Distance Learning Public Health Degrees by Program Level

Dec 04, 2019

Essential Information

Online public health degree programs are available at the post-baccalaureate level, either as graduate certificate or master's degree programs. Public health professionals may work under a wide variety of job titles, and might include physicians, registered nurses, health educators, social workers and healthcare administrators. Minimum educational requirements, like a bachelor's degree, professional licensing and certification requirements vary by job title and setting.

Graduate Certificate in Public Health

The majority of online public health programs are offered at the graduate certificate or master's degree level. Both are designed for working professionals who already hold bachelor's degrees. With the abundance of available programs, many specializations exist.

Programs are available for those who already hold public health degrees and for those who do not. Many health professionals, including doctors and nurses, pursue graduate studies in public health. Those with no prior public health training usually take longer to complete the program because prerequisite coursework must be fulfilled.

Information and Requirements

Most certificate programs provide a basic education in public health. Students take introductory or overview courses in statistics, environmental health, epidemiology, health systems and health-related behaviors.

The time needed to complete the program varies by school; most have a minimum number of courses that take about one year to complete. Many schools give students the option of transferring certificate courses credits into a master's program.

Numerous specialty certificates are available in the field of public health. Some programs lead to specialty certificates in topics like global health, public health leadership or occupational health nursing, to name only a few. Most certificate programs are offered entirely online.

Common Certificate-Level Courses

A basic grounding in the main areas of public health is required for most public health certificate programs. Because many of the classes have prerequisites, the length of time for completion may vary depending on undergraduate preparation.


Introductory classes in statistics are offered for most certificate programs. Usually these classes are tailored to public health needs and concerns. Students may be required to take an introductory statistics and/or a statistical applications class depending on prior coursework.


Most programs require at least one overview class in the principles of epidemiology. This class teaches the methods necessary for conducting research studies.

Environmental Health Concepts

This class covers the effects of biological or chemical agents on the environment. Health outcomes are considered based on environmental concerns.

Cultural Issues in Public Health

Students learn how culture can affect public health. Community perspectives as well as social or behavioral approaches to public health are covered.

Introduction to Health Systems

Depending on the certificate program, this class may be localized to topics like the U.S. health system or global health systems. Students learn the structure of public health within the confines of a governmental system.

Master's Degree in Public Health

Many master's degree programs exist in the public health field, and within those programs are many specializations, such as public health leadership, health system management, biostatistics, epidemiology and preventive health. A master's degree is essential for someone who wishes to conduct research or pursue a career as a faculty member of a university. In addition, many public health management jobs require advanced degrees.

Information and Requirements

Most programs take 1-2 years to complete; however, because many programs are designed for part-time learners, completion may take longer. A time limit of 3-5 years is common among such master's degree programs.

Though mostly delivered online, many programs do require a practicum component. Some programs require that students have prior experience in the public health field.

Common Master's Degree Courses

As with a general public health certificate program, most master's degree programs require at least introductory classes in statistics, epidemiology, health systems, environmental health and health outcomes. Undergraduate studies in other health-related fields may satisfy the above requirements. Otherwise, prerequisite coursework will have to be taken.

Research Methods

Because most master's degree programs are tailored to people who are quantifying data in a public health setting, this course provides information on the proper methods for conducting research. Students learn the underlying philosophy behind research as well as the design and construction of research projects.

Health Policy

Knowledge of governmental policies concerning public health is essential for any student in a public health career. Students learn how policy is made and implemented.

Emergency Management

Public health during an emergency requires a special set of policies and skills. Students learn the protocols for addressing emergency health situations, such as epidemics.

Health Disparities

Health outcomes can be influenced by cultural and social attributes. In this class, students learn about the differences in overall health among cultural groups.

Global Health

This class covers information about health populations around the world. Students learn about programs that have effectively addressed poor health outcomes in other countries.

Career Information for Graduates

Many jobs are available to those who hold graduate certificates in public health. Social worker, health educator, statistician and public health agency manager are just a few of the possible job outcomes. Salaries vary depending on the specific job.

Health educators, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earned a median annual income of $59,660 as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). During the same time period, healthcare social workers earned a median annual salary of $58,470. Statisticians had a median annual income of $92,600, reported the BLS.

Students pursuing a master's degree in public health come from a variety of backgrounds. Some may already hold positions as nurses, social workers and health educators and are pursuing the degree for career advancement purposes.

A person who manages a health service agency had median annual wage of $113,730 as of May 2018, according to the BLS. Careers for medical and health services managers were expected to experience a faster-than-average growth rate of 18% during the 2018-2028 decade.

At the graduate certificate and master's degree level, students will be able to find online degree programs in public health. Certificate programs may help someone transition their career into public health or provide working medical professionals, like doctors and nurses, additional knowledge. Master's degrees are more intensive and prepare students for a variety of work, depending on their specialization.

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