will learn to work with individuals, families, and groups. Using clinical research and theory, MSW professionals connect their clients to life-enhancing resources. In order to be a clinician, one must often have an MSW degree and be licensed as a social worker. MPH candidates learn to work to improve the overall health and well-being of an entire population. They, too, often hold positions which focus on creating positive change, but their focus is on a larger scale. They learn about the intersection of biology, the environment, policy, behavior, and culture and use evidence-based research in order to determine steps for enhancing the health of a population.

References:
1. Bureau of Labor and Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Epidemiologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/epidemiologists.htm
2. Bureau of Labor and Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Environmental Scientists and Specialists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm