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Top 25 Free Online Public Health Courses for 2020
By Staff Writer

With the rise of MOOCs and the ease of online learning, there are free courses in nearly every field imaginable. Free online public health courses hold benefits for public health professionals, and anyone interested in public health, at any level. For example, someone completely unfamiliar with public health can use these courses to see if public health is the right field for them, while even seasoned public health professionals may have a lightbulb spark from a free course.

Someone who already works in the public health field can use these courses to learn more about a specialization. These courses can also offer continuing education opportunities and even grant certifications that someone can add to their resume or use as proof they know something about a public health niche. In some cases, an employer may want a public health applicant to take a free course before they can begin work or as a requirement for advancement. As there are numerous free online public health courses, it’s possible for someone to look them over and find ones that can help them advance their knowledge, career, understanding, or job prospects in the public health field. Lifelong learners who just want to understand more about the subject or find learning fun can also benefit from free public health courses.

Ranking the Best Free Online Public Health Courses

Any search for online public health courses will typically return quite a few results featuring free public health courses. A free public health course may seem like a good idea, but there are some caveats to consider before choosing free public health courses. There are definitely benefits to free public health courses. However, people who want to take such courses online will need to make sure they’re choosing the type of course that can give them the most value.

That’s why MPHOnline has scoured the internet for free online public health courses to feature courses from the most trusted and reputable sources. NOTE: All courses were available for free at the time of publication.

1. CDC

The decision to study public health does not mean you must go through traditional courses at a university. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, offers free online public health courses in environmental public health. The 15 courses provided by the CDC allow students to learn a variety of topics that range from environmental factors that may impact public health to food safety at the professional and personal level.

A key way the CDC stands apart is the focus on the organization. The CDC is not an educational institution like a college or university. The primary goal of the CDC is to address public safety concerns. Due to the focus of the government organization, online courses focus on areas that may impact the lives of individuals in different environments and localities. It strives to provide information to anyone with an interest in public health rather than students who are looking for credit in a college or university. The CDC offers courses through an on-demand system that allows students and professionals to work around their schedules and obligations.

CoursesEnvironmental Public Health Online Courses – 15 related courses

2. Doane University/EdX

Doane University offers a free online course in public health with a focus on health informatics technology. It strives to provide intermediate knowledge that helps students who plan to work in informatics or the healthcare industry. It focuses on population data or large groups rather than individual care as it applies to informatics and healthcare technology.

A key way Doane University’s program stands apart is the short amount of time required for the program. Students can complete the course in three weeks if they set aside an appropriate amount of time. It is not a long course, so it allows students to finish the work when it fits their situation and schedule. The amount of time required for the course on a week-to-week basis is around five to ten hours per week. Students will want to evaluate their schedule to ensure they have time for the degree; however, it is a flexible program that allows students to work at their own pace. The online public health course from Doane University allows students to obtain a certificate with a small fee.

Courses: Health Informatics Technology in Population Healthcare Analytics

3. Duke University/Coursera

Duke University offers a free online public health course with a focus on global health. The Challenges of Global Health course focuses on identifying the problems that impact populations on a global scale. It also strives to identify the cause of health concerns and focuses on solutions that may assist in preventing problems in the future. The course focuses on the global perspective and populations as a whole rather than small groups within a population for a wide view of public health.

A key way Duke University stands apart is the flexibility of the course. Students can adjust their deadlines to fit a personal schedule and have the ability to work on the course through the online system. It does not require students to attend classes on-campus. The fully online program also allows students to work on their course work or listen to lectures at any location with an Internet connection. The beginner level course from Duke University only requires 10 to 11 hours of time to complete the lectures and assessments.

Courses: The Challenges of Global Health

4. Global Health Learning Center

The Global Health Learning Center offers free online public health courses to help students reach their goals for their studies. The public health courses range from cancer prevention to antimicrobial resistance and family planning. Students have many courses to choose from without a high cost for their education. The opportunity to study a variety of topics ensures that students have access to studies that may assist with their specific goals for a career or continuing education.

The Global Health Learning Center stands apart by offering certification programs as well as individual courses in public health topics. The certifications may help students who want to obtain a career in public health or related fields by giving them a clear understanding of important topics that may impact their career plans. It also gives students access to many fields of study as it relates to public health and safety. The Global Health Learning Center offers USAID continuous learning credits for some of the online courses.

Courses: Global Health Learning Center

5. Harvard University/EdX

Harvard University offers two free online public health courses for students who want to build on their knowledge or start gaining an understanding of a specific topic. The intermediate course focuses on global health as it applies to quality and safety. The beginner course focuses on the effects of climate change on human health and populations. Students can take the courses for free and focus on accomplishing their goals for a career.

