DrPH Vs. PhD in Epidemiology

May 28, 2019

Students can earn a DrPH or PhD in Epidemiology in about the same amount of time, but should consider their career goals when deciding between programs. Compare and contrast these programs here and learn how to apply.

Both a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Epidemiology fall within the field of public health, but one prepares students for leadership positions in public health while the other focuses on research in a specific area of public health. These programs also differ in their available formats and coursework topics. Here we discuss each degree in more detail.

Comparing a DrPH to a PhD in Epidemiology

Doctor of Public Health

DrPH degree programs train students in research, administrative, and leadership skills in the field of public health and can be completed in 3 to 4 years. These programs are typically full-time, but are available in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats with some online programs requiring short residency periods. Some of these programs may offer additional areas of concentration, such as advanced practice leadership in public health or public health and clinical laboratory science and practice, and may require a dissertation or final capstone project. Coursework for these programs may be offered in 2 different tracks, based on a student's educational background, but may include courses in topics like public health policy, ethics, leadership, management, research design, public health finance and economics, and program evaluation. Graduates with their DrPH generally take on administrative and leadership positions in a variety of organizations, including international agencies and non-profit organizations, with specific job titles such as health department director, health policy advisor, community health manager, and public health consultant.

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology

PhD in Epidemiology programs may train students in some broad aspects of public health, but generally focus on the epidemiologic concepts and methods for conducting research in the field. These programs can be completed in 4 years, can be taken full- or part-time, and usually require a dissertation. Some programs may provide a range of specialization areas for research purposes, such as nutritional epidemiology, injury epidemiology, clinical epidemiology, public health informatics, or cancer epidemiology and cancer prevention. Coursework for these degree programs may cover subjects in epidemiology methods, biostatistics, ethics, grant writing, data analysis, and more. Graduates of PhD in Epidemiology programs typically work as epidemiologists and researchers studying the distribution and prevention of health-related events in industry, academic, government, and non-government settings.

Common Entrance Requirements

Some DrPH degree programs require applicants to hold a Master of Public Health (MPH), while others may also accept students with a master's degree in a field unrelated to public health. Some DrPH programs may also require students to have at least 2 years of professional work experience to demonstrate leadership potential. PhD in Epidemiology programs require students to have at least a bachelor's degree, but several programs require students to hold a master's degree and/or have prior coursework in areas like epidemiology, calculus, and biostatistics. Students applying to either doctoral program may need to meet a minimum GPA requirement and/or take the GRE exam. Both programs usually require applicants to include their transcripts, letters of recommendation, resume, personal statement, and/or writing sample with their application, and some programs may require an interview process.

Students can earn a DrPH or PhD in Epidemiology in about 4 years and typically must complete a dissertation. DrPH programs are available in more flexible formats and lead to leadership and administrative-based careers, while PhD in Epidemiology programs lead to research and clinical-based careers.


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