If you want to advance your public health career to the highest level, you may want to consider earning your PhD or doctorate in public health. This is the highest credential you can earn in the public health field.
The online degree programs in public health can earn you either a PhD or a DrPH in public health. The difference in these degree programs is that the Ph.D. is mostly focused on theory, methodology, research and academia. This sort of degree is probably better suited for those interested in an academic or research career. On the other hand a DrPH is a more practical degree that is focused on applying research, applications and methods.
Why Earn a Doctorate in Public Health
Earning your DrPH in this field will distinguish you from most other public health professionals who have merely earned their master of public health. The DrPH shows that you have reached a very high level of scholarly accomplishment that will qualify you for the most senior public health positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
Doctoral degree holders in public health can hold high level administrative and corporate positions in major public health agencies, hospitals and departments. These positions are both in strong demand, and are highly compensated.
Online DrPH Program Options
Some of the online doctorate programs we recommend in public health include:
- Ph.D. in Public Health: You can increase your effectiveness as a leader in public health with this professional doctorate from Capella University. This is one of the few Ph.D. programs in this field that is focused on Health Advocacy and Leadership. This curriculum stresses theories of leadership, public health programs and the planning of effective policy, and the most common factors that contributes to disparities in public health. Capella is featured as a top school in our report of the best online masters’s for 2017.
- Ph.D. in Public Health: The Doctor in Public Health from the University of North Carolina concentrates on health leadership. It will prepare mid-career public health professionals for a top position in an organization whose goal is to improve the public health of populations around the world. This is a three year, cohort-based curriculum that will prepare you to take leadership responsibilities in many communities, organizations and institutions.
- Ph.D. in Public Health: At Emory University, you can obtain your doctoral degree in public health in the following areas: Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Environmental Health Sciences, Nutrition and Health Sciences, and Health Services Research and Policy. These highly regarded programs allow you to earn your doctorate degree online and to do so in about four years.
- Ph.D. in Public Health: At Drexel University, you can earn your doctorate in Community Health and Prevention. It will prepare you for roles of leadership in education, research and practice. You also can earn your doctorate in biostatistics and health policy and social justice. All of these degrees are earned online and may be completed in five years of study.
- Ph.D. in Public Health: You can earn your doctorate online in public health at Loma Linda University. This fully accredited program allows you to earn your Ph.D. in the following areas: Epidemiology, Health Education, Health Policy and Leadership, Nutrition and Preventive Care. You can take all of the classes you need to complete your degree online, and you may do so in about four years of full time study.
Popular Career Paths for Public Health Doctorates
Many professionals who earn either of these doctoral degrees will go on to obtain positions in academia and research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is believed that these types of positions will grow faster than average by 2020. You also could choose a career in many types of public health organizations, government agencies or nonprofits.
Some of the public health positions for which you can qualify with a doctorate in public health include the following:
An epidemiologist is a highly skilled public health professional who investigates disease and illness patterns to determine causes of injury and disease in humans. They try to reduce the occurrence and risk of disease and various negative health outcomes by conducting research, community education and health policy. Typical duties of an epidemiologist with a doctoral degree are:
- Planning and directing studies of public health issues to determine ways to prevent and treat problems as they arise
- Perform the collection and analysis of data by conducting interviews, surveys and observations. Also, you may use blood samples and other bodily fluids to determine what the cause of disease may be.
- Manage innovative public health programs; monitor progress; analyze data and find ways to improve these public health programs to improve outcomes.
- Communicate significant public health findings to policymakers, practitioners in health care and the general public.
Epidemiologists usually will work in research or in applied public health roles. An applied epidemiologist usually works for state or local government and works to address public health problems directly. These types of epidemiologists are often working on public health surveys and education outreach.
Research epidemiologists normally work for universities or in partnership with federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As you earn your DrPH, you may decide to focus your epidemiology career on one of these areas:
- Infectious diseases
- Chronic diseases
- Occupational health
- Oral health
- Maternal or child health
Epidemiologist employment will rise by 6% by 2024, which is roughly average compared to other occupations. It is thought that better recordkeeping in medical facilities will improve how epidemiologists can improve health outcomes and to better track critical demographic data. Median salaries are $69,450, with top earners making more than $114,000 per year.
An environmental scientist with a DrPH in public health will utilize their extensive knowledge of all of the natural sciences to provide protection to human health and the environment. Environmental scientists often work closely on cleaning up areas that have been contaminated by industrial pollution. They often provide environmental advice to policymakers, and work with companies to reduce levels of waste.
Some of the work environmental scientists do include:
- Determine which public health data collection methods to use for investigations, surveys and research projects.
- Compile large amounts of environmental data from air, soil, water and food samples for environmental analysis.
- Develop innovative public health plans to control or prevent many environmental problems, frequently involving land, air or water pollution
Environmental scientists should see a substantial increase in employment opportunities in the coming years: There will be an 11% increase in demand by 2024, which is faster than average. Median pay for these scientists is $67,460 per year, with the top 10% with Ph.D.s earning $118,000 per year.
Health educators are important public health professionals who teach communities about healthy behaviors that will reduce incidence of illness and disease. They devise and implement important health strategies that improve the health of both communities and individuals.
Typical duties of a health educator will include the following:
- Assessing critical health needs of people and communities who are most in need
- Developing programs and events that will teach people about many different health topics
- Evaluate how effective public health education programs are, as well as educational materials
- Assist people in finding important health services and information
- Supervise staff who are responsible for implementing health education programs
- Advocate with policy makers for better public health resources
Health educators play an increasingly important role in health care and public health today. Health care costs are rising very quickly. It is understood that preventing people from contracting serious illnesses leads to better health outcomes and less cost overall. Thus, health educators are increasingly employed to teach people how to choose healthier habits that will keep them well.
That is why job demand for health educators will rise by 13% by 2024. The median salary is $51,900, and the top 10% earn more than $62,000 per year.
- Epidemiologists. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm#tab-2
- Health Educators and Community Health Workers. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm#tab-2