Online Public Health Degree Overview
Online degree programs in public health are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels; they're designed to help prepare students for a wide range of careers. Due to the expansive nature of the field, many of these degree programs help students focus their studies through concentrations and/or electives. These programs also tend to further specialize as the degree level advances. Explore some of the diverse online degree options for the field here, as well as some common degree characteristics.
Online Associate Degrees in Public Health
Students can pursue an online Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS) degree in public health. Usually, these degree programs require around 60 credits and can be completed in about 2 years. Typically designed as a transfer degree, many students transfer credits from these degrees to a 4-year institution to further their studies. Depending on the program, courses may be as short as 8 weeks and some course formats may be asynchronous, giving students the flexibility to complete assignments whenever it's most convenient for them. Students in these programs generally cover several different areas of public health, such as nutrition, community health, and public health administration.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Public Health
Online bachelor's degree programs in public health are usually offered as Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), or Bachelor of Health Science (BHS) degrees. Some of these programs may be designed as a step towards a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, but some online accelerated, dual BS/MPH degrees are also available. Bachelor's degree programs in public health commonly require around 120 credits and may offer additional areas of concentration. Depending on the program, students may be able to choose from a full-time format or part-time format. Some programs may conclude with a capstone course/project of some kind.
Online Master's Degrees in Public Health
Students can most commonly pursue an online MPH degree; many require around 42 credits. Some of these programs can be completed in part-time formats in 2 to 3 years. These programs may offer various concentration areas to allow students to focus their studies in a particular area of public health and prepare for a specific career. Available concentrations might include global health, nutrition, infectious diseases and women's reproductive health. Students may also complete a capstone project and/or other applied practice experiences, such as fieldwork. Some of these programs may follow guidelines set by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH).
Online Doctoral Degrees in Public Health
Online doctoral programs in public health are available as Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degrees. These programs may be completed at a faster pace for students who already hold a master's degree in the field. Most of these programs require students to complete a dissertation or capstone project and some may offer concentration areas in the field like community health education or epidemiology. Usually, these degrees focus on research in the field and help prepare students for research- and leadership-based careers in academia or the field of public health.
Online Certificates in Public Health
Online certificate programs in public health are available at the undergraduate level but are more common at the graduate level. Some of these graduate-level programs may be designed as training certificates, while others may be in a specific area of public health, like toxicology, applied biostatistics, infection control, public health policy, and more. These programs may require between 9 and 22 credits, depending on the program, and some can be completed in as little as 9 to 18 months. Some certificates may help qualify students to sit for professional certifications, like the Certified Public Health (CPH) credential.
Public Health Specializations/Concentrations
Concentrations in public health enable students to really focus their studies in a particular area of the field. Generally, students may choose a concentration based on personal interests and/or specific career goals. Most programs require students to take a handful of courses in their chosen concentration area. Public health concentrations are available for undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the field, but some available concentrations for online bachelor's degrees may include:
- Health services administration
- Allied health
- Health promotion and wellness
- Health psychology and behavior
- Global health
- Nutrition and wellness
- Emergency and disaster management
- Public health informatics
Curriculum/Coursework for a Public Health Degree
While students can get an introduction to public health through free online public health courses offered by various institutions, these typically don't lead to any degree. An online bachelor's degree in the field provides detailed insight into the field through core courses in public health. Students are also usually required to take general education courses, electives, and/or courses in their chosen area of concentration. Some bachelor's degree programs may conclude with a capstone and/or final student outcomes assessment. Although titles may vary by program, some common core public health courses for these degree programs include:
- Qualitative methods
- Global health
- Public health education
- Programming planning
- Public health analysis/evaluation
- Public health policy and law
- Health services administration
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Public Health?
Typically, online bachelor's degree programs in public health follow a traditional 4-year degree completion pathway. However, there are several ways to adjust the timeline to fit students' needs. For instance, students needing to complete a program at a slower pace may enroll part-time and take longer than 4 years to finish. On the other hand, there are some degree completion programs that use transfer credits to help students finish their degree in as little as 2 years. Some programs may also help students finish faster by offering self-paced formats. Although it takes longer than 4 years, some students may opt to earn their bachelors' and master's degree in public health in as little as 5 years online.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Public Health Degrees
Many schools that offer online bachelor's programs in public health are at least regionally accredited. Accreditation is important because it means students are eligible to receive federal financial aid. It also means that the institution has met various academic guidelines set by organizations like the Higher Learning Commission or the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) to mark quality education. Some programs may also have program-level accreditation from accrediting bodies in a specific field.
A leading accrediting body in the field of public health is the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), which is part of ASPPH. This organization accredits undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the field to help make sure they've met industry-specific guidelines and will prepare them for a career in the field. Graduates from CEPH-accredited programs may be eligible to sit for professional exams, like the Certified in Public Health (CPH) exam from the National Board of Public Health Examiners (NBPHE). Although some public health programs may not have accreditation, they may still align the curriculum with ASPPH competencies and/or prepare students for various certification exams, like the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) exam.
