Doctors of public health serve at the local, national or global level

By Woodrow Aames

What makes the field of public health exciting is the opportunity to have an impact, whether on the community or the global scale. Professionals administer programs in health education, disease control and community welfare in public non-profit agencies and governmental organizations. A public health administrator is like a CEO, with top-down responsibilities for fund raising, budgeting, human resources, procurement and media relations. While there is no single route to top-level management, online doctorate of public health degrees can prepare working professionals to seek career advancement.

Doctorate of public health: requirements and coursework

Candidates come from a variety of backgrounds and academic interests, including psychology, health education, social services and business. Colleges evaluate an applicant's previous undergraduate and post-graduate studies, work experience and accomplishments, and graduate admission test scores. Students should have clear-cut goals in choosing the program that best suits their aspiration for roles such as these:

  • Public health researcher/epidemiologist
  • Programs or agency manager
  • Disease control or environmental health specialist
  • International health program manager
  • Informatics director
  • Public or community relations director
  • College or university professor of public health

Public health administration doctoral programs generally award a Ph.D. or a Doctor of Public Health--also known as a Dr.PH.--based on completion of coursework and a graduate exam in the field. In addition, students research, complete and defend dissertations in their career areas of interest. Courses may include studies in organizational management, policy design and implementation, research methodology, bio-statistics, advocacy, social change, education campaign management, health and labor law and ethics, and financial management.

For traditional or online degree programs, time-to-completion can range from three to six years, depending on the student's time commitment, university requirements, and specialization or focus of degree work. Online programs by nature can be flexible and responsive to candidates' occupational and family commitments. Classes may be offered in an accelerated curriculum and may combine distance learning with campus visits, work experience and career-related internships.

Careers and salaries in public health

The Association of Schools of Public Health identifies key career areas as education, policy, administration or management, community practice, and research. Potential employers include large agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization, and The Carter Center. Positions as lecturers and researchers may be found at small or large schools, colleges, and universities. Some public health professionals love the challenge of administering urban and inner-city agencies or state, regional, county and local non-profit organizations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2010 median annual wages for the following selected roles in public health:

  • Health specialties teachers at the postsecondary level, $85,270
  • Medical and health services managers, $84,270
  • Administrative services managers, $77,890
  • Sociologists, $72,360
  • Epidemiologists, $63,010

3 notable individuals with doctorate degrees in public health

  1. Lina Balluz, Ph.D., ScD. Dr. Balluz is Acting Director of the CDC's Scientific Education and Professional Development Program Office, Division of Behavior Surveillance. Previously a consultant for the New Orleans City Health Department, she had published more than 50 articles focusing on chronic diseases.
  2. Don C. Des Jarlais, Ph.D. Dr. Des Jarlais is Director of the International Research Core in the Center for Drug Use and an HIV research fellow for National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. He is a leading researcher on AIDS and a former commissioner for the National Commission on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Dr. Des Jarlais is also Director of Research for the Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center and Professor of Epidemiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
  3. Dr. John Browstein. Dr. Brownstein is dedicated to improving statistical modeling and medical informatics to speed up the transmission of research findings into public health practice. He received his Ph.D. at Yale University, where he trained as an epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. He has conducted extensive research in infectious diseases including West Nile virus, malaria, HIV, Lyme disease and influenza. He is affiliated with Children's Hospital of Boston and holds research grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Online doctorate degree programs in public health prepare new leaders for achievement and excellence. Today's health advocates, teachers and researchers can cause positive change for the smallest village or the planet's largest cities.

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