What You Need to Know About Earning an MPH in Epidemiology Online
January 05, 2022
More and more universities are making their Master of Public Health programs accessible to distance learners, but programs that allow students to specialize in epidemiology are still relatively rare.
Epidemiology rarely makes headlines unless there's an emerging health threat. Even so, epidemiologists are always working hard behind the scenes to study diseases and deaths across populations. Their job is to identify not only how sickness spreads or clusters of diseases and injuries develop, but also to find novel ways to prevent them.
It's a great job. Epidemiologists may not be the highest-paid public health professionals, but what they do is extraordinarily important, and so is incredibly rewarding. That may be why epidemiology is ranked fifth on US News and World Report's list of the Best Science Jobs.
Even better, it's not particularly hard to become an epidemiologist because the degree path is straightforward. It's possible to launch a career in this field with a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology—a broadly-focused degree that many schools offer to students without a public health or health sciences background. Even better, it's possible to earn an epidemiology MPH entirely online.
In this guide to earning an MPH in Epidemiology online, we cover:
- What is a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology?
- Who typically pursues this degree?
- What degree prerequisites do epidemiology MPH students need to meet?
- What do students in online epidemiology MPH programs study?
- Where can I find the top online epidemiology MPH programs?
- Which schools offer the most affordable online MPH degrees in epidemiology?
- Are there accelerated online Master of Public Health in Epidemiology programs?
- Are online MPH in Epidemiology programs as respected as traditional programs?
- What can you do with this degree?
What is a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology?
On its website, Tulane University of Louisiana's School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine describes the MPH in Epidemiology as "a professional degree that prepares students to serve as epidemiologists in mid-level positions in public health research or practice settings." That's an apt description, if a bit vague (because there are other master's degrees epidemiologists can pursue).
Unlike a Master of Science in Epidemiology, however, which is a degree focused almost entirely on epidemiological research, the epidemiology MPH is a public health degree that happens to emphasize the application of epidemiologic data in public health planning and health services. Graduates learn to:
- Analyze epidemiologic data using various statistical approaches
- Apply epidemiologic data to real-world public health problems and health disparities
- Collect epidemiological data from original sources
- Develop predictive disease models
- Evaluate readings from epidemiologic literature
- Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of epidemiological data
- Identify the risk factors driving the spread of disease
- Interpret the results of epidemiologic data analyses
- Manage public health initiatives
- Plan and direct public health studies
- Report findings from epidemiological surveys and studies
It's a broadly focused degree with coursework that touches on epidemiological research methods, health policy, environmental health sciences, and behavioral science. It's the right choice for aspiring epidemiologists who want to solve public health problems in addition to identifying and tracking them.
Who typically pursues this degree?
The people who pursue a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology come from many educational and professional backgrounds. What they have in common is that they feel driven to save lives and improve public health on a grand scale. They're not necessarily math wizards, but they have to have a relatively strong grasp of mathematics and statistics. Programming chops can't hurt, because modern epidemiology has a lot in common with data science. Most importantly, the students in epidemiology MPH programs tend to be curious, patient problem-solvers, and interested in medicine.
Students who successfully pursue an MPH in Epidemiology online typically have all of these characteristics, are self-motivated, and are especially committed. As one Reddit commenter put it when describing her experiences in an online MPH program: "I found that my classmates in online classes were usually older, more advanced in their careers, and took the coursework more seriously."
What degree prerequisites do epidemiology MPH students need to meet?
Master of Public Health programs in Epidemiology often have no specific degree prerequisites for applicants. There are MPH programs designed for professionals who have experience in the health field and programs that accept applicants with no previous training or professional experience in public health or epidemiology. Some colleges and universities will accept applicants with any bachelor's degree, provided they have taken behavioral and social science, advanced math, biology, and statistics courses.
On the other hand, high-profile schools may have stringent degree prerequisites for epidemiology MPH students. Harvard University requires applicants to its online epidemiology MPH program to meet one of these criteria:
- Hold a doctoral degree in a health profession or academic area related to public health.
- Hold a professional master's degree in a health-related field with at least three years of health-related work experience following completion of the degree.
- Hold a bachelor's degree with at least five years of post-baccalaureate experience in a relevant health-related field.
What do students in online epidemiology MPH programs study?
