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Online Ph.D. in Public Health

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As a public health professional with a college degree and work experience, you understand the most significant challenges your field faces. To make a long-term impact, you should consider earning a Ph.D. in public health online. Earning a Ph.D. prepares you for research careers or teaching at the postsecondary level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs for epidemiologists, a type of public health researcher, will grow 9% between 2016 and 2026. Many related professions should grow at similar or higher rates as well. In this article, you can learn more about doctor of public health online programs, potential career paths, and other important information you will need to pursue a career in this field.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Public Health

When researching graduate-level public health programs, your first major decision involves whether to pursue a master's or Ph.D. As you may already know from work experience, graduates with either of these degrees typically work in administrative positions, directing other public health professionals. However, Ph.D. graduates can effect the most change, as many employers require that applicants for top positions possess a terminal degree. Even if your current employer does not require a doctorate for administrative positions, a Ph.D. can improve your career prospects and lead to higher earning potential.

Other career paths, like college and university tenure-track positions, specifically require a doctorate. Fortunately, the large number of reputable doctor of public health online programs means that you can select an online program that best prepares your future career. Also, by earning your degree online, you can continue to work full or part time and gain professional experience.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Public Health?

Online Ph.D. in public health graduates choose from two broad career paths. The first path involves teaching at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Professors instruct students and publish academic research in their field. With experience, professors can advance to administrative positions such as department chair or dean.

The second path involves public health research. These researchers work for universities, government agencies, and corporations to improve people's lives and advance the public health field. They often possess extensive scientific knowledge and many complete dual degrees in public health and a related field such as medicine. They, too, can advance to managerial-level positions once they gain experience.

When exploring potential careers, you should pay close attention to their job duties, as two jobs with different titles can have the same responsibilities. By performing career research now, you can more easily identify the doctor of public health online programs that best match your interests and goals.

Career Subfields for
Medical and Health Services Managers

Hospitals: Public or private healthcare facilities
Government: Specific sector or branch
Nursing and Residential: In-home and residential care
Physicians: Within a private office

Source: BLS

Common Career Paths and Salaries

This section features two unique career paths graduates with Ph.D.s in public health pursue. Each career requires a unique blend of education and experience. Therefore, you should consider how a specific doctoral program affects your future career path.

Infection Control Director

At hospitals and other healthcare centers, infection control directors create and implement policies that reduce patients' chances of catching an infection. When infections happen, these directors investigate the cause(s) and propose reforms to prevent future infection events.

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Director

EHS directors work in nearly every type of work environment to identify health risks and determine procedures to protect employees. Other responsibilities include ensuring that their employers' actions do not negatively affect the environment or nearby communities.

Salary Progression

Online Ph.D. in public health graduates typically earn higher salaries than public health professionals with bachelor's or master's degrees. However, your future salary potential still depends heavily on many important factors. Major corporations and organizations in large cities offer the highest starting salaries, but these cities also hold higher costs of living. Additionally, an employer's size can affect your salary progression, with larger companies often boasting more managerial positions than smaller companies.

For these reasons, you should look into which cities and states offer the best balance between cost of living and salary progression.

Salary Progression by Degree

Degree Average Salary
Bachelor’s $49,000
Master’s $62,000
Doctorate $89,000

Source: PayScale.com

Public Health Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

Although each doctor of public health online program holds unique admissions requirements, you can expect some similarities among them. Most programs require that you possess both a master's degree and work experience, usually 2-5 years. For these programs, you can expect to complete 45 credits. A program that accepts students with bachelor's degrees usually requires 60 credits. During their programs, students split their time between foundation courses, specialization courses, and those related to the dissertation.

Coursework takes up your program's first 2-3 years. During on-campus residencies, professors help you plan your dissertation. Dissertations typically take an additional 2-3 years to complete, with some students needing additional time for research or revisions.

Common Courses

  • Multidisciplinary Approaches to Health

    In this introductory-level course, students analyze public health through multiple lenses, such as integrating the field's academic research with practical applications. This course emphasizes the key interpersonal skills that public health managers need to interact and coordinate with community leaders, government agencies, and other organizations.

  • Global Health and Disease Prevention

    Global health and disease prevention courses focus on how societal changes, especially those in the developing world, both positively and negatively impact disease prevention. Students analyze real-life examples to understand how diverse factors such as a country's wealth and health literacy influence its response to disease outbreaks.

  • Research Theory and Methodology

    This course develops the crucial skills students need to research, write, and defend their doctoral dissertations. Course topics include research steps, how to design an experiment, and data collection. Students also analyze published dissertations and create bibliographies.

  • Health Informatics

    Health informatics courses teach students how to understand and improve health information storage systems. Throughout the course, students analyze different storage systems (e.g., paper and electronic records) to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Many health informatics courses also stress patient privacy's continued importance in the digital age.

  • Marketing and Public Relations for Public Health Managers

    Public health leaders must know how to communicate effectively. This course introduces students to communication best practices, such as increasing the public's health literacy, using social media, and forming productive relationships with community leaders and other public health professionals.

  • Qualitative Analysis

    Qualitative analysis courses, like research theory courses, develops doctoral students' research skills for their dissertations. The curriculum stresses research methodologies, statistics, and the researcher's ethical responsibilities. Students typically select their dissertation research topic during this course.

