A doctoral degree in public health allows graduates to work in various areas in the field including administration or management of health organizations and programs, nutrition, biostatistics, health education or laboratory work. Most jobs require a minimum of a master’s degree, but further education can enhance your opportunities as well as your ability to perform your public health job more effectively.
The first step in obtaining a doctorate degree in public health is finishing at least a bachelor's program or the equivalent number of academic credits from an accredited school. The major does not necessarily need to be public health but must usually provide appropriate math, science and social studies background coursework. Some schools require or give preference to students with a master's level degree in public health, such as the program at San Diego State University. You will likely need to have a minimum grade point average over the previous year or two, such as SDSU's 3.0 requirement. Students generally need to take the graduate record examination as well.
Degrees and Concentrations
Another early step toward the degree involves selecting the specific area of concentration since coursework and even the degree differs. Schools often offer both a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy), appropriate for students intending to teach or focus on research, and a Dr.PH (Doctor of Public Health), more appropriate for practitioners. Concentrations include labels such as epidemiology, health administration or leadership, environmental health, biostatistics and health behavior. Indiana University's program breaks down even further, offering four different options within the human performance area including sports management and exercise physiology.
Various concentration areas and degree programs may share basic courses, such as those that focus on the foundation of public health, statistics and research methods. Beyond those basics, courses differ based on the program focus such as Advanced Statistical Inference for UIC's biostatistics option or Leadership in Public Health Policy Development from its Dr.PH option. Doctoral students in all areas of public health typically need to complete a thesis or dissertation to finish the degree program.
Some public health doctoral programs may require students to obtain practical experience during the program if they do not have some prior to acceptance. For instance, UIC students need three years of experience or five credits of practical work. (Students may be required to take a practicum regardless of work history.) Indiana University strongly suggests students gain teaching experience in the program while others such as Johns Hopkins require such experience. Most also insist students maintain a particular GPA, generally at least a 2.75, and attend a minimum number of classes.
- Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University: Doctor of Philosophy -- Concentration in Health Behavior
- University of Illinois at Chicago: Doctoral Degress
- Georgia Southern University: Doctor of Public Health
- Indiana University Bloomington: Degrees & Majors
- Johns Hopkins: Department of Environmental Health Sciences Student Handbook
Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.