Master’s in public health program guide

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Introduction to public health programs

The routes to a role in healthcare most commonly focus on direct patient care. However, there are also opportunities to work on a broader scale. One option to do so begins by earning a degree in public health.

A Master’s in Public Health (MPH) is a skill-based degree. It aims to help students become professionals who can maintain and improve healthcare systems. Just like frontline medical staff, you would work toward assisting people in living a healthy lifestyle. By taking a broader approach, though, the areas of employment would be more systematic.

Public health impacts the quality of our daily lives and the length of our lifespans. Experts have calculated that life expectancy has increased during the last 200 years. This is due to the control of infectious diseases, the introduction of vaccines, the availability of more abundant and safer foods, better sanitary conditions, and other non-medical social improvements.

Public health degree programs take a holistic view of protecting people. That could include looking at economic, social, and environmental aspects. If you’re interested in contributing to your community, an MPH might be the right choice for you.

Earning a master’s in public health

With an MPH, you could become an advocate for change and make a difference to local and global populations.

MPH programs can provide a breadth of knowledge in health policy, clinical effectiveness, and environmental well-being. All that is usually accompanied by opportunities to develop a specialized discipline. Popular choices include epidemiology and nutrition.

The foundation of most MPH programs are the 3 core functions of public wellness: promoting excellent health, research, and education. As well as learning effective methods and approaches for solving global well-being problems, you’ll likely undertake a practicum. This hands-on experience connects you to established organizations and other professionals in the field.

Coursework

A standard MPH usually takes 2 years to complete. You might find accelerated programs available as well. This type is mainly found online, and you can complete it virtually in 12-18 months. There are also opportunities to learn on a part-time basis; in this case, you could study for 3 to 4 years before finishing.

The least amount of credit hours you can expect on an MPH is 45, although the average is around 65. Some programs require 80 for graduation. Most public health master’s degrees start with foundation or core courses. These typically include health management, biostatistics, social and behavioral aspects of well-being, and environmental wellness. You might also learn about using technology for healthcare, problem-solving, policy, and demographics.

After you’ve gained an understanding of the core principles of public health, most programs go on to cover specialist subjects as elective courses. You could progress in one of the foundation areas, such as biostatistics or health policy. Alternatively, you could opt to study epidemiology, nutrition, sustainable development goals, or global wellness.

Your chosen program could help you learn about specific areas of public health. These could include disease control and prevention, food safety, or health equity. Any practicum you enter into could take up to 100 hours or more at a public health agency.

You might complete a capstone project as part of your course. Generally, this involves writing a paper to demonstrate the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired. You might need to present your work at a symposium.

Program concentrations

The core knowledge from an MPH equips you to take on a general role in a public health organization. Although, many health specializations can lead to a specific vocation. Your program concentrations will determine the possible career options you’ll have.

MPH courses aren’t medical specialties. However, holding an MPH could find you working in a healthcare setting. And if you’ve gone through a program with a dual focus, you could combine your MPH with nursing, dentistry, or another related field.

Concentrations like epidemiology could lead to expertise in the spread, mediation, and prevention of disease. In comparison, a concentration in nutrition might focus more on promoting good health, assessing diet-related population issues, and revamping wellness education. Biostatistics electives might steer you towards analysis, including population data, statistical probability, and measuring methodologies.

Other concentrations, such as global health, policy, and community practice, could focus more on ethics, leadership, assessing issues in diverse populations, and evaluating programs.

Types of programs

In addition to on-campus programs, you’ll also find opportunities to complete an MPH online. This more flexible approach might suit those with full-time jobs or families.

The online or hybrid format requires the same commitment to learning as campus-based degrees do. However, the ability to arrange your study around other aspects of your life might make this course more accessible. This format also has the advantage of reducing the travel costs of attending classes at a university.

Requirements

Usually, full-time study programs on campus have one deadline per year in the winter, with matriculation in the summer. However, online and part-time courses might have rolling enrollment start dates, which means you could apply anytime.

You might need to supply official transcripts from your bachelor’s degree. Requirements vary by university. Some may require you to have a grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher. Others could specify that you need to have credit hours in math, biology, or a health-related science. You will likely need to submit your resume. Some schools also ask that you have worked in the field for 2 years or have attended medical school.

You might also need to include 2 or 3 letters of recommendation, your graduate record examinations (GRE) test scores, and a personal statement.

Costs of the degree

MPH programs usually have a set student fee plus charges for tuition. Some schools impose costs per credit, whereas others might have a set amount with a total for the semester.

Costs per semester could be from $14,000 to $28,000. If you pay per credit hour, each one could range from $1,100 to $1,800.

Financial aid

Prospective students can investigate financial aid and direct federal loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Alternatively, you could qualify for grants and scholarships specific to MPH programs. Some schools offer these, like the Bloomberg Fellows or Welch Scholarship. More general options include an award from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation for programs with a nutrition specialization. Additionally, the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) offers financial assistance for those interested in food or drug policy.

Accreditation

Accreditation is the assessment of an institution of learning to see if they meet the quality standards set by a professional body. The evaluation is usually done through peer review. Studying at a certified university means that you can expect the faculty, curriculum, and student services to be high quality.

Schools offering MPH programs can receive accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). You should be able to spot these initials or the logo on the university’s website or in the course details. Alternatively, you can use the CEPH website to search for certified institutions.

Some employers might want to see that you have a degree from a university with certification. It could also be a requirement for specific careers, as attending an accredited school is required for eligibility to take the Certified in Public Health (CPH) exam.

Continuing education

After you complete an MPH, you could continue studying to earn a doctorate in psychology (Ph.D.) or public health (DrPH). Both options would give you the opportunity to pursue a specialty, such as biostatistics or epidemiology.

The Ph.D. route generally focuses on enhancing your knowledge of public health with the aim of pursuing research or education. The alternative is the DrPH, which emphasizes practical application through program development and leadership.

Career options

There’s a diverse range of career options that could be available to you after you earn your MPH degree. To improve your chances in this field, you could take a voluntary CPH exam, which can demonstrate your commitment to public health to potential employers. Some possible positions include:

United States Public Health Service (USPHS)
Part of the Department for Health and Human Services, USPHS is a potential employer for public health graduates.

Council for Education in Public Health (CEPH)
CEPH is the accreditation body for public health schools and programs.

The National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE)
An organization that offers voluntary certification for public health professionals.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
US government agency that regulates food, drugs, and medical devices, and is a potential employer for public health graduates.