  • Community Health Assessment

    Community health assessment emphasizes skills public health professionals require to analyze and address communities' public health needs. Students analyze public health records and develop policy proposals that may involve community health education or funding a specific public health initiative.

  • Financing Public Health Systems

    This course teaches students how to prepare grant applications; many public health agencies use grants to finance their local initiatives. Students also learn how to manage public health budgets, and the course stresses the broader relationship between a community's public health needs and the economy.

Other Requirements

Dissertation

Nearly all Ph.D. in public health online programs require a dissertation. Before beginning the dissertation, students take multiple courses to build crucial skills such as how to record data and create an extensive bibliography. From start to finish, a dissertation can take 2-5 years.

Residencies

Online Ph.D. in public health programs may require students to complete residencies. Although residencies vary by program, requirements typically include meeting with professors, performing research, and defending the dissertation.

Concentration

Many online doctor of public health programs require students to select a concentration. Concentrations vary by program, so you should research which programs offer the concentration that best matches your career goals and academic interests. Students typically base their dissertations on the concentration they choose.

Prerequisites

Some doctor of public health online programs accept students who do not hold undergraduate degrees in public health. In these cases, accepted students begin their doctoral programs by completing up to six additional courses in topics like statistics, management, and behavioral science. Completing prerequisites may add an additional year to students' graduate education.

Skills and Competencies

Throughout your program, you will acquire and hone many skills essential for your professional success. Below, we highlight six skills online Ph.D. in public health programs instill in their students.

  • Research:

    During the Ph.D. program, students complete extensive research before writing their dissertations. Graduates use these research skills throughout their careers to develop solutions to their communities' public health challenges.

  • Advocacy:

    Public health professionals often advocate on behalf of patients, clients, and communities. Students hone these skills through persuasive writing and speaking.

  • Leadership:

    Ph.D. graduates often take on leadership roles within academia and government. Their programs prepare them for these professions through practicums and residencies.

  • Analysis:

    Public health professionals discover public health challenges and provide solutions using data analysis. Ph.D. students improve their analytical skills through coursework and independent research.

  • Collaboration:

    Public health managers, policy advisers, and professors all collaborate with their peers. Students develop their collaboration skills through group projects and activities.

  • Communication:

    All management-level public health professions require excellent writing and speaking skills. Doctoral students enhance these skills through online discussions, writing essays, and defending their dissertations.

Public Health Licensure

Online Ph.D. in public health graduates can work as postsecondary teachers, academic researchers, and policy advisers without holding state-issued licensure or industry certification. However, states regulate many public health professionals through licensure requirements, such as passing examinations, possessing supervised work experience, and passing continuing education courses.

In your career, you can expect to work with or supervise licensed public health professionals. Therefore, you should research your state's public health licensure information: who needs licensure, how to attain one, and licensure renewal requirements. As you learn more about licensure regulations, consider how they might impact your future work environment and the healthcare professionals you supervise. Also, keep in mind that public health Ph.D.s craft their states' licensure requirements.

Although your future career may not require you to earn a license, you should only consider doctoral programs that meet your state board of licensure's academic standards. In other words, make sure that your program holds either regional or national accreditation. If your program does not possess one of these essential accreditations, prospective employers may not regard your degree as valid.

When researching programs, you should pay close attention to those that boast field-specific accreditation. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accredits only the nation's best bachelor's, master's, and doctoral public health programs. If programs on your shortlist possess field-specific accreditation from other agencies, research those agencies to determine their credibility. You may do so by comparing their accreditation requirements against those mandated by CEPH.

Public Health Professional Organizations

Earning a Ph.D. in public health online represents a tremendous academic challenge, especially if you continue working while earning your degree. For this reason alone, consider joining one or more public health professional organizations. These organizations offer multiple resources for student members, such as job boards, study materials, and continuing education opportunities. In addition to these benefits, many organizations allow students to take on leadership roles either at their local chapters or at the national level. These networking opportunities enable you to build your professional network before you start your new career.

When researching organizations, focus on those that meet two important criteria: they focus on your specialty and allow active participation. You can start your search by exploring the five professional organizations below.

  • American Public Health Association

    At APHA, over 25,000 members collaborate to improve public health around the world. Members receive access to a career development center, job board, and the latest public health news and research.

  • Association of State and Territorial Health Officials

    ASTHO's 100,000 members represent the nation's public health leaders, men and women who create U.S. public health policy. New members receive mentoring services and an invitation to ASTHO's annual State Health Leadership Initiative conference.

  • Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists

    Epidemiologists working nationwide join CSTE; the organization aims to increase collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies that direct epidemiology policy. Members can build their resumes by joining CSTE leadership teams.

  • National Association of County and City Health Officials

    NACCHO combines member agencies' knowledge and expertise to improve health organizations nationwide. Individual members may also join; members receive access to exclusive job boards and scholarship opportunities.

  • National Environmental Health Association

    NEHA and its 5,000 members work to provide a healthy environment for all Americans. NEHA benefits include certification programs tailored to individuals pursuing careers in food safety. Students receive a 75% discount on their membership fee compared to active members.