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Online Master of Public Health Degree Programs (MPH Programs)

Public health refers to a field of study and professional practice that encompasses research in critical areas of population health, evidence-based design of health policies, and management of public health programs. Public health professionals study the biological, cultural, environmental, and social causes of disease and mortality. They work with other healthcare and policy professionals to implement solutions and coordinate responses to public health problems. And they consult and engage with communities, private businesses, governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations in efforts to confront pressing issues in public health, from addiction and chronic illness, to environmental hazards and infectious disease. Advancing in the field of public health requires a multidisciplinary base of knowledge in areas like epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral science, population health research methodologies, healthcare law and ethics, and organizational management in the public health sector. Training and instruction in these areas is provided by master’s in public health (MPH) degree programs.

What Is a Master’s in Public Health Degree Program?

A master’s in public health degree is a Master of Public Health (MPH) or a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) degree, both of which are designations for graduate programs that provide professional training and instruction in knowledge and skills relevant to working in the field of public health. These programs offer an interdisciplinary curriculum that covers proficiencies in four key areas: public health policy and program administration; public health research methodologies; social, behavioral, and biological sciences; and communication and leadership skills. Students in an MPH program often have the option of specializing in a particular area of public health. MPH specializations or concentrations include:

  • Biostatistics
  • Chronic and Non-Communicable Diseases
  • Community Health
  • Emergency Preparedness/Disaster Management
  • Epidemiology
  • Health Education
  • Health Policy and Ethics
  • Health Management and Policy
  • Gerontology
  • Global Health
  • Infectious Disease
  • Maternal and Child Health
  • Mental Health and Substance Use
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Public Health Services Administration
  • Sex, Sexuality, and Gender
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences
  • Social Justice and Human Rights

In addition, many MPH degree programs incorporate a supervised internship and/or a capstone project that challenge students to apply what they have learned in the program to real-world issues in public health.

Online MPH Degree Programs

Students who would prefer a more convenient and flexible alternative to traditional, campus-based MPH programs can earn their degree through online programs, which utilize distance learning technologies to deliver all or most of their coursework. Students in an online program receive instructional materials through learning management systems (LMSs). An LMS serve as an online program’s central platform for accessing lectures, participating in discussion groups, completing assignments, and contacting instructors from anywhere with a secure Internet connection. It is important to note that some online MPH programs may hold a limited number of on-campus instructional activities and that programs with an internship component require students to be present at an approved worksite for a designated number of hours (between 100 and 500 hours). However, online programs typically allow students to find a convenient site for internship hours at location in their region.

How OnlineEducation.com Identifies and Classifies Online MPH Programs

There are two common designations for MPH programs: Master of Public Health and Master of Science in Public Health. These programs may voluntarily apply for accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health, which maintains curricular guidelines for MPH programs. In addition, many programs align their MPH curriculum with the MPH Core Competency Model developed by the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH). OnlineEducation.com researchers these programs to ensure they are offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities, and that they prepare students to pursue careers in public health. Programs included on the site must offer all or most of their instruction online. MPH programs that require students to attend more than two on-campus sessions per year are not currently included in our directory of programs.

What Students Learn in an Online MPH Program

There are many related but separate areas of public health that may be addressed by courses in an MPH curriculum, such as biostatistics, community health, epidemiology, infectious disease, mental health, pharmaceuticals, and women’s and reproductive health. However, MPH training typically begins with four-to-six courses that address core topics, including the use of statistical and other quantitative methods to formulate and evaluate public health programs; the science of epidemiology; theories of community and population health; and the management and administration of public health organizations. This foundational instruction provides a framework for coursework in various public health specializations, which may be taken as electives or as part of a formal concentration, depending on a program’s structure.

Students can typically take advanced courses in health management and policy, such as financial management and cost-benefit analysis in public health programs, and/or special topic courses that delve into technical aspects of epidemiological research, issues unique to occupational health and safety, and/or the challenges of writing and presenting grant proposals. The final component of most MPH programs involves completing an internship and/or a capstone project in which students apply what they have learned during the program to a current issue and/or problem in the field of public health.

Online MPH Program Courses

Course offerings in online MPH programs vary by program, as do course titles and descriptions. The table below draws on actual MPH program curricula to provide an overview of the types of general and specialized courses that are commonly offered at the master’s level.

