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Master of Public Health

By Gina Pogol

Public health managers may get up to speed with the MPH. This MPH won't result in a traffic ticket; it stands for Master of Public Health.

Public health careers may involve improving the health of a population in many ways. For example, a health educator might work to reduce the spread of HIV or teach high schoolers to avoid drug abuse. Environmentalists conduct research to identify pollutants or hazards and devise plans to reduce or eliminate them. Epidemiologists investigate the causes of disease, disability and other health problems and may develop plans to prevent and control these problems.

To enter a campus-based or online Master of Public health program, candidates must have completed at least a bachelor's degree, and many may also have completed medical degrees. Typically, minimum GPAs are imposed, and applicants generally take the Graduate Record Exam, the GRE, or another professional test such as the Medical College Admissions Test, the MCAT, or the Law School Admissions Test, the LSAT.

Some schools may offer dual degree programs, such as the MPH combined with a degree in public administration, the MD/MPH for doctors, and the MSN/MPH program for nurses.

Coursework for master of public health degrees

No two traditional or online Master of Public Health programs are exactly alike, but the typical curriculum includes management skills as well as science-focused subjects like these:

  • Addictions
  • Biostatistics for the Health Professional
  • Community Health Education and/or Research
  • Emerging Diseases
  • Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Epidemiology of Chronic and Infectious Diseases
  • Food and Health

Other classes may focus more on communication, management and government-related topics, for example:

  1. Economics for Policy Analysis
  2. Program Evaluation for Health Managers
  3. Public Health Policy and Administration
  4. Risk Management and Communication

In addition to classwork, MPH students may gain hands-on experience through a practicum in a medical facility. A practicum is a course created to allow students to apply their new education in public health. Examples of these projects include an internship with an elected official, working on an HIV study or experience in a free clinic. An MPH practicum may involve supervised work in a real-world setting, and students must do the following:

  • Propose a practicum project that is acceptable to the practicum faculty.
  • Describe the relationship of the project to the organization's mission, vision and programs.
  • Apply learned skills and knowledge in carrying out the practicum project.
  • Submit a paper and/or presentation. Online students may be able to do an oral presentation using virtual conferencing.

Programs may require completion of a master's thesis in addition to coursework.

The online Master of Public Health degree

Public health is a specialty that may not be offered in all parts of the country. Students seeking a Master of Public Health degree may find an online program even if they are limited by geography. Online master's degree programs facilitate study when students have family or employer obligations to work around.

Many schools of public health may also offer executive Master of Public Health programs for working professionals. These classes may be taught online or conveniently in classrooms on weekends. Executive programs may require that students already have several years' experience in health care. Programs that include a practicum necessarily require some in-person, hands-on work.

Career Options for grads of public health programs

The campus-based or online public health master's degree may prepare graduates for a wide variety of careers in health care, including the following:

  • Behavioral health scientist
  • Corporate medical director
  • Director of clinical trials
  • Director of infectious disease control
  • Health educator
  • Legislative policy advisor
  • Program evaluation analyst
  • State or Federal environmentalist
  • State or local epidemiologist

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment for health scientists and environmental scientists to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. These professionals earned between $37,850 and $107,990, with a mean annual compensation of $67,810 in 2010.

Epidemiologists should find plenty of work as well, with opportunities projected to grow faster than average, according to the BLS. Epidemiologists earned a mean annual salary of $68,280 in 2010, with a pay range from $42,360 to $98,380. Public health program managers earn between $41,175 and $102,000 according to the Association of Schools of Public Health.

A day in the life of a public health official

One big reason to choose a public health career is the opportunity to affect people's lives in a meaningful way. Dr. Margaret Chan, a former home economics teacher who earned a Master of Public Health degree, faced a fearful challenge in 1997 as Hong Kong's Director of Health. An avian flu outbreak threatened to become a deadly epidemic and she needed to take swift action. In the face of stiff political opposition, Dr. Chan ordered the slaughter of 1.5 million chickens and was credited with bringing the crisis under control. In 2006, Dr. Chan was appointed as the Director-General of the World Health Organization, the WHO.


Schools Offering Related Degree Programs

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