Public Health Licensure & Certification
Licensure and certification in public health vary greatly by position. For example, the Certified Public Health Inspector certification requirements are different than those of a public health nurse certification.
In the case of certain careers, like health educators, some employers may require certification. Health educators may need to pass the CHES exam to earn the CHES credential and maintain it with 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years. Advanced educators may pursue the Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) credential as well. Other positions, like medical and health services managers, may require a wide range of licenses and/or certifications based on the specific area of practice. For example, nursing home administrators usually need a state license and some management positions in nursing may require professionals to be a registered nurse (RN).
Although many certifications are specialized, there are some broader certifications for public health professionals. For instance, the CPH exam requires students to meet specific education and/or experience requirements before taking an exam to demonstrate their expertise in the field. Professionals keep their certification by completing 50 recertification credits every 2 years.
Public Health Career Information
Due to the diverse nature of the field, the job and salary information for a bachelor's degree in public health varies greatly by position. Education and experience requirements also vary by position. For example, becoming a public health inspector may have vastly different requirements than becoming a public health administrator or epidemiologist. Graduates with a degree in public health can work in various settings, including hospitals, health departments, nonprofit organizations, and more. Public health graduates may hold titles like:
- Health educator
- Community health worker
- Emergency management director
- Health services manager
- Policy analyst
- Public health information officer
- Environmental health scientist or specialist
- Community outreach coordinator
How to Become a Health Educator
Health educators usually have to have a bachelor's degree and may complete an internship experience as a part of their undergraduate education. However, some positions may require these educators to have a master's or doctoral degree in areas like public health education, community health education, or health promotion. Health educators may undergo some on-the-job training and/or need to work to get to know the community they are serving. Some of these educators may be required to earn their CHES credential.
Health educators work to educate their communities on a wide range of health-related issues in order to promote overall wellness within the community. This may require them to create educational materials and programs, connect community members with resources, evaluate programs, conduct research, and advocate for health-related policies. As stated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2019, health education specialists made a median annual salary of $55,220 and had a job outlook of 11% from 2019 to 2029.
How to Become a Medical and Health Services Manager
Medical and health services managers also need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but many of these managers may hold a master's degree. These managers might have degrees in public health administration, health management, nursing, and other health-related areas. Most of these managers also have some prior work experience. This experience may be administrative or clinical but helps prepare professionals for managerial and leadership positions. Depending on the specific position, some of these managers may need a state license and/or pursue various types of certifications specific to their job.
While the job duties of health services managers vary by position, in general, these professionals help oversee the operations and staff members of their specific department or organization. They may be responsible for setting schedules, managing the budget, ensuring compliance with regulations, organizing records, and more. As of 2019, medical and health services managers made a median annual salary of $100,980, according to the BLS. The BLS also stated that these professionals had a job outlook of 32% from 2019 to 2029.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Public Health Degrees
Paying for a public health degree may be a challenge for some students and the process should typically begin with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application helps students see what, if any, federal loans and/or grants they have available to them. Outside of this application, students can search and compete for a wide range of grants and scholarships that do not have to be paid back. Some of these may be based on factors like financial need, area of study, minority and underrepresented populations, and more.
For students in public health, there are subject-specific scholarships offered by various organizations and/or colleges and universities. For example, the state of Arkansas offers the Arkansas Public Health Association (APHA) Scholarship for an award of $1,000 to an undergraduate or graduate student in the field. Other institutions may also offer public health-specific scholarships, like the University of Washington. The university's School of Public Health has the Double Eagle II Endowed Scholarship that is a needs-based scholarship for undergraduates in the amount of $1,000-$5,000.
How to Choose a Public Health School and Program
When choosing an online bachelor's degree in public health, students have a wide range of factors to consider. Students may need to begin by figuring out what type of degree they want to earn. They can usually choose between BA, BS, or BHS degrees, but some students who know they want to earn their master's may go ahead and look for a dual bachelor's and MPH degree program to finish their education faster. Time to degree completion may also be a factor for some students' schedules and/or budgets. Students may need to decide between full- or part-time formats. To ensure a quality education, students may want to find a CEPH-accredited program. Some may also prefer programs that include hands-on learning experiences through capstone projects and/or allow them to further focus their studies through a particular concentration area. The availability of school scholarships and other financial aid may also play a determining role in students' choice of program.
Professional Organizations in Public Health
Many disciplines have an array of professional organizations in public health that aim to advocate for the subject and help further develop professionals in the field. These organizations help professionals in many different areas of public health connect and further advance their careers. Some examples of public health organizations and their resources include:
- Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health- The ASPPH not only provides competencies and accreditation in the public health field, but also offers membership to professionals. The organization also has curriculum resources, awards, advocacy opportunities, and a newsroom to keep professionals updated.
- American Public Health Association- The APHA also offers membership and is involved in advocacy in the field. From the organization's homepage, professionals can access a few publications in the field and information concerning internships, continuing education, webinars, and other annual events in public health.
- Society of Public Health Educators- SOPHE provides membership and information concerning a wide array of focus areas, like mental health awareness, opioids, and vaccinations. Professionals can also benefit from the group's career hub, online journals, and professional development opportunities.