Course TitleCourse Description
Social Determinants of HealthSocial-ecological models of health at multiple levels, including biological, behavioral, cultural, social, community-based, environmental, occupational, and institutional.
BiostatisticsThe application of multivariate regression analysis to predictive and causal models in population health, and the evaluation of statistical evidence.
Community-Based ResearchQualitative and mixed-method research design in community-based surveys, with a focus on needs assessment, monitoring, and impact evaluation.
Health Policy AnalysisApproaches to analyzing health systems and policies, with a focus on access, efficiency, quality, and financing.
Health Advocacy & InnovationCase studies and strategies for community organizing and advocacy in public health, including models of change, social movements, social innovation, social entrepreneurship, microdevelopment, and people-centered budgeting.
Environmental Health ConceptsAn overview of core topics in environmental and population health and their application in the field of public health.
Fundamentals of Public Health EpidemiologyThe principles and methods of epidemiology and their relation to concepts of disease causation and prevention, measures of disease frequency and risk, epidemiologic studies, causal inference, outbreak investigations, and screening protocols.
Emerging Issues in Public Health Policy & ManagementAn examination of contemporary issues and concerns in the field of public health and how they are being addressed by current policies and programs.
Social & Behavioral Science TheoriesSocial and behavioral science frameworks for understanding health behaviors.
Experimental Design in Public HealthExperimental study designs and the application of statistical methods to draw correct causal inferences from public health studies.
Occupational Health & SafetyThe major concepts and issues relating to health and safety in the workplace, with an emphasis on the application of public health principles to the prevention of injury and disease on the job.
Infectious Disease EpidemiologyThe history, principles, methods, and practice of infectious disease epidemiology, including epidemiology surveys and surveillance data, analyzing data sets, and predicting evidence-based outcomes.

Admissions to Online MPH Programs

The baseline requirement for admissions to online MPH programs is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Some programs require students to have one or two years of post-baccalaureate, health-related work experience, which could include time in the Peace Corp, managing a research lab, and/or covering health policy as a journalist. Programs designated as Executive MPH (EMPH) programs typically require applicants to have at least three years of paid professional experience. Some programs have specific undergraduate coursework requirements, such as mathematics, biology, and/or health sciences classes. In addition to submitting undergraduate transcripts, applicants may be asked to furnish two or three letters of recommendation, a personal goals statement, and/or GRE test scores. A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 on a four-point scale may be required or preferred by more selective programs. Some of these requirements may be waived for students who already hold an advanced degree in a health-related field. Prospective applicants should research programs to determine their specific eligibility requirements.

Online MPH Program Formats

Online MPH programs are generally designed to accommodate students who anticipate working full-time or having other significant commitments outside of school while earning their degree. However, not all online programs are the same, and some may offer more flexibility than others. There are three factors prospective applicants may want to consider when exploring online MPH programs: online instructional methods; enrollment options; and whether or not the program requires students to attend on-campus instructional activities.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: These are the two primary modes of online instruction. Synchronous instruction indicates that students must be logged on to a program’s LMS at regularly scheduled times in order to view lectures and participate in class activities. Asynchronous instruction does not have a real-time component. Students in a course that utilizes asynchronous instruction can access lectures and other course materials at their convenience, 24-7. The advantage of synchronous instruction is that it provides more structure for students who prefer regularly scheduled class meetings. The advantage of asynchronous instruction is the freedom and flexibility it affords students who have work and other commitments outside of school. However, asynchronous instruction requires more self-discipline than synchronous instruction, as students are responsible for keeping up with lectures and completing assignments on time.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Traditional MPH programs are designed to be completed in roughly two years, or four semesters of full-time enrollment. This usually requires enrolling in three or more courses per semester. Some programs can be completed in less than two years by students who attend classes year round. There are also many programs that allow students to enroll on a part-time basis, which can mean taking just one or two courses per semester. The time to completion for students enrolled part-time in a MPH program can be three or more years. Prospective applicants who want to graduate in two years or less should investigate full-time enrollment options, while students who would prefer to enroll in fewer courses per term may want to explore programs with part-time options.

Campus Visits: While there are online MPH programs that offer all of their didactic training and instruction online, there are also programs that require students to attend in-person session on campus or at another location. On-campus sessions, often referred to as intensives, may last anywhere from three days to a week or longer. They are used to hold orientations, seminars, networking opportunities, and other educational activities. Some students may welcome the opportunity to meet with instructors face-to-face and interact with classmates on campus. Others may find it difficult to take time off to travel in order to earn their degree. OnlineEducation.com does not include MPH programs that require more than two campus visits per year.