As people live longer and in increasingly close contact, questions of public sanitation and disease control become greater issues to local governments and educational institutions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical and health services managers earn an average annual salary of more than $98,000, and positions are projected to grow by 20% by 2026.
Healthcare professionals work one on one with local community members to identify public health issues and gather analytical data. They then translate that information for companies, institutions, nonprofit organizations, and government bodies to help them implement change and improve healthcare. Professionals in this field use interpersonal communication skills and scientific and statistical analysis. They infuse human backstories into scientific reporting to positively influence public and institutional healthcare organizations.
Should I Get a Doctorate in Public Health?
Pursuing a Ph.D. in public health is no simple task. Multiple factors determine your preparedness to enter a doctorate in public health program, your ability to stay on track, and the value of your degree after graduation. Many programs require students to first obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in public health or a related field. Similarly, some programs encourage one to two years of previous professional experience in the field to ensure incoming students are informed on and dedicated to public health issues.
For students starting their Ph.D. program immediately after completing a master's, on-campus programs are the most logical choice, because they follow similar standards in class participation and assignment submissions. For prospective students with pre-existing time commitments, such as full-time or part-time employment or personal responsibilities, online or hybrid Ph.D. programs offer flexible, part-time coursework. Online programs provide all course materials on a web platform, which students can access at their own pace. Hybrid programs, on the other hand, combine online components with periodic on-campus meetings. This system brings students from the online platform together in-person to build networking communities.
Regardless of which degree format you choose, a Ph.D. in public health introduces you to other emerging professionals in the field and brings you up to date on cutting-edge data gathering, critical analysis, and healthcare responses integral to cultivating healthy local communities.
What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Public Health?
A Ph.D. in public health can lead to multiple career paths. Graduates may enter scientific research as epidemiologists or medical scientists, utilizing their data-gathering and analytical skills. You may also translate your knowledge base into undergraduate and graduate courses as a professor of public health, or advocate for healthcare as a lobbyist, public health manager, or community outreach educator. The following list details some of the primary careers open to degree holders. Consider your aptitude for interpersonal communication, critical analysis, and independent work as you review these careers. Find the career path that best complements your natural abilities.
Stand on the front line of local outbreaks and healthcare issues as an epidemiologist. Monitor public health problems by collecting and analyzing data, and implement proactive and preventative public health programs. A Ph.D. qualifies graduates to teach epidemiology at the college level, bringing more engaged students into the profession.
Median Annual Salary: $69,660*
- Professor of Public Health
Teach the fundamentals of research, analysis, and implementing public health programs as a postsecondary professor of public health. Expose college students to underlying chronic health issues plaguing American communities, along with sudden disease outbreak responses. Help students learn to plan for public health issues by analyzing data and creating future projections.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000*
- Community Health Worker
Community health workers come from all levels of education, but a Ph.D. in public health can help you become a leader in local healthcare administration. You'll develop programs to educate and involve members of the local community, act as liaison between community members and government officials, and train and supervise incoming public health workers.
Median Annual Salary: $45,360*
- Medical and Health Services Manager
Propel public health management and administration forward by analyzing and troubleshooting current public health programs. A doctorate in public health prepares you to recruit, supervise, and train health services managers, as well as oversee finances and resources allocated to medical programs.
Median Annual Salary: $98,350*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Public Health
Prospective students should consider program length, curriculum requirements, and degree costs of each institution when choosing a doctorate in public health program. As you search for the right institution, account for your personal needs, along with the requirements of each of potential program.
A Ph.D. in public health typically takes between three and four years to complete. All students must cover a core curriculum of advanced public health studies, usually 40 to 60 credits total, before moving on to dissertation research and writing. Coursework often includes classes in epidemiology, biostatistics, health policy regulations, and preventative medicine. The dissertation then builds from students' previous coursework, offering a space for them to execute research interests and demonstrate their analytical and communication skills to future employers. Dissertation research takes as much time as students are willing to give, so they should plan a dissertation timeline to help them stay on track.
Degree cost also factors into the program selection process, as tuition is the top financial burden of Ph.D. program participants. The longer you take to complete a program, the more tuition expenses you incur. In this regard, on-campus or hybrid programs may help you stick to a graduation timeline, while online program can stretch the degree process to five to six years, depending on your course pace. For students juggling busy personal and professional lives, an online program may be worth the length, since it offers so much flexibility.
Programmatic Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Public Health
Accreditation is a valuable component to any Ph.D. in public health, as it guarantees the value of your education and the quality of your program. Accreditation assures future colleagues and employers that your skillset meets the needs of the community or institution. All public schools are required to meet national accreditation standards set by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Colleges and universities are monitored and accredited by regional governing bodies. Furthermore, the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is an independent organization that certifies all levels of public health education, and is also recognized by the ED. Check for program accreditation on the institution's website, the ED's accreditation search engine, or the CEPH's current accredited schools list.
Doctorate in Public Health Program Admissions
Given the accreditation standards that each public health program must meet, most doctorate programs for public health require similar application materials and educational benchmarks. On-campus programs request traditional information regarding students' educational backgrounds, professional experience, and relevant test scores. Online programs, by contrast, often request more detailed application materials, because the online student body works remotely.
