Top Online PhD Programs in Public Health


The broad, interdisciplinary field of public health focuses on improving community and individual health. Professionals in the field promote healthy living and work to research, detect, and prevent disease and illness. After earning a public health Ph.D. online, graduates can qualify for specialized roles in research, teaching, and administration. Doctoral degree-holders in the field often pursue careers in government, academia, and nonprofit organizations.

Individuals who have completed online Ph.D. programs in public health often become health educators and community health workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earned a median annual salary of $46,910 in 2019. The BLS projects an 11% job growth for these positions between 2018 and 2028.

Top Online Ph.D. Public Health Programs

Rank School
1 University of North Carolina
2 University of Illinois at Chicago
3 Arizona State University
4 University of South Florida
5 A.T. Still University

What Is a Ph.D. in Public Health?

Unlike the doctor of public health (DrPH) degree, which emphasizes practice, the Ph.D. in public health prepares students for academic and research careers. Most applicants hold a related master's degree and professional experience. Public health Ph.D. students typically specialize in health systems, health economics, or health policy and administration.

Common career paths for graduates of public health Ph.D. online programs include epidemiologist, postsecondary teacher, and government researcher. Graduates of Dr.Ph. programs often secure management positions in the public health sector. The following sections explore the many career opportunities available to individuals who earn a public health Ph.D. online.

Why Get a Degree in Public Health?

Earning a public health Ph.D. online or in person can lead to improved job performance and higher earning potential. A doctoral degree in the field can also qualify graduates for new careers and promotions, while providing professional networking opportunities. Below are a few benefits of pursuing an online Ph.D. in public health.

  • Advanced Research Skills: Research-oriented doctoral programs help learners cultivate skills in study design, data collection, data analysis, and reporting. Many public health Ph.D. graduates pursue research-based careers.

  • Interdisciplinary Knowledge: Public health doctoral programs often include interdisciplinary coursework. Students explore topics in the management, leadership, research methods, and healthcare fields.

  • Salary Advancement: Like most advanced degrees, doctoral degrees in public health can help working professionals qualify for pay raises. Graduates may also leverage their education to transition to higher-paying jobs, industries, or sectors.

  • Promotion: Many mid-level health professionals earn a public health Ph.D. to increase their competitiveness for high-level medical and health services positions. These individuals often pursue positions such as clinical manager, nursing home manager, and health information manager.

  • Networking Opportunities: Public health Ph.D. programs often encourage collaborative, hands-on learning, which can lead to the development of strong personal and professional connections with accomplished peers. Graduate students can also benefit from their professors' mentorship and professional connections.

FAQ

Question Answer
What can you do with a Ph.D. in public health? A public health Ph.D. can qualify graduates for careers in education, scientific research, and administration.
How long is a public health Ph.D? Public health Ph.D. programs typically take about 5-6 years to finish. However, completion time depends on the program, along with the learner's attendance pace and prior experience and education.
What is a DrPH vs Ph.D.? The Dr.Ph. is a practical, professional doctoral degree ideal for candidates seeking public health leadership and practitioner positions. Students interested in academic or research careers often opt for the Ph.D. track.
How much does a Ph.D. in public health make?

Median annual salaries for professionals with a Ph.D. in the field vary based on the individual's position, credentials, and employer. According to the BLS, health educators earn a median annual salary of about $47,000, while administrative roles often pay more than $100,000 per year.


Accreditation for a Ph.D. in Public Health

The accreditation status of a learner's school and program determines whether they can receive financial aid and transfer degrees and credits. Many professional and religious schools hold national accreditation, while more rigorous academic institutions typically boast regional accreditation.

Students at nationally or regionally accredited schools can qualify for federal financial aid. However, regionally accredited schools typically only recognize credits and degrees from other regionally accredited institutions. Additionally, degrees from regionally accredited schools can be more attractive to prospective employers.

The top public health programs also hold national accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health and/or the Association of Accredited Public Health Programs. Prospective students can verify institutional and programmatic accreditation status using the searchable database from the U.S. Department of Education.

