Types of Public Health Degrees: Overviews by Specialization

Public health degree programs offer students instruction in the implementation of community health education programs that cover topics such as wellness, nutrition and injury prevention.

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Essential Information

Students who are interested in public health can enroll in bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs with the option to specialize in family health, occupational health, environmental health and several other areas. Graduates of these programs are eligible to sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist exam, administered by the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing.

Bachelor of Science in Public Health

Bachelor's degree courses include leadership, organizational community and epidemiology, and students must complete an internship and a capstone project before graduation. Public health majors learn to promote individual and community health by implementing programs that educate communities on wellness, nutrition, disease and injury prevention and environmental health. Major coursework in public health focuses on leadership, organizational communication, health advocacy and epidemiology. Students complete a capstone project and internship towards the close of the program.

Admittance requires a high school diploma and the completion of 60 credits of undergraduate coursework. Other requirements include academic references, a personal statement essay, and prerequisite coursework in biology, financial accounting, economics, statistics and mathematics. Coursework is designed to prepare students to be effective leaders and public health planners in individual and community health services organizations. Courses in the public health major include:

  • Communication in public health
  • Health research
  • Health program planning
  • Public health ecology
  • Addiction

Master of Public Health

At the master's degree level students explore specialized topics such as global health, epidemiology and community health. Courses may cover areas including childhood obesity, food safety and environmental hazards. Students in the Master of Public Health program learn about United States healthcare organization, public health planning and the distribution of health services to populations. Topics of discussion include epidemics, environmental hazards, food safety, childhood obesity, and methods for improving health services delivered to underserved and minority populations. Students complete a graduate capstone project and participate in a clerkship at an area public health organization.

Admittance requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and either satisfactory scores on the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) or proof of enrollment in a M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or M.S.N. (Master of Science in Nursing) degree program. Other requirements include prerequisite coursework in statistics, letters of recommendation, a personal statement essay and professional experience. Students complete major public health coursework and coursework in a chosen specialization, including global health, family and community health, occupational and environmental health or other areas. Coursework in the degree program includes:

  • Biostatistics
  • Clinical epidemiology
  • Health policy economics
  • Public health history
  • Chronic diseases

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Health

Doctoral programs in public health call for research and study in topics including health policy and addiction. The students attend seminars, perform research and write a dissertation. They also gain experience teaching college classes. Ph.D. candidates engage in research-intensive studies and academic coursework in infectious disease, health policy, addiction and health promotion. Students develop methods for improving community health, improving the efficiency of health service organizations and delivering health services to populations. Ph.D. candidates may be required to attend seminars, take a comprehensive examination and complete a doctoral dissertation and teaching rotation.

Admittance requires a master's degree from an accredited institution, preferably in a related area of study. Other requirements include satisfactory scores on the GRE, professional and academic references, professional experience, a personal statement essay and resume. Coursework includes quantitative and empirical research studies and theoretical studies in probability, democracy and sociology. Other courses in this degree program include:

  • Econometrics
  • Community health advocacy
  • Adolescent development
  • Behavioral epidemiology
  • Health education

Popular Career Options

Bachelor's degree graduates go on to careers in healthcare organizations, hospitals and government agencies. Popular careers for graduates include:

  • Community advocate
  • Health program coordinator
  • Pharmaceutical sales representative
  • Healthcare resource manager

Graduates who hold a Ph.D. in Public Health go on to careers in a variety of settings, including education, community health, government agencies and research facilities. Popular career options for graduates include:

  • Professor
  • Research scientist
  • Health services administrator
  • Hospital administrator
  • Environmental health analyst

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), health educators held over 57,000 jobs in the U.S. in 2015 ( The BLS also reported that jobs in this profession would grow by 12% between the years 2014 and 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The median salary for a health educator as of May 2015 was $51,960, the BLS reported.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Bachelor's degree graduates can enroll in master's degree programs in public health, including a Master of Science in Public Health or Master of Public Health degree program. Graduates are also prepared to sit for the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam, which is offered through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC), Inc. The CHES exam is available on college and university campuses across the United States.

Master's degree graduates can pursue the CHES credential and participate in continuing education opportunities through self-directed study and conferences in annual obesity, cancer prevention, sexual education and family planning. Graduates who are interested in teaching or research careers can pursue a doctorate degree program in public health.

Students wanting to enter a career in which they can promote public health may wish to seek a bachelor's or master's degree in public health. Those with experience who wish to take their careers a step further--teaching at the postsecondary level, conducting scientific research or earning an administrative position--may seek a Ph.D. in Public Health.

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