The way Harvard University stands apart from other programs is the accelerated focus of the courses. Students can finish the courses in seven or eight weeks, which allows them to work at a fast pace. It also offers a flexible online schedule that allows students to work around their personal schedule and obligations when studying for continuing education or to learn valuable details that may help in their career. Students can obtain a certificate after finishing the online courses from Harvard University by paying a small fee.

Courses: Improving Global Health: Focusing on Quality and Safety; The Health Effects of Climate Change

6. Institute for Healthcare Improvement

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers an online course in quality and safety as it relates to populations. The courses focus on introductory topics that help students learn the basics they need to understand before moving into more advanced studies. The intermediate courses focus on specialized topics of discussion as it relates to healthcare and populations.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement stands out for offering translations of course material in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Students can take courses in the language that is most comfortable for their studies. It gives students who may not be fluent in English an opportunity to complete the course and learn the same lessons. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement breaks down lessons into 15 to 40 minute long sessions to make it easy for students to keep up with the course material.

Courses: Triple Aim for Populations

7. Johns Hopkins University/Apple iTunes

Johns Hopkins University offers a free public health course with a focus on the history of the field of study. The free course focuses on the historical context of public health as an industry and how it has changed over time to reflect improvements in knowledge, medical science, and new theories. It also discusses historical ailments and sicknesses and the ways the concerns were resolved.

Johns Hopkins University stands apart by offering a comprehensive look into the development and growth of public health measures that improve public safety in modern life. It strives to ensure that students have a clear understanding of the changes that have occurred over time as well as the way current public health issues may relate directly to historical context and situations. It gives students a strong foundation that helps them understand important topics of discussion in public health and safety. The Johns Hopkins University course on public health history is available for free through the Apple iTunes store for students to download onto a smartphone or tablet.

Courses: The History of Public Health

8. Johns Hopkins University/Coursera

Johns Hopkins University offers two free courses in public health through Coursera’s online system. The course on biostatistics in public health is a beginner level course that explores statistical data and analytical methods used in public health for improved skills when it comes to reading biomedical research statistics and related data points. The Foundations of Global Health course is also a beginner level course that offers a strong foundation when it comes to public health as it applies to a global environment.

A key way Johns Hopkins University’s courses at Coursera stand apart is the flexible format. Students can study when it fits their schedule and have access to course materials at any location with a computer, laptop, or tablet. The course is fully online and students do not need to attend any classes at the college to complete the course. The courses from Johns Hopkins University require 10 weeks or less to complete based on student preferences and personal scheduling.

Courses: Biostatistics in Public Health; Foundations of Global Health

9. Johns Hopkins University/JHUSPH Open

Students who want to study a variety of topics related to public health from Johns Hopkins University can focus on the free courses available at JHSPH Open. Students have access to many courses that range from animals in research and foodborne bioterrorism to global tobacco control and child development. You have access to many online free courses that allow you to focus on an area of study that fits your long-term goals for your career and interests.

The courses from Johns Hopkins University at JHSPH Open stand apart by providing a well-rounded view of public health. The array of courses allows students to recognize the different ways public health impacts local and global environments. It also strives to give students a strong foundation in the risks to public health and safety that may arise in modern environments. Students can separate courses at Johns Hopkins University by topic or by collection to make it easier to follow through with a topic as it applies to public health.

Courses: JHUSPH Open

10. Karolinska Institutet/EdX

The Karolinska Institutet offers a free course in the introduction to global health online that allows students to learn the foundation they need to build on their skills and knowledge. The course focuses on variations in health outcomes based on different countries and localities. It also explores differences based on gender and uses a perspective of equality to help shed light on important topics in public health.

A key way the Karolinska Institutet stands apart from other options is the accelerated pace. The course requires only six weeks of time to complete and students can work on the classes when it fits their personal schedule. It offers an online format that makes it easy for students to keep up with the course from any location. The course from the Karolinska Institutet does not require any prerequisite courses and is designed for beginners to the study of public health.

CoursesAn Introduction to Global Health

11. Liberty University/Apple iTunes

Liberty University offers a Community Health Nursing course for free through the Apple iTunes store. The free course focuses on the role of nurses in community health as well as the impact of environmental factors on a local community. It strives to ensure that nurses understand how to adapt to different situations that may arise when working with a community.

Liberty University stands apart by offering a free course without any prerequisite standards. Students in nursing, public health, or any other field of study can take the course through the iTunes store. That allows students to gain a broad understanding of public health as it relates to nursing and local communities. It is a flexible solution for students who may have limitations on their time. The course from Liberty University takes a Biblical approach to the public health and nursing topics discussed in the course.