Courses for a Ph.D. in Public Health

Public health Ph.D. curricula typically feature research-focused courses that help learners cultivate skills in data collection, analysis, evaluation, and presentation. Most programs also include coursework in disease and injury prevention and clinical practice. Beyond these commonalities, Ph.D. programs in public health may vary considerably in title and focus. Common degree and concentration titles include epidemiology, environmental health sciences, health policy, and bioethics.

The courses below are common to on-campus and online Ph.D. in public health programs. However, each program's curriculum is unique, so learners should verify course availability with their institution.

Healthcare Systems

This course explores the structure, organization, and economics of healthcare systems. Students learn about the dynamics between healthcare systems' economies and the larger economy. Learners explore the sources and processes involved in healthcare technology financing, and they study various healthcare delivery methods and contemporary issues that healthcare administrators face. Ideal preparation for roles as public health administrators, this course examines healthcare policy and its influence on healthcare practice and administration.

Topics in Health and Wellness

Learners in this class explore current findings in health, exercise, diet, and wellness. Coursework covers topics such as health behavior, health attitudes, stress management, and sleep. The class may focus on physical therapy's contribution to health and wellness, covering preventive and integrative care, intervention, assessment, and outcomes evaluation. Other topics often include adaptive technologies, community accessibility, and public policy. This core course cultivates skills in evidence evaluation and encourages future public health professionals to stay current on public health trends and research.

Biostatistics

This course familiarizes students with statistical methods for detecting and analyzing causes and patterns in data. Common topics include correlated data and longitudinal measurements, hypothesis testing of regression models, and exploratory data analysis approaches. Students learn how to design and evaluate research studies and practice using R computing in longitudinal analysis. The class provides key material for aspiring researchers, and some online public health Ph.D. programs offer a biostatistics concentration.

Advanced Clinical Practice

Emphasizing case studies and practical clinical experiences, this course encourages students to apply foundational clinical skills acquired in previous coursework. Ideal for aspiring public health clinicians, this class emphasizes medical protocol theories and practices. Learners advance their clinical expertise and knowledge through fellowships and/or research projects relevant to their specialization or interests.

Health Informatics

Health informatics courses and concentrations explore common technologies and informatics techniques used to operate and improve the healthcare industry. Coursework covers informatics legislation, privacy, cybersecurity, and data analytics. Some informatics courses also examine database design and healthcare data visualization. This class prepares students for managerial positions in public health, healthcare analytics, and informatics.

How Much Do Public Health Majors Make?

Public health salaries vary widely based on employment sector, industry, and position. For example, entry-level health educators and community health workers often make considerably less than dietitians and nutritionists working in the private sector. Median annual salaries for the common public health careers below range from about $47,000 to $79,500.

Public health researchers and academics tend to earn some of the highest salaries in the field. Epidemiologists and postsecondary teachers earn median annual salaries of $70,990 and $79,540, respectively.

Credentials influence access to high-level positions and earning potential. A doctoral degree meets or exceeds the educational requirements for some public health administration jobs. However, administrative positions also require considerable professional experience. Earning professional certifications in public health can also improve hireability and boost salary potential.

According to the BLS, medical and health services managers boast a median salary of nearly $101,000 per year. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to increase 32% from 2019 to 2029, a rate more than eight times the average for all occupations.

Career and Salary Outlook for Public Health Majors

Public health students can choose from a variety of career paths. Graduates often work in healthcare facilities, government agencies, and community organizations and associations. Common public health research positions include public health analyst, epidemiologist, and environmental scientist.

Some professionals in the field serve the public directly in roles such as public health specialist, health educator, and community health worker. Earning an online Ph.D. in public health can also qualify graduates to become professors and medical and health services managers.