When applying for public health programs, you should identify about four prospective institutions to apply to. Make sure each program you select offers coursework in your intended specialization area and a projected degree timeline that fits your desired schedule. Also, check the credentials of each institution to make sure the program is validated by nationally recognized accreditation bodies, such as CEPH.
- Degree: Proof of previous degrees is vital to acceptance to a Ph.D. program. Check each individual program to see if a bachelor's or master's in public health is required prior to enrollment.
- Professional Experience: Given the strong communication skills required in the professional sphere of public health, previous field experience is often encouraged or required by doctorate programs. Work with local government or health institutions for one to two years before applying for a Ph.D. program, or volunteer with a local nonprofit to prepare yourself for a doctorate in public health.
- Minimum GPA: This degree typically expects students to have a college GPA of 3.0 or higher. If your previous educational experience doesn't meet these standards, consider enrolling in post-secondary ongoing education courses in public health to demonstrate your commitment to learning.
- License: No previous licensure is required to apply for a Ph.D. program in public health. Even so, registered nurses are a welcome component to any public health program.
- Application: Most applications ask for a basic summary of your previous educational experience, your current contact information, and personal statements detailing your reasons for applying. The basic information is easy to complete, but your personal statements may take weeks to compose and polish.
- Transcripts: Transcripts spell out your educational history, and your individual and cumulative grades. You must request official transcripts from your previous educational institutions, which submit them directly to your potential schools.
- Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation provide a personal narrative to supplement your transcripts. Applicants often ask previous teachers, coaches, or employers to write these letters.
- Test Scores: At the Ph.D. level, students must submit GRE or GMAT scores. Students who speak English as a second language must also submit qualifying TOEFL scores (check your institution for qualifying test score levels).
- Application Fee: Application fees cover the cost of reviewing your application materials. Typically, application fees cost between $60 and $125. In cases of financial hardship, some applicants may wave this fee. Check your school's financial services for details.
What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Public Health?
Public health doctoral programs offer coursework on a variety of topics, equipping students to work in the various arenas of public health. Courses cover scientific data collection, critical analysis, leadership, and advocacy to prepare for field research. Graduates put their coursework to use in dissertation research projects, which require them to tackle a current public health issue and create a professional calling card to demonstrate their skills for future colleagues and employers.
|Public Health Management||Students take courses in leadership and management. They also learn about the financial side of organizational development and gain skills in recruiting, training, and critiquing new professionals in the field.||Medical and health services manager, human resources manager, medical records and health administration technician|
|Epidemiology||Explore trends in infectious diseases, epidemic outbreaks, and underlying chronic issues as an epidemiologist. Learn how to analyze and coalesce data to project outcomes of disease control, offering vital information for local healthcare institutions and government officials.||Epidemiologist, environmental scientist and specialist, health educator|
|Biostatistics||Underlying the fields of public health and epidemiology is the foundation of biostatistics: the surveying and analysis of biological data. Investigate illness outbreaks, mortality rates, nutritional surveys, and medical responses as a biostatistician and provide the core material necessary to propel public health forward.||Scientific data analyst, biostatistician, survey researcher|
|Healthcare Policy||Policy makers translate scientific research about disease control into lasting quality of living standards by increasing awareness of current public health issues in local and national governments. Act as a liaison between administrations and community members and inspire healthcare innovations.||Healthcare lobbyist, occupational health and safety specialist, environmental science and protection technician|
|Scientific Research||If you enjoy working intimately with laboratory data, consider a specialization in scientific research. This detail-oriented specialization trains students to design case tests, prepare and study medical samples, and document findings.||Medical scientist, post-secondary healthcare teacher, epidemiologist|
Courses in a Doctoral Program in Public Health
Exact courses may differ between schools, but the following list describes some degree requirements common to accredited doctoral programs in public health. Classes combine courses in the sciences as well as leadership and communications to ensure a strong background in analysis and administration.
- Introduction in Statistics
Learn the fundamentals of statistical analysis and the latest statistical software in this introductory course. Whether you enter the Ph.D. with a master's in public health or another related specialization, this course prepares you for independent research analysis to complete your dissertation.
- Advanced Epidemiology
Study the concepts, principles, and methods behind epidemiological research and analysis. Whether you plan to become an epidemiologist or have a broader interest in disease control, this class equips you with the language and critical analysis skills to be an informed collaborator to any disease epidemic or chronic community issue.
- Financial Management
For future leadership and administrative positions, you'll learn the ins and outs of financial management. Combine the language and theories of finance with healthcare administration, and establish skills in financial forecasting, valuations, and sustainable growth. These skills help you maintain efficiency in a healthcare institution or nonprofit.
- Health Information Technology
In addition to statistical analysis, health informatics requires an understanding of digital architectural structures and metadata gathering programs. Learn to interface with current software in circulation and execute statistical probabilities to convey healthcare concerns and promote company, institutional, or government innovations.