Courses: Community Health Nursing

12. MIT/EdX

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, offers a free online public health course on global health informatics with a focus on improving quality of care in a medical setting. The course work is advanced, so it is ideal for students to have previous knowledge when it comes to informatics and medical technology. It is not designed for students who are starting out in their degree and do not have the fundamental knowledge about public health and informatics to help with their understanding of the course material.

MIT stands apart from other courses by focusing on the computer science aspects of public health and medicine. It recognizes the role of technology in modern medicine and provides students with a clear idea of how technology may change the quality of care given to patients. Improvements to medical technology may impact long-term public health strategies and MIT prepares students for the challenges that may arise over time. MIT’s online course allows students to obtain a certificate for a small fee that may help when it comes to employment opportunities or proving knowledge of informatics.

Courses: Global Health Informatics to Improve Quality of Care

13. National Center for Disaster Preparedness/Columbia University

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness through Columbia University offers an online course in public health that helps students with their long-term goals. The course in surveillance and forecasting of emerging diseases teaches students how to resolve problems in emergency situations that may arise when an infectious disease develops. It strives to prepare students for different scenarios so that they can react quickly.

The National Center for Disaster Preparedness stands apart by focusing on the possibility of predicting or identifying diseases before it causes an epidemic. By focusing on the possibility of forecasting an infectious disease as it starts to emerge into a population, public health professionals can take measures to limit the risks to the population. Students take a pre-test and a post-test for the course before receiving a certificate.

Courses: Surveillance and Forecasting of Emerging Infectious Diseases

14. NextGenU

When you are looking for free online public health courses to improve your understanding of a topic or for personal interests, NextGenU offers several options for your goals. NextGenU has long been recognized for their free online public health courses, but they have recently made an even bigger step – offering the first entirely FREE online MPH degree. Developed in partnership with the WHO, the CDC, and many other organizations, NextGenU has upped the ante for free public health education.

A key way NextGenU stands apart is the dedication to free education. Not only do they offer multiple online courses for free that allow students to get credits for their degree. They have built those courses and their degree on the highest level of expertise and reach, giving their students access to the very best minds in public health. NextGenU is the first organization to offer a free online degree for students who plan to study public health.

Courses: NextGenU Courses

15. OpenSUNY/Coursera

OpenSUNY offers free online public health courses that help you focus on valuable skills for your career. The free course available through the school is Global Health Diplomacy. The course focuses on teaching students about the different ways politics, finances, and diplomacy interact to make decisions on a global scale in relation to health and public safety. The degree goes beyond the medical topics and terminology to help students recognize other factors that may impact public health on a global scale.

A key way OpenSUNY stands apart is the flexibility of the free online course. The beginner level course in public health allows students to sign up for the class at different times throughout the year. It is a fully online program, which allows working adults to complete the class when it fits their schedule. It also allows many students to sign up for the free course, so many students can take the class. OpenSUNY offers accelerated online courses, and the free course in public health is a seven-week class that students can complete when they have time.

Courses: Global Health Diplomacy

16. Penn State/Coursera

Penn State offers a free online course in Epidemics with a focus on the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases. The online course recognizes that infectious diseases are a complex problem that impacts public health and safety. It offers insights into the history of disease control and methods of preventing sicknesses, as well as the complications associated with infectious diseases that may cause harm to human health or death in a modern medical environment. It helps students understand the potential concerns that may arise as bacteria and viruses evolve and complicate medical treatments.

The way Penn State’s free online course stands apart is the direct focus on infectious disease and the spread of sicknesses. The program explores different infectious diseases that have caused epidemics and death in the past, as well as the risks associated with disease adaptation to medical treatments. It allows students to gain a firm understanding of a basic topic of discussion for public health. The program takes around 16 hours to complete and offers flexible deadlines to allow students to work on their studies when they have the time.

Courses: Epidemics – the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases

17. SDG Academy/EdX

SDG Academy offers a free online public health course in Global Public Health that allows students to understand the role of institutions and infrastructure within local communities and areas on global public health. It explores the impact of healthy individuals on their surroundings and interactions and strives to identify the connections between economics, social interaction, and environment on health. The online course from SDG Academy allows students to obtain a verified certificate to show they completed the course, which may help with job opportunities or gaining credits for a degree.

A key way SDG Academy stands apart for their free online course is the focus on environmental factors and human health. The program teaches students about the way community health influences economics, migration to new locations, and trade. It also touches on the impact of health on the food systems of a local environment and how changes to a food system may impact the health of local communities.

