Master's in Public Health Program Overview
Public health master's programs can be offered from a wide array of perspectives and in several different formats, depending on the institution you choose to attend. Coursework may include classes in research methods, survey design, statistical analysis, mathematical modeling, data management and more. Programs may also offer behavioral health courses, training in psychology or sociology and explorations of community and cultural issues.
Public health is by definition a multi-disciplinary practice, and each program you consider may handle the details of public health education slightly differently, but you're very likely to encounter courses that address the eight core competencies articulated by the Public Health Foundation (PHF):
- Analytical/assessment skills
- Policy development/program planning
- Cultural competency
- Community dimensions of practice
- Public health sciences
- Financial planning and management
- Leadership and systems thinking
Many colleges and universities allow their master's in public health students to specialize their study in a certain area of the field, to better serve a specific population or work more effectively in a particular public health setting. We go into detail on some of those available specialties at the bottom of this program overview.
Earning an Online Master's Degree in Public Health
How long does an online master's in public health program take?
The length of your masters in public health online program can depend on several factors. The curriculum you study has a set credit hour requirement, which can vary from one school to another. The average requirement is around 45-48 credits, but some programs may run longer or shorter.
The way you choose to study as you pursue your degree can also have an effect on how long you spend in school. Students who study on a typical full-time schedule are likely to finish their programs in around two years, while those attending on a part-time basis can take three years or more from enrollment to graduation. Accelerated full-time schedules may be available as well.
What are the requirements to start an online master's degree in public health?
Nearly all programs that lead to a master's degree in public health require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Some programs have different requirements for healthcare or public health majors than for graduates with degrees in other fields, but students with bachelor's degrees not related to health or healthcare may be able to substitute work experience in public health positions for formal study in the field.
Programs at many institutions also consider your GPA and academic record in the admissions process, and some may require a professional resume or curriculum vitae (CV) along with the application.
Why earn a master's in public health online?
The challenges that public health workers face are diverse and complex, and the knowledge and skills you gain while earning a master's degree in public health can position you to work as a leader in the field. Positions in management, research, policymaking and high-level advocacy often require a master's or Ph.D. in public health, and online study can be a great way for students to get the education they need without causing substantial disruption to their existing schedules.
Earning your master's in public health online can also help reduce the cost of your degree. You may save on transportation and campus usage fees, and electronic textbooks tend to cost less than their hard-copy counterparts.
The first semester or year of many public health masters programs is spent in courses that focus on introducing students to advanced study in the field and developing skills related to the program's core competencies.
Choose a specialization and take elective courses
Elective courses can make up half or more of the curriculum in a master's in public health program. Students who choose to concentrate their study in a specific area typically drill down into their specialization by choosing the right electives.
Graduate students typically must propose and complete a substantial final project before their degrees can be awarded. The master's thesis is usually an extensive research paper, while capstone projects can take many forms. Check with your advisor about your options when enrolling.
Internships or practicum experiences may be required by graduate-level public health programs. These hands-on sections offer students a supervised opportunity to practice or conduct research in a real-world public health setting.
Master's in Public Health Concentrations
Concentrations or specializations can help you tailor your study plan to suit the career you're hoping to move into after graduation. Here's a short list of specialties that might be available at your chosen school:
- Health education trains students to teach communities, schools, individuals and specific populations about issues related to health as well as disease and injury prevention.
- Health promotion programs focus on communication and outreach skills to prepare students for work in education, policy or advocacy.
- Epidemiology concentrations emphasize best practices for conducting and analyzing research and have a strong focus on science and population health courses.
- Environmental health specializations concentrate on public health as it relates to environmental factors such as pollution and climate challenges.
- Health administration and management focuses on the management of healthcare delivery systems, as well as healthcare leadership and policy.
MBA in Public Health
Public health systems need skilled managers and budgetary officers, and graduate-level business programs have a long history of teaching students the art and science of organizational finance and management. Some institutions offer the opportunity for Master of Public Health (MPH) students to earn their degree concurrently with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, providing business-focused training alongside public health essentials.
These dual degree programs often require a larger number of credit hours than more traditional public health master's programs. An approximate average completion time for MPH/MBA dual programs is between two and three years of full-time study.