Usually referred to as a DrPH degree, a Doctor of Public Health focuses on the practical application of public health policies and principles, preparing public health professionals to become leaders in the public, private, or academic sectors. After completing a Master of Public Health (or similar degree), those who continue their studies to earn a DrPH degree will eventually land in a variety of public health settings like health departments, in health advocacy, or in community or government organizations.
There are many career paths for those with a doctorate in public health, across a number of high-level administrative positions.
DrPHs find jobs as:
Because public health is a broad multidisciplinary field, doctoral students often specialize in a particular area of study, such as health management or international health. Specializations vary by university, so prospective doctoral students should be sure to choose a program that best suits their career goals.
In this article, we'll cover:
Students who want to pursue a DrPH must first earn a Master of Public Health (MPH) or, in some cases, a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH). Most universities look for students who also have two or more years of work experience in an administrative or management position in the public health sector.
Some schools ask for even more. At Harvard, for instance, DrPH candidates must have a master's or doctoral degree in the health sciences plus six or more years of full-time professional experience in a relevant discipline (academic work toward an advanced degree does not count toward that work experience).
Accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) is the gold standard when it comes to assessing schools offering doctorate programs in public health. From there, the quality of a DrPH degree program is determined by the faculty, the curriculum, the research resources available, and the quality of its professional network.
As you look at schools with public health doctorate programs, pay special attention to the faculty; many will have distinguished themselves through research. You'll want faculty whose areas of expertise align with your career interests. In some programs, you'll be able to participate in cutting edge theoretical and on-the-ground research.
For those who need or prefer the flexibility of earning a degree online, there are a number of respected online doctorate programs, including:
The DrPH is a multidisciplinary degree that covers a broad range of subjects, including:
Coursework is focused on the assessment and mitigation of public health problems and the evaluation of outcomes, but because public health is such a broad topic, you'll study the role and impact of diverse factors on public health, systems thinking, resource utilization, policy implementation, interprofessional collaboration, and leadership principles.
DrPH programs typically include such courses like:
Along the way, most DrPH students choose a concentration, which vary by DrPH program and may include:
In addition to coursework, you'll likely need to complete a dissertation, an independent research component of your DrPH program that focuses on a specific area of public health like cancer risks, HIV, childhood obesity, or the impact of air pollution on a population. Some universities also require degree candidates to pass certain exams and earn certifications to complete a doctorate in public health, though this will vary by institution.
DrPH candidates typically begin planning their dissertations in their first or second year of school, then spend most of their third year completing it. While three years is usually sufficient, some students take five years or more to complete the dissertation.
This doctoral project often proposes an evidence-driven intervention or a policy solution, or delivers an in-depth evaluation of existing programs. The purpose of a dissertation is to prove you can translate what you've learned into practice—and that you're ready for a leadership role in public health.
The University of Pittsburgh's list of recent dissertation topics offers insight into the kinds of research DrPH candidates are doing:
Earning a doctorate in public health typically takes three years. At Harvard, the DrPH is a planned three-year program with two years of full-time, on-campus study plus a one-year capstone project (known as a Doctoral Engagement in Leadership and Translation for Action (DELTA) project). At University of California-Berkeley, a DrPH takes two years of full-time coursework before embarking on one summer of full-time professional experience—essentially, an internship. From there, students complete one to two years of thesis work.
Both of the DrPH and the PhD are doctorate-level degrees for people who are passionate about public health, and both degrees put candidates at the top of their field.
A doctorate in public health is typically a practice-oriented professional degree designed for people who want to tackle big public health issues through leadership and advocacy.
A PhD in public health is usually geared toward those who want to make scholarly contributions to the field as advanced researchers. That said, this can differ by program; some DrPH programs are quite research-intensive.
Another big difference has to do with admissions. Doctorate of public health programs tend to have much more rigorous professional requirements for applicants, so if you want to pursue a DrPH, plan to work in the field before applying.
Much like the doctorate of public health is an interdisciplinary degree, public health itself is an interdisciplinary field.
With a DrPH in hand, you might work as a:
Public health is a competitive industry, and if you want the most impactful (and top-paying) positions in the field, earning your DrPH is a smart move. With a doctorate in public health, you'll be prepared to make a difference, developing intervention strategies and mentoring others who've chosen to build careers in public health. All in all, it's not hyperbole to say that the work you'll be able to do with this degree will evolve the prevailing approach to wellness across populations and will literally save lives.
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