PhD/Doctorate in Public Health Degree Programs

The Doctorate of Public Health (DPH) is an advanced terminal degree for public health, meant for experienced public health professionals that already have their Masters in Public Health (MPH) or similar degree. Specific degree nomenclature varies based on university and specific public health school. Some offer DPH degrees, while other universities name the terminal degree PhD in Public Health, Doctorate in Public Health, or Doctoral Public Health.

As one would expect, the doctoral level of public health typically has a multitude of specializations at each university, including Biostatistics, Leadership, Environmental Health, and Health Promotion/Disease Prevention. Additionally, there are many entry requirements depending on the university, mostly focused on years of professional experience.

In 2009, to maintain consistency across all doctoral programs, the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) released the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Core Competency Model, which includes seven domains and 54 competencies. The actual model is located here.

We have a number of DPH and PhD in Public Health programs in our database (see below), but generally speaking there are fewer of these programs in the United States.

Nearly every DPH program requires a dissertation to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in solving complex, yet practical issues in public health. Most DPH students select their dissertation topic based on their specialty, but common dissertation topics include public health program design and implementation strategy, historical policy analysis and program improvement, legislative analysis and research, as well as new practice strategy based on innovative techniques and statistical analysis of data.


What is a Doctor of Public Health?

When considering a terminal degree in public health, individuals have the option of receiving a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) or a PhD in Public Health. A DrPH is for public health practitioners and is geared towards practice and field work. It is multidisciplinary and will cover everything from communications and marketing to advocacy and economics. It was developed to train students and practitioners for careers in public health leadership. Career options for those with a DrPH include:

  • Health officer
  • Health policy adviser
  • Community health director

PhD in Public Health vs. Doctor of Public Health

A PhD in Public Health will be focused around developing the skills needed to become an advance researcher. The understanding of research theory's and methodologies is and important part of this degree. The PhD is more narrow focused and lends itself to careers in (but not limited to)

  • Epidemiologist
  • Public health consultant
  • Bio-statistician

Both the DrPH and PhD have career options in academia available to them. These two degrees are suited for individuals who have received and MPH or another graduate level degree and have worked in their field for a number of years. The DrPH is ideal for the public health practitioner looking to advance their career to positions needed additional education. The PhD may suit an individual earlier on in their career who is looking to embed themselves in a career of research.

What are the Typical Pre-Requisites of a DPH Degree?

As mentioned above, the pre-requisites for advanced degrees require a master's degree and post graduate work experience. For some programs if an individual applying does not have their master's in public health they will require master's level classes in public health up to a certain amount of credit hours. A recent Graduate Record Exam (GRE) score is often required along with academic transcripts. An additional requirement for admittance into a Doctorate program is a professional writing sample.

Concentration Options for a DPH/DrPH

The degree options for a DrPH or a PhD become more specialized within those concentrations. Those receiving their PhD in public health will have to pick a program by the department they wish to specialize and conduct research in. This could be Health Policy and Administration, Health Economics, Health Systems, etc. A DrPH will also specialize by department, but will often pick from the core public health concentrations (Epidemiology, Environmental Health, etc.) along with a few additional departments (i.e. International Health and Social and Behavioral Sciences).

Online Doctor of Public Health Options

Online Doctorate programs will have the same requirements and courses as a traditional degree. Online programs allow for greater flexibility with work and family life, but also require self-discipline and accountability. Some online programs will require site visits to the campus or alternate sites for orientations, leadership development, adviser meetings, etc. Classes will be taught online either through live streams or recorded video. Online discussion forums and group work are also main parts of the online curriculum. A dissertation is still a requirement for online doctorate programs and it may be required that it is presented in person.

Typical Curriculum & Classes


In general, the DrPH degree curriculum will consist of core courses, research courses, and a culminating project such as a capstone course, dissertation, or thesis. The core courses, much like the MPH, will cover the main concentrations in Public Health (Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Environmental Health, Health Policy, etc.) and will also include statistics and data management. Each of these classes are taught with a focus on Leadership and Organization. Additional classes may include:

  • Advocacy
  • Marketing and Public Relations
  • Community and Cultural Understanding
  • Ethics

These will guide the focus of the degree. A Dissertation or thesis is often required at the end of each semester, year or at the end of the program.

PhD in Public Health

The PhD in Public Health is much less straight forward and will vary significantly from program to program and within degrees. A PhD in Public Health is much more research based and will cover topics ranging from disease and injury prevention to health informatics and communication. Many schools do not offer a PhD in Public Health per say, but in Health Policy, Bioethics, Environmental Health Sciences, Chronic Disease Epidemiology, etc. Each of these are rooted in public health, but are much more focused in their scope. Because of this, classes and curriculum will be much more focused and centered around research.

Careers: What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Public Health?

Individuals choose to work in Public Health for a variety of reasons. Some Doctors choose to receive a degree in public health as well as a way of helping larger populations and understanding health and medicine from a different perspective. A career in public health can be vary rewarding, but is also hard work. It requires patience and the ability to remain steadfast whether the task is education over a long period of time, or conducting research. The right individual will have the right balance of patients and persistence. A desire to educate and help on a large scale combined with the ability to motivate others makes for an ideal candidate.

The career options for an individual with a terminal degree in public health include education, policy development and analysis, health care administration, epidemiology and research to name a few. Corporate Medical Directors, Bio-terrorism Researchers and Tropical Disease Specialists are among the most specialized and rare occupations for an individual with a Doctorate in Public Health. Careers in government, academia and international health organizations are some of the more common areas for an individual with a degree in public health.

Some DPH Universities to Consider

Boston University

Boston University School of Public Health offers a Doctor of Public Health. The school used to offer concentrations in Global Health, Maternal and Child Health, and Social and Behavioral Sciences, but started focusing on only the DPH program in 2013 out of the School of Public Health to maintain interdisciplinary consistency.

Florida International University

Florida International University Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, one of the larger universities in Florida, offers a PhD Program in Dietetics & Nutrition, PhD - Public Health with focuses on Health Promotion & Disease Prevention, Environmental & Occupational Health and Social Welfare.

Walden University

Walden University offers both a DrPH and a PhD in Public Health online. As a student-centered university, offering online classes only allows students to work on their degree while balancing employment and family commitments. More can be learned about Walden University on its website.

Bloomberg School of Public Health

The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins is considered one of the leaders in public health education. Offering the DrPH and multiple PhD's in Public Health fields, this school has a lot to offer its students. Founded in 1916, the Bloomberg School of Public Health has steadily worked to educate students to fulfill its mission of "Protecting Health, Saving Lives - Millions at a Time". To Learn about the programs offered and to apply visit

PhD/Doctorate in Public Health Degree Programs

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