Public Health

7 Reasons to Earn a Master’s in Public Health

7 Reasons to Earn a Master’s in Public Health
Vaccine distribution and promotion is one of many critical public health functions. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella November 28, 2022

Professionals of many backgrounds can use a master's in public health to earn more, get better jobs in fields ranging from epidemiology to health policy, and improve their skill sets.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has yielded many lessons. Perhaps chief among them: the importance of maintaining a solid foundation of public health programs and initiatives.

Public health professionals protect the population by creating and providing health services that prevent (or at least contain) infectious disease outbreaks and mitigate other community health risks. According to the CDC, public health professionals’ essential functions include monitoring and investigating health problems, improving public health responses in vulnerable communities, and upgrading public health infrastructure.

A Master of Public Health prepares graduates for careers in healthcare and beyond. It can lead to public health careers such as biostatistician, epidemiologist, public health policy advocate, and health educator. Even medical healthcare providers pursue this degree path to gain an interdisciplinary perspective.

This article explores seven reasons to earn a master’s in public health. It covers:

  • What is a Master of Public Health degree?
  • Earning an MPH online
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What is a Master of Public Health degree?

A Master of Public Health is a graduate-level degree covering the study and management of health on a large scale: community, municipal, state, national, and international. Universities typically offer the MPH through their schools of public health. This degree can lead to careers in education, epidemiology, environmental science, and public health management.

Core MPH coursework covers biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, global health, health disparities, and health informatics. Programs may offer concentrations to enable students to develop areas of specialization. It typically takes two years of full-time study to earn this degree; part-time students may require more time.

Admissions requirements for MPH degree programs vary by school. Some accept anyone with a bachelor’s degree; others consider only those with work experience in public health or a related field. Often, schools require prerequisite coursework in subjects like statistics, calculus, biology, and human psychology. Wherever you apply, expect to submit an undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

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“I’m Interested in Public Health!”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that there are more than 170 public health job categories, and a Master of Public Health prepares students for employment in all of them. This degree can open doors to excellent career opportunities in the private and public sectors. (source)

An MPH in Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Health Services Administration, or Health Policy and Management will provide a much more marketable set of skills and help you qualify for some of the highest-paying public health jobs. One of the best things you can do to maximize your earning potential after graduating with an MPH is to enroll in a program that has strong post-graduation job placement rates and high alumni salaries. If you don’t see either of these metrics on a school’s website, reach out to the admissions office directly to ask for more information. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

Why get a Master of Public Health degree?

Why earn a master’s in public health? We’ve compiled seven good reasons.

Reason 1: Have a wide impact

The term “healthcare professional” likely conjures images of doctors and nurses. An MPH can lead to many lesser-known but vital healthcare careers. Consider healthcare policy, a field in which The University of Tennessee – Knoxville MPH offers a Health Policy and Management track. Coursework revolves around policymaking and healthcare leadership, with students learning the policy creation process and facility management. The program also focuses on business and management; students explore policy economics and train to run organizations and create cost-effective programs.

Graduates can take on key leadership positions at federal, state, and local levels of government, non-profits, private healthcare companies, and healthcare consulting firms. Effective public health leadership is helping to address a range of challenges, from reducing opioid addiction to improving public sanitation to discouraging tobacco use worldwide.

Reason 2: Pursue an area of proficiency

As a public health professional, you can develop expertise in health policy, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental health, social and behavioral sciences, and disaster management. Pursuing a specialization during an MPH program means completing pathway-specific coursework and potentially a capstone project in your area of interest. Students can use well-produced capstones as a work sample and even continue their projects in the real world.

Experts who specialize in one area of public health are essential because they study specific issues, such as infectious diseases that threaten society. When COVID-19 threatened global health, experts were (and still are) called upon to prevent its spread. Amid controversy and resistance, public health professionals prevented millions of deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic..

Reason 3: Get better in your current field

You can use your MPH to augment your current skill set to qualify for better career opportunities. In an interview with Forbes, Lilian Peake, the state epidemiologist from Virginia, explains that an MPH can help healthcare professionals of all disciplines, including doctors, nurses, and non-healthcare workers like data analysts and scientists focus their knowledge through a macro public health lens. This greater understanding can qualify them for leadership positions.

Reason 4: Become a researcher

If you’re interested in a career in high-level public health research, you will probably need a PhD in public health. The MPH offers a gateway to that doctoral degree. Many PhD programs in the field prefer applicants with an MPH, even when it’s not a requirement.

Some research-focused MPH programs exist, although they are not common; nearly all MPH programs offer research opportunities, however. MPH graduates contemplating further education can also pursue a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH). While the DrPH is primarily a professional degree, it can lead to research-driven careers.

Reason 5: Earn more

According to Payscale, professionals with a bachelor’s in public health earn an average salary of $60,000 per year while those with a master’s make $67,000 annually. On its face, this isn’t a great return on investment for a master’s degree. In reality, however, what you earn depends strongly on your career path.

Top-end MPH jobs often require an advanced degree and boast fantastic returns on investment. For instance, a research epidemiologist earns close to $100,000 annually. Top public health lobbyists can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. A doctor with an MPH can become a hospital CEO, and (sometimes) earn millions.

Reason 6: Network with professors and students

Networking is an essential career advancement tool, even in public health. MPH programs offer access to other students and professors. The bonds you form during a program can advance and even change your career trajectory.

Reason 7: Improve your medical school application

With more people applying to medical school than ever, it’s essential to find a way to stand out from the crowd. An MPH can bolster your application by proving you can master graduate-level healthcare coursework. Herman Gordon, former Arizona State University – Tempe Medical School professor, observes that MPH graduates “instantly think about the living conditions, the community, all of these other considerations that go beyond just treating the symptoms. And it’s really healthy to do that” in medical school.

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Earning an MPH online

Online MPH programs track on-campus programs closely. Curricula are typically similar or identical; both offer concentrations and may require capstone projects. The chief difference is the medium in which students receive classroom content.

Online programs vary in format. Some are 100 percent online, with no requirement to visit campus during the program. Many, however, require in-person residencies. Nearly all offer online networking events and activities to foster a sense of community.

Online study offers several clear benefits. Working students often choose online master’s programs to help maintain a work, school, and life balance. Another benefit: online education expands your choice of programs beyond your immediate geographic area without requiring you to relocate.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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