Courses: Global Public Health

18. Stanford University/Coursera

Stanford University offers a free online course in International Women’s Health and Human Rights that allows students to gain a strong foundation in topics related to the rights of women around the world. The course focuses on the lives of women from infancy until they reach old age, and the way rights impact the health and well-being of women in different regions of the world.

A key way Stanford University stands apart from other programs is the focus on flexibility. The course takes around 48 hours to complete, but the flexibility ensures that students are able to finish the course within eight weeks. You can also take more time to complete the course and finish it in 11 weeks if you have obligations that limit your time. That level of flexibility ensures that you are able to stay on track and finish your coursework when it fits your schedule. Students can purchase a certificate for the course in International Women’s Health and Human Rights from Stanford University if they want to gain credit or use the certificate for continued education in their job.

Courses: International Women’s Health and Human Rights

19. UC Berkeley/Open Academy

The University of California at Berkeley, or UC Berkeley, offers three online courses in public health for free. Students can study the control of infectious diseases, ethics as it applies to public health intervention or preparedness for public health emergencies. The classes offer students an opportunity to learn about useful topics in the public health field and develop skills that apply to their career goals.

A key way UC Berkeley stands apart is the array of classes. The school offers three free online courses that help students with their goals in relation to public health. The courses range from 10 to 13 lectures, and students are able to work at their own pace to complete the class. It allows students to gain insights into important topics without worrying about the financial aspects of the degree. UC Berkeley stands apart by following a simple online format that allows working adults to complete the classes when it fits their situation. Students can start the lectures without wasting time on applications due to the simple video format.

Courses: Ethical Challenges in Public Health Intervention; Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Response; Epidemiology and Control of Infectious Diseases

20. UC Irvine/Apple iTunes

When you want to take free online public health courses, you can take the Foundations of Public Health from UC Irvine course. The free course is a fundamental course that is designed around the needs of students who want a firm grasp of public health topics. It is designed for graduate-level students who have some understanding of basic topics, but want to delve deeper into the fundamentals of public health research. Students can work on the course materials at their own pace.

UC Irvine differs from other programs by offering their free course through Apple iTunes. The format available through iTunes makes it easy for students to access and take the classes. It is possible to use an Apple phone, tablet, or device to follow the materials. Students can also use their computer and iTunes account to access the materials. That allows students to listen to lectures or keep up with classwork in any location. UC Irvine requires students to get consent from an instructor or to have a graduate degree to take the free course.

Courses: Foundations of Public Health

21. University at Albany Center for Disaster Preparedness

The University at Albany Center for Disaster Preparedness offers free courses in public health that help students with their fundamental knowledge of important topics. The school offers 21 online courses in public health-related topics, so students can focus on topics that address their specific goals and concerns. Whether you want to study emergency preparedness or potential risks associated with terrorism, the school offers courses to address your interests and goals.

A key way the University at Albany Center for Disaster Preparedness stands out from other programs is the wide array of classes. Students can study multiple topics and focus on learning the skills that are most relevant to their lives and careers. It allows students to learn about different ways to address potential disasters or problems that may impact public health and safety. It also addresses personal safety and smaller groups to give students a well-rounded perspective on public health. The University at Albany Center of Disaster Preparedness allows students to access and use course materials for reference and review after they have completed the course.

Courses: University at Albany Center for Disaster Preparedness

22. University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota offers multiple free courses in public health practice and skills. The online courses allow students to focus on specific population groups or to focus on specific topics of concern that may arise. Students can take courses on diversity planning, food safety, women in trade, or a variety of topics that influence or impact public health and safety.

The University of Minnesota stands apart by offering multiple courses online as well as round table discussions with peers. The ability to talk to peers and find out more about different experiences helps with public health careers and long-term goals. The online format also allows students to work at their own pace and complete the classes from the comfort of home. The free courses in public health from the University of Minnesota are available directly at the school’s website for ease and simplicity.

Courses: Public Health Practice and Skills 

23. University of Pittsburg/Coursera

The University of Pittsburg offers a free online course in public health that allows students to learn about pandemics of disease. By understanding the way diseases break out within a population, students can evaluate potential solutions to help resolve concerns about pandemics and epidemics that may cause harm to large populations and groups. It also helps students clarify the methods of isolating potential risks to limit the spread of disease.

A key way the Univesity of Pittsburg stands out is the flexible format. Students have flexible deadlines for course materials and classwork, which allows working adults to complete the course when it fits their schedule. It also allows students to work from any location through the fully online format. Students do not need to attend the classes at the university campus, so it gives them an opportunity to work on the classes when they are available. The free online course from the University of Pittsburg takes only seven hours to complete and students can finish the course within a few weeks.

