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Online PhD in Public Health

In recent years, more public health professionals have chosen to pursue advanced degrees. Public health professionals with an advanced degree often gain access to a wide range of opportunities for rewarding, sustainable careers that really make a difference. Read More


Students seeking a doctorate in public health should expect to hit the ground running. Consider the school’s focus before committing to a program. Most public health programs specialize in a sub-discipline.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a research degree oriented toward conducting research and analysis in a narrow area of specialization. If you are interested in becoming a researcher or professor of public health, the PhD would be an advisable route.

Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) is a professional degree focused on training public health professionals in creating, implementing and assessing public health programs and policy. This degree is advisable for experienced public health professionals seeking high-level positions in policy and administration.

Doctor of Science (ScD) is a research degree that is equivalent to a PhD in the United States. It is offered by only a few schools of public health in the U.S.

Length of Study

Depending on your program and prior experience, a doctorate can take four to seven years to complete.


The courses you take will depend on the type of degree and your area of specialization. In a DrPH program, you can expect to take courses in public health law and ethics, financial management, leadership, research and development of public health programs. In addition to coursework, you will be required to complete a practicum and a dissertation. Depending on the requirements of your DrPH program, your dissertation may be based on independent research or on program evaluation or design.In a PhD or ScD program, you will be required to take courses in research methodology and statistical analysis. Most of your course requirements will be customized to your research interests. For example, a doctoral program in biostatistics will require mathematics courses while a program in environmental health will focus more on chemistry.

Because these are often research degrees, many programs require four semesters of qualitative and quantitative research course work, and some even require a practicum. Students also demonstrate their knowledge of different methods as they research, write, present, and defend a doctoral dissertation.


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After you narrow your choices, carefully scrutinize admission requirements. Top grades, letters of recommendation and high GMAT/GRE scores are likely required. In addition, some schools ask for a statement of interest, while others require their students to have some professional experience.

Not every program requires an epidemiology background, but most require at least a basic understanding of statistics. Additionally, prospective students are expected to demonstrate either a degree or background in a related field like nursing, biology or political science, depending on the sub-discipline. Finally, a firm foundation in liberal arts subjects like history, English and math is almost always required.


Not every job in public health requires a PhD. For example, many public health services managers are qualified with a master’s degree. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, even some epidemiologists are able to end their education at the master’s level. Nonetheless, those who wish to conduct independent research at colleges and universities typically need the doctoral degree, as do those who hope to someday secure grant funding.

Those who earn doctoral degrees in public health can expect to find lucrative positions right away. With the PhD, many return to university to research and teach; these professionals earn median salaries of $62,050. Other people who work in the field as epidemiologists can expect median salaries of $63,010. Some move into managerial positions in public health and earn median annual salaries of $84,270. Many choose to supplement their specialty in public health with a graduate certificate in another public health sub-field, or even another discipline like public policy; according to a recent report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, more than 1 million post-secondary certificates are awarded each year.

Regardless of the specialty, public health doctoral degrees open a world of opportunities to the socially conscious person. Whether working in the field directly assisting those in need, conducting cutting edge research or teaching the next generation, professionals with a PhD in public health get to help change the world for the better, every day.


Students should carefully weigh their options when choosing a graduate program. The cost of obtaining an MPH at Johns Hopkins is $57,240; the DrPH costs an additional $45,792. Add that to the undergraduate tuition of $42,280, and the tuition alone to obtain the PhD approaches $150,000. Likewise, an MPH from BU costs $63,600 and the DrPH will set the student back another $53,000; even without getting an undergraduate degree from Boston University, the typical public health student will spend more than $100,000 just on tuition. Clearly, this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

Nonetheless, there are a number of options available to help fund these degrees. Scholarships and work-study are frequently offered, as are a number of state and federal grants, particularly for veterans. At the doctoral level, many students receive at least partial first year support in the form of scholarships and graduate appointments, the latter requiring a certain commitment of time as either a research or teaching assistant. Most schools offer public and private student loans to cover the difference.

Most applications today are completed online. Many schools participate in SOPHAS, a centralized service exclusively for public health; application materials are prepared in advance and stored online, allowing students to apply to different participating schools as desired. Typical application materials include academic transcripts, GRE or GMAT scores, letters of intent and recommendation, and a resume. Whether it’s through SOPHAS or directly with the school, students should expect to pay a nonrefundable application fee.

More Information

American Public Health Association
American Industrial Hygiene Association
American Statistical Association
Association of Clinical Research Organizations
Association of Clinical Research Professionals
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs
Association of Schools of Public Health
International Statistical Institute
National Environmental Health Association
National Medical Association Career Center
Triangle Global Health Consortium
World Health Organization