Today’s Guide to Public Health Certifications

Ever wonder how to become a skilled social worker, educator, or emergency coordinator in the public health landscape? For many, public health certifications are the first step. 

Today, as new healthcare challenges arise and technological advancements transform public health practice — from how health information is exchanged to delivery of medical supplies to first responders when a crisis occurs — those with plans to enter the field should aim to be highly skilled and more adaptable than ever before. As such, many pursue public health credentials and certificates: tools that allow them to study, specialize, and possibly drive their careers forward. 

Healthcare has become the one of the largest growing occupations in the country — with public health professionals accounting for a significant, stable portion of that workforce. In the United States, there is no single national-level credential for public health. That means many workers aren’t required to be certified in public health. Those who are, however, have the chance to distinguish themselves and signal their ongoing commitment to the field, to prospective employers.

When mapping out your path to becoming a public health worker, it is important to independently research your options. To start, find out what credentials are available to you, and what makes each of them different. 

Certified in Public Health (CPH)

The Certified in Public Health (CPH) credential demonstrates competency in public health practices, including scientific standards and professional values. By earning a CPH credential, you can work in various positions, in specialties ranging from nutrition to health care social work. To take the CPH exam, you need to satisfy at least one of the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be a student or alumni of a public health school or program recognized by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). 
  • Have work experience in public health, including any of the following: 5+ years of relevant work experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, 3+ years of relevant work experience in addition to a relevant graduate degree, or 3+ years of relevant work experience in addition to a certificate from a program that’s accredited or in applicant status with CPEH. 

The online CEPH exam has 200 multiple-choice questions, covering topics including biology, public health policy, program management, and more.

Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)

To signify professional competency in health education, the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC) offers Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credentialing. To test for the CHES public health certification, you have to satisfy one of these academic qualifications:

  • Completion of a major in health education.
  • Completion of a bachelor’s degree with 25+ credits of coursework specific to the Areas of Responsibility of Health Education Specialists. There are three types of courses that may relate to the duties of a CHES. They are process, content, and general courses. You’ll be required to complete at least 12 credits qualifying as process courses.

Students deemed eligible are allowed to take the multiple-choice exam with 165 questions.

Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) 

The Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) certification, also offered by NCHEC, signifies advanced-level competency in health education. To obtain this public health certificate, you need to satisfy one of the following qualifications and take an exam:

  • A minimum of 5 continuous years as an actively Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).
  • Hold a master’s degree (or higher) in health education, with a transcript reflecting a minimum of 25 credits of coursework within the Areas of Responsibility of Health Education Specialists and have worked part-time or full-time as a health education specialist for at least 5 years. You’ll be required to complete at least 12 credits qualifying as process courses. You can also take a maximum of 9 semester hours in topic-focused courses that include elements contained in the Seven Areas of Responsibility or a maximum of 6 semester hours from other courses that include elements contained in the Seven Areas of Responsibility.

Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) 

Offered by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), Registered Environmental Health Specialist/Registered Sanitarian (REHS/RS) certifications demonstrate knowledge of environmental health — an increasingly important field. To be eligible for the REHS/RS exam, you need to meet all criteria within one of the following options: 

  • Option 1: A bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or Ph.D. in environmental health from a qualifying college or university in the United States.
  • Option 2: A bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or Ph.D. in any subject from an accredited college or university in the United States, with 30 semester hours of credit in basic science, credit for college-level math or statistics, and two years of (full-time, paid) work experience in the environmental health field.
  • Option 3: This is known as the “In Training” track. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or Ph.D. in any subject from an accredited college or university in the United States, with 30 semester hours of college credit in basic science, credit for college-level math or statistics, and a plan to complete 2 years of work experience.

Certified Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (CPAPHS)

One of the most common public health certifications offered by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is the Certified Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist (CPAPHS). This credential demonstrates competency in public health and wellness, with a focus on physical activity in the community. To qualify for the certification, you need meet one of these qualifications:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field from a regionally accredited college or university. 
  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in any field and have 1,200+ hours of experience in settings promoting health (including healthy lifestyle management and promoting physical activity). 

To apply, you also need to have CPR with AED certification.

Certificates vs Certifications in Public Health

Certifications. Credentials. Certificates. If you’re hoping to leverage these accolades to advance in the field of public health, you need to know what each one can help you achieve. That said, there are important distinctions that you should be aware of before choosing which to pursue. 

Credential Certifications

Credential certifications, also known as public health certifications, generally come from an organization — for instance, the NCHEC. Examples of credential certifications include Certified in Public Health (CPH) and Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). To earn credential certifications, you need to meet specific academic or experiential requirements, complete an exam, and maintain their certifications depending on respective guidelines. Once earned, credential certifications show that you are skilled and competent within whatever public health field they pertain to.

Certificate of Completion

Certificates of completion show that you have completed coursework (including short courses) relevant to their field of public health. Generally, these certificates are issued by schools or professional organizations. People of different educational and professional backgrounds can earn certificates in fields like health informatics and health care management. These certificates demonstrate specialized study and knowledge of course material. 

Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Health

Graduate certificate programs are offered by schools with Masters in Public Health (MPH) programs, and most can be completed in a single calendar year. Types of public health certificates include health administration, biostatistics, world health, and more, and candidates can earn their public health certificate online or in-person. Candidates can also opt for a program with an executive-level track. These types of programs are designed for professionals with prior experience in the field. If you’re interested in an MPH, certificates can be a strong first step.

Public health needs change every day: with new opportunities to pursue, problems to solve, and careers to relish. By earning a public health credential, you can demonstrate your specialized skill and knowledge to employers while keeping current on essential information. As you move forward in your career, consider your career goals — and which public health certificate can help you get there.

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