Courses: Epidemics, Pandemics and Outbreaks

24. University System of Maryland/EdX

The University System of Maryland offers a free online course in global health with a focus on ebola and moving past the ebola virus. The class is an introductory course that is designed to teach students about the risks associated with travel when it comes to epidemics and disease. It also explores the outbreak of ebola as a recent health risk and the complications of new diseases in modern medicine.

The University System of Maryland differs from other options by focusing on recent epidemics of disease and the potential for complications in modern medicine. It recognizes that modern medicine does not always have a solution for new diseases and it teaches students the methods used to limit the risk of spreading diseases on a global scale in an increasingly global environment. The free course in public health from the University System of Maryland is an accelerated six-week class that allows students to obtain a certification for a small fee when they finish the classes.

Courses: Global Health: Beyond Ebola

25. World Health Organization

The World Health Organization offers a free course on patient safety research that focuses on addressing concerns in medical research when it comes to patient safety and well-being. It strives to identify the challenges that may arise when it comes to patient safety as well as the methods used to determine if a research program is a good option for the needs of patients.

A key way the World Health Organization stands apart is the focus on the organization. It is not an educational institution, but it does have a firm grasp on public health and safety. That focus on public safety and the rights of patients allows the organization to provide unique insights into the challenges of addressing the needs of patients in a modern medical environment. The World Health Organization’s online course offers the course in four languages: English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Courses: Introduction to Patient Safety Research

26. Yale University/Open Academy

Yale University offers a free course in public health with a focus on the history of diseases. The Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 focuses on epidemics that have caused severe harm to large groups of people and the impact of those diseases on society. It explores the way public health measures have developed in an effort to address disease and epidemics as well as the changes to ethical standards over time.

A key way Yale University stands apart is the comprehensive focus of the course. The free online course offers 25 lectures that cover topics ranging from the bubonic plague to the AIDS epidemic. It also explores modern epidemics of disease and the impact of modern practices on limiting the spread of disease in an increasingly global environment. Yale University uses a simple video format for lectures that allows students to learn from the top professors in public health education.

Courses: Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600

Will an Online Certificate in Public Health Help My Career?

Obtaining an online certificate in public health can do a lot for a public health major, graduate, or professional. When looking at programs that offer an online certificate in public health, it’s important to ascertain what kind of value or reach that certificate offers. Much like with the free public health courses, the value of a certificate in public health will heavily depend on the applicant’s needs.

For someone who works in a specific public health field, an online certificate in public health for a different field can help them stand out. For example, a health administration public health professional can gain a certificate after completing a course dealing with the effects of pharmaceuticals on public health.

That certification will show the professional has a grasp of the bigger picture, is willing to seek further education, and can bring more to the table. An online certificate in public health can also help an applicant’s resume.

For example, if someone with a public health degree seeks employment with a group that deals mainly with community health management, then obtaining certification in community health management or similar subject will make that applicant look far more valuable to a potential employer.

Gaining legitimate certification from a known or respected source also helps to increase the value of public health professional. Sometimes, these certifications can represent the key to moving up in a career or making a career transition.

Obtaining an online certificate in public health from an accredited school, college, university, or program will typically give the best results. Nevertheless, an online certificate in public health from other sources can still hold value for applicants and help their careers.

Sometimes, a certification is an absolute necessity for advancement or placement. This can depend on the specialty of the public health professional and what field they’re applying in. Employers will typically state what kind of certification they require.

Can I Get a Legitimate Public Health Certificate for Free?

Free online courses with printable certificates are out there, but they’re not always completely free. Some programs will allow people to take the courses for free but may charge a fee for the actual certificate. Different programs have different rules, but in some rare cases, applicants can find truly free online courses with printable certificates.

The most legitimate free online health courses with certificates will inevitably come from programs with some form of accreditation. Many universities offer these types of programs but not all of them offer online versions of them. Some may require applicants to take classes on campus.

When looking for free online courses with printable certificates, make sure how to obtain the certificate is clearly spelled out. As stated, some may charge a fee for access to the certificate after the course. Some other programs may not offer a printable certificate but a mailed one instead.

To find programs for free online health courses with certificates, a simple search will usually suffice. Nevertheless, applicants can find some information on free online courses with printable certificates and other free public health courses through several sources.

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Health Training Center
  • Public Health MOOCs

Checking local colleges and universities may also help applicants find a free online course with printable certificates. Even in cases where there are no free online health courses with certificates, applicants may find cheap and affordable ones.

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