A Master of Public Health (MPH) degree is a graduate-level program that emphasizes the practical aspects of public health. This type of program is designed to prepare students for their role in promoting community awareness about injury, violence prevention, communicable diseases and other issues that affect health and safety. Since research is not usually a primary focus in most MPH programs, students desiring careers as professors or researchers of public health should pursue a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) degree.
The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) requires that accredited MPH programs have the core areas of statistics/biostatistics, epidemiology, environmental health, policy and behavioral sciences. Although MPH programs can be broad in the variety of topics covered, students gain sufficient knowledge to have competent careers in any aspect of public health. In addition to core areas, students may be required to enroll in courses that cover toxicology, program evaluation, health care administration and diversity issues.
Since MPH programs are applied degree programs, students are required to engage in work-related activities. This may take the form of an internship, or practical experience where the student assumes job functions in the public health field, while under supervision. Additionally, some programs may require students to participate in a small, semester-long project such as a research paper or grant proposal that shows their competence in the field.
Some programs require students to choose a specific track or emphasis area for completion of the program. Although the degree itself is not a true specialized degree, the three to five courses required for the emphasis area can provide students with more specific knowledge about an area of interest.
Many post-secondary institutions offer specialized MPH degree programs, which can provide graduates with better career opportunities. Students may choose a program that offers them specialized training in one of the traditional core areas, or more unique specialties such as maternal/child health, public health education, communicable diseases, toxicology or disaster management.
Most MPH programs are designed to be completed in two to three years, and may not have a thesis requirement. Some schools offer the option for an advanced, one-year program. However, these programs are typically geared toward students who are concurrently pursuing another graduate degree in a related field. These are referred to as dual-degree or joint-degree programs. One-year programs that do not require concurrent enrollment in another program are terminal degrees that do not require a thesis. An increasing number of schools are offering their programs completely online, or in a hybrid on-campus and online method. See our ranking of the best online MPH programs for more information.
Graduation from a MPH program affords students a variety of opportunities for employment. Most graduates find employment opportunities in health care settings, non-profit organizations or government agencies. These settings are especially applicable for graduates that have an emphasis in health care policy, administration, epidemiology or communicable diseases. Although the nature of the degree program provides fewer opportunities for research and academic positions, some graduates acquire research positions if they have an emphasis and strong skills in statistics and biostatistics.