Doctorate Programs in Public Health: Distance Learning Options

Learn about online doctorate programs with public health courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

Fully online public health doctoral programs are rare but are available at select universities. Most programs offering an online option is done so in conjunction with on-campus coursework resulting in a hybrid format. Online programs may lead to a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health, Doctor of Health Education or Doctor of Public Health degree. The admissions process tends to be competitive, and applicants should have several years of professional work experience. These available programs can usually be completed on a part-time basis to accommodate the schedules of working professionals. Concentrations may be available in health leadership, epidemiology and community health, or students may form their own specialization through elective coursework.

These programs often enroll cohorts of students and encourage frequent online communication with fellow students, through means like online chat and video chat. Commonly, students also complete residency requirements on campus for certain orientation or capstone components, and they typically need to visit campus to meet with their dissertation committee to discuss their research and to present and defend their dissertation.

For students who desire a fully online program, there are master's degree options available in occupational and environmental health. These programs are designed for physicians, nurses and other professionals working in the public health field. Completion of a culminating experience and practicum is required at the end of these programs.

Doctorate in Public Health Overview

Both the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) and Doctor of Health Education (D.H.Ed.) are designed for graduates of a master's or prior doctorate program in health with several years of experience in the field. The curriculum includes courses in management, communication and administrative skills as well as advanced topics in the fields of medicine, public health policy, epidemiology, statistics and research.

Online doctoral programs are few and class sizes are small, so applicants may find competition for available openings quite aggressive. At this academic level, schools offering these programs maintain close contact with candidates, often pacing the program offerings so that the entire cohort moves through their classes as a group. Full-time programs last three years, with the final year generally devoted to research and a dissertation.

Some schools require attendance at the home campus several times during the online program's duration, for orientation or special sessions. The level of online interactivity may be greater than other online programs, reinforcing the sense of collaboration with peers in the same class.

Information and Requirements

Programs range from 50-96 semester credit hours, and a transfer of credits from graduate work in public health may be used to reduce the total course load. Some are designed for a 16-20 hour-per-week workload, a pace intended to allow dedicated students to complete their coursework while holding down a full-time job.

Technical requirements are at the high end for online programs and may require live video, audio and data sharing capabilities, along with a microphone and a Web-cam for video participation in synchronous classes. Interested students are advised to investigate their schools' particular requirements before investing in new technology. Technical support from host schools' distance-learning departments is generally robust.

Public Health Course and Class Information

Possible areas of subspecialization include epidemiology and community health promotion. All schools require a dissertation, which may take the form of a research project, policy analysis or evaluation of an existing healthcare program. The final year of the program is typically devoted to the preparation and defense of the dissertation.

Public Health Essentials

The course uses case studies and journal articles to review overall public health history, services, policies, issues and career options. International public health issues are discussed, but the focus is on programs in the United States.


An understanding of biostatistics is essential for the research and management of public health systems. Students are exposed to computerized statistical analysis through one or more commonly used software packages.


Epidemiology plays an important role in public health policy and problems, and students are introduced to the history, principles and patterns of disease. They also study the tools used to measure, predict and treat infectious processes.

Public Health Research

Often an adjunct to statistics, research topics can include study design, data collection, sampling, reliability assurance and ethics as applied to the field of public health. The manner in which results are presented, including technical papers and seminars, will be discussed.

Community Health Promotion

How public health information is disseminated directly affects how it is understood by the public. Health promotion impacts public health policy as well as wellness, prevention and treatment plans. Topics include the history, politics, policy and analysis of disease risk factors, as well as a comparison of the channels used for information distribution.

Career Information for Graduates

Candidates with a doctorate in public health are valued in many roles, including clinical studies coordinators, educators, public policy administrators, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, behavioral scientists and healthcare leaders at all levels.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that jobs for medical and health services managers would grow 17% from 2014-2024, faster than the average of all jobs ( The median salary in 2015 was $94,500. Data specific to various public health jobs held by doctoral degree-holders was unavailable, but salaries would likely be higher.

Certification Information

Agencies that conduct testing, certification and recertification for public health administrators include the National Board of Public Health Examiners and the Public Health Practitioner Certification Board, although certification is designed primarily for candidates with a diploma or bachelor's degree and a few years' experience in the field. Completion of an online doctoral degree in public health may be considered a more significant measure of competence than professional certification.

While some doctoral programs in public health are offered in a fully online format, these programs are typically available in a hybrid format. The public health doctoral programs emphasize concepts such as public health issues, biostatistics, epidemiology and research.

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