Explore Doctor of Public Health Programs (PhD & DPH)

Pursuing higher positions in public health can prove to be beneficial for individuals with leadership characteristics. Those in public health that seek the most out of their degree should consider enrolling into Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Health or Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) in Public Health programs across the country.

The Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) and the PhD in Public Health are advanced terminal degrees 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.

These terminal degree programs in public health can prepare learners for careers in research, education, or even management within the public health sector. Graduate level public health specialists are in great need across the country to assist with nationwide epidemic research as well as the implementation of vital government programs.

PhD in Public Health vs. Doctor of Public Health

A PhD in Public Health will be focused on developing the skills needed to become an advanced researcher. The understanding of research theories and methodologies is an important part of this degree. Even though a PhD in Public Health is more narrowly focused, it lends itself to careers in various health sectors, such as academia, governmental agencies, and pharmaceutical companies.

A DrPH is an advanced graduate-level degree that focuses on the professional and practical elements of the field, rather than the academic. It is designed for public health practitioners and is geared towards practice and fieldwork. 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. 

Both the DrPH and PhD have career options in academia available to them. These two degrees are suited for individuals who have received an 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 needing 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 DrPH/PhD Degree?

As mentioned above, the prerequisites 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 personal statement or statement or purpose.

Concentration Options for a DrPH/PhD

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

Entering the right educational program is important to the success of a career. Students that are interested in obtaining their degree online should research their chosen school’s accreditation status prior to applying. Since this program is highly research-oriented, learners are expected to take part in a lot of independent learning in an online environment.

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 the 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 straightforward 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 se, but in Health Policy, Bioethics, Environmental Health Sciences, Chronic Disease Epidemiology, etc. Each of these is 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.

Different Career Opportunities

After completing a DrPH or Ph.D. in Public Health, graduates may seek out positions in government agencies, healthcare facilities, or even community organizations. Professionals at this level have the capacity to become instructors of public health at universities, researchers for public health associations, and directors of nonprofit agencies.

Having a doctorate degree in this discipline gives learners the most education available for this field. With a Ph.D. in Public Health, professionals in the field may have access to careers working with government organizations in the planning, implementation, and training of important public health procedures. Organizations, such as American Public Health Association,  accept members that are in public health careers that desire to communicate their studies and policies on different platforms. Getting involved with a society such as this one can allow professionals to spread their work to educational and professional settings across the country.

Information updated as of April 2020