Students in online epidemiology MPH programs take courses like:
- Analytic Methods for Epidemiology
- Biostatistics for Public Health
- Clinical Epidemiology
- Clinical Research Methods
- Clinical Trial Design
- Design Strategies in Public Health Programs
- Epidemiologic Methods
- Epidemiology for Public Health
- Foundations in Public Health
- Genetic Epidemiology
- Health Systems Policy and Management
- Observational Epidemiology
- Outbreak Epidemiology
- Study Designs for Epidemiologists
Most programs include some type of field-based learning component or practicum. These semester-long or year-long applied experiences allow students to use the knowledge and skills they've learned in a real-world setting.
Be aware that not all colleges and universities specifically offer a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology. Some treat this type of epidemiology degree as an offering separate from other types of MPH, while others treat it as an MPH concentration. While that won't typically affect the quality of the education offered, it can make it trickier to determine which schools offer an online MPH in Epidemiology. Information about this degree may be in a standalone program description on a school's website or on the MPH program pages.
Where can I find the top online epidemiology MPH programs?
Quite a few high-ranking colleges and universities have developed epidemiology MPH programs for distance learners. There are strong online Master of Public Health in Epidemiology programs at:
- Emory University
- George Washington University
- Harvard University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Texas A & M University - College Station
- Tulane University
- University of California - Berkeley
- University of Southern California
Which schools offer the most affordable online MPH degrees in epidemiology?
Most online Master of Public Health programs cost somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 in total tuition, but it's possible to earn an MPH in Epidemiology online for a lot less. The following colleges and universities have some of the most affordable online MPH programs in the US:
- East Tennessee State University
- Ferris State University
- George Mason University
- University of Arizona
- University of Memphis University of Florida - Online
- University of South Florida (Main Campus)
Are there accelerated online Master of Public Health in Epidemiology programs?
It typically takes full-time students about two years to earn a Master of Public Health degree, whether they study online or on campus. There are also accelerated MPH programs (again, both online and offline) that take about a year to a year and a half to complete, though accelerated online MPH programs with an epidemiology concentration are relatively rare.
Some of the fastest online epidemiology MPH programs can be found at:
- East Tennessee State University (16 months)
- Loyola University Chicago (18-month Epidemiology track)
- University of Alabama at Birmingham (16 months)
- University of Southern California (12 months)
Are online MPH in Epidemiology programs as respected as traditional programs?
The vast majority of online MPH in Epidemiology programs are identical to or nearly identical to traditional on-campus programs. Students are typically taught by the same faculty and take the same courses, whether they're sitting in a classroom or learning at home.
What's more important, however, is that the degrees that distance learners earn are identical to those earned by students in on-campus programs. Once a student graduates from an epidemiology MPH program, there's usually nothing on that student's diploma or transcript to indicate that they studied online.
What can you do with this degree?
An online epidemiology MPH will give you the knowledge and skills you'll need to become an epidemiologist. That might conjure up visions of working for the Centers for Disease Control or the National Institutes of Health. However, epidemiologists don't just work in applied public health for federal, state, or local government agencies. They can also be found working in the private sector for employers like:
- Colleges and universities
- Insurance companies
- Medical and dental schools
- Nonprofit public health organizations
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers
- Research labs
- Think tanks
The reason that this degree is so versatile is that epidemiology is the general term for several different disciplines. You might become a cancer research epidemiologist, a disaster epidemiologist, a molecular epidemiologist, or an environmental health inspector, biostatistician, or healthcare infection prevention consultant after graduating from a Master of Public Health program. There are, however, some careers in epidemiology (particularly higher-level clinical or research positions) that an epidemiology MPH won't prepare you for. Depending on your aspirations, you might need to earn a PhD in Epidemiology or a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Epidemiology.
In either case, you'll earn a good living. The BLS reports that the average epidemiologist earns about $69,660 per year and the top-earning 10 percent can earn more than $110,000. High-paying sectors for epidemiologists include scientific research and development services, where epidemiologists can earn about $99,000, and hospitals, where they can earn more than $80,000.
More importantly, you'll have a career you can be proud of. Epidemiology forms the foundation of everything we know about public health. When diseases like Ebola and COVID-19 spread, it's the epidemiologists of the world who come to the rescue. With an MPH in Epidemiology, you can join their ranks and potentially help save millions of lives over the course of your career.
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