- Public Health Law
Unite public health administration with jurisprudence in this course, and study the legislation supporting public health. Investigate issues of company, government, or institutional liability, and gain a deeper understanding of privacy laws and nondiscrimination to ensure your institution provides and maintains ethical law practices.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Public Health?
The length of a public health doctorate depends on multiple factors, including degree requirements, dissertation research, and personal commitments. A typical Ph.D. in public health can takes three to four years to complete, with two years of coursework and one to two years of dissertation research and composition.
Depending on a school's requirements, more classes or specific dissertation benchmarks may extend the degree to five years. Students who want to expedite their programs can do so by taking more classes in a given term (for example, three to four courses instead of the normal two), and by sticking to a strict dissertation completion schedule. Most students execute their dissertation research and composition independently, so they must give themselves deadlines to move through the final hurdles quickly. Your personal and professional lives and quality of life are the final determining factors in degree length. Be pragmatic: Consider how much time you can devote per week toward coursework, research, and composition. Realistic expectations are the secret to success in graduate school.
How Much Is a Doctorate in Public Health?
The financial aspect of a Ph.D. in public health should be of serious concern for all potential applicants. In-state tuition for Ph.D. programs run between $6,000 and $9,000. Out-of-state programs are typically double that cost -- between $12,000 and $20,000 -- and sometimes go even higher. Due to this huge discrepancy, consider degree opportunities near you. Because accreditation mandates such stringent standards, universities across the U.S. provide roughly similar degree specializations. Online programs often cost the same per term as on-campus options at the same institution, but some programs waive the increased out-of-state tuition to encourage nationwide enrollment.
Beyond tuition, housing fees also affect overall degree costs. Living on-campus provides the benefit of room and board, but also accrues the most financial burden (an additional $6,000 to 8,000 per term). Living off-campus in an apartment or shared living space may mitigate these expenses. Completing coursework remotely by living in less-populated areas or with family offers the most financial gain. Even so, hidden costs to a Ph.D. in public health can catch students off-guard, particularly regarding software and other technological costs, which are unavoidable in a modern classroom situation.
Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Public Health Prepares For
- Certification in Public Health
Administered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, this exam certifies public health workers by covering key areas of public health programs, including biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, and policy management. Successful candidates that pass the exam must maintain certification by completing 50 continuing education credits every two years.
- Health Education Certification
The National Commision for Health Education Credentialing offers an exam to maintain quality standards of health education nationwide. The two exams -- CHES and MCHES -- qualify entry-level and experienced professionals alike, with recertification required every five years.
- Certification of Infection Control and Epidemiology
Qualify to perform as an epidemiologist with certification in infection control. The test covers identification, surveillance, prevention control, and outbreak management of infectious diseases. Check out the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology for webinars, statistics, and exam details.
- State Public Health License
Depending on the state in which you live, you may have to obtain state licensure to work professionally in public health. Licensed public health professionals may work as environmental health specialists or healthcare administrators. Check out your local state's regulations regarding public health licensure.
- Environmental Science Certification
Professionals of environmental sciences may obtain this certification to become public health officials, who work to improve environmental standards in urban and rural communities. Administered by the National Registry of Environmental Professionals, this exam covers environmental management, safety compliance, and current scientific knowledge regarding ecosystems across the U.S.
Resources for Public Health Doctorate Students
Transition from student to professional as a member of the APHA, which offers networking and continuing education opportunities related to public health.
Intended to unite students and professionals across all statistics fields, ASA provides access to online statistical resources, job search engines, and student chapters.
The NSMS brings together academics, industry workers, and government officials all dedicated to medical science research and innovation. Use this forum to meet colleagues and job search.
The AHIMA provides training and certification resources for information technology management relevant to American health institutions. Use the AHIMA website to access job boards and stay current on public health initiatives.
Work to bring quality healthcare to all members of American society as a member of the NAHAM. Through networking, ongoing education, and certification opportunities, the NAHAM maintains professional standards and helps students transition into the professional arena.
Professional Organizations in Public Health
Whether in school or embarking on your professional career, belonging to professional organizations may equip you with networking venues and job search engines that are crucial to building professional visibility. Present your research or current innovations, and access continuing education resources to stay current on public health. The following list describes some of the important national and international associations to keep in mind. Also explore your local community for in-state healthcare associations that will provide access to local job-search resources.
The WFPHA is dedicated to increasing awareness of healthcare innovations and crises internationally. Learn about the latest international initiatives, access current publications, and learn about internship opportunities worldwide.
Founded in 1979, the ACE unites professionals who work in disease outbreak analysis and prevention development. Join this community to access professional development resources and participate in the college's annual national conference.
The IGES works to promote the study of genetic influences on disease outbreaks and chronic illness.
For administrative professionals in healthcare, the AAHAM provides ongoing education and networking opportunities for current members. Members also receive the association's quarterly publication, the Journal of Healthcare Administrative Management.
Join the public health association in your state to expand your visibility, build networks, and learn about local job opportunities. This organization provides opportunities to find out about state and national healthcare policy updates and present your own research and innovations in local venues.