  • Health Educator and Community Health Worker: Often serving the public directly, these professionals work to improve community health and wellness. Health educators generate and implement health interventions and programs. Common responsibilities include community needs assessments, staff supervision and training, data analysis, and advocacy. Community health workers often counsel community members, perform outreach, and collect and report on data.
  • Epidemiologist: These professionals identify patterns and causes of disease and injury, and they use this information to generate policy, practice, and education interventions that can improve public health. Epidemiologists often conduct laboratory and field research. A doctoral degree can help epidemiologists advance professionally.
  • Dietitian and Nutritionist: These nutrition experts encourage healthy eating and supplementation. These professionals typically perform assessments, educate patients, create nutrition and diet plans, and document progress. Other duties often include delivering community education presentations or classes, creating educational materials, and conducting research.
  • Postsecondary Teacher: Usually working as professors at universities and colleges, postsecondary teachers deliver courses related to their doctoral research field. Depending on school and program size, these professionals may also teach general or introductory courses. Most postsecondary teachers hold doctoral degrees and produce scholarly research throughout their career.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Health Educator and Community Health Worker $46,910 11%
Epidemiologist $70,990 5%
Dietitian and Nutritionist $61,270 8%
Postsecondary Teacher $79,540 9%

Source: BLS


Scholarships for a Ph.D. in Public Health

To reduce education expenses, learners can apply for scholarships available to public health undergraduate and graduate students. Many schools, professional organizations, private funders, and government agencies award scholarships to learners in the field. Scholarships are ideal forms of funding, since they do not require repayment. The scholarships below represent a sampling of the many awards available to public health graduate students.

Laurence R. Foster Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports students enrolled at least half time in a public health-related graduate program at a four-year university. Qualifying fields include public health, healthcare management, health science, and health education. Public health applicants interested in epidemiology receive priority.
Amount: Up to $10,000

Richard P. Covert Scholarship for Management Systems
Who Can Apply: The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) grants this scholarship to learners in fields related to healthcare information management systems. Candidates must be members of the society. HIMSS employees, judges, and board members do not qualify for this award.
Amount: $5,000 scholarship, $200 honoraria, and travel and accommodations for the HIMSS Global Health Conference and Exhibition

Indian Health Professions Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship is available to American Indian or Alaska Native students enrolled in qualifying health profession degree programs. Applicants must demonstrate tribal membership and a commitment to pursue full-time clinical practice serving tribal communities.
Amount: Varies

Vivian Drenckhahn Student Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Applicants must boast full-time enrollment, have completed at least one-third of a health education degree program, and demonstrate financial need and academic merit. Candidates must have held membership with the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) for at least three months and must commit to serving at least one year on a SOPHE task force, committee, or initiative.
Amount: $2,500


Top Online Ph.D. in Public Health Programs

1. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

UNC provides an online executive doctoral program in health leadership for mid-level professionals. The 45-credit degree plan consists of classes like leading sustainable change, population perspectives, and managing the healthcare workforce. Students round out their training with a doctoral dissertation and comprehensive written and oral exams. There are no practicum or internship requirements. The UNC program operates hybrid learning that combines Blackboard-powered asynchronous online classes with campus visits. These visits occur three times per year, allowing students to collaborate with peers and network with industry experts. Students enroll in the fall semester, completing the Ph.D. in public health online program in three years. Admission requirements include standardized test scores, relevant work experience, and three recommendation letters.

2. University of Illinois at Chicago

The UIC online doctor of public health in leadership emphasizes research-based training that prepares students for careers as city health commissioners, policy analysts, and chief medical officers. Totaling 64 semester hours, the curriculum contains such core topics as advanced biostatistics, epidemiology principles, and public health leadership tools. Students also take eight hours in a focus area, attend a summer institute, and complete a thesis project. Degree candidates with regionally accredited master's degrees may transfer up to 32 hours toward program completion. Distance learners take synchronous classes facilitated by Blackboard Collaborate. UIC sets the application deadline for February 1. To apply, candidates need at least three years of paid work experience.

3. Arizona State University

The ASU online doctor of behavioral health with a clinical concentration trains students to implement cost-effective and evidence-informed interventions. The degree plan comprises 84 credit hours of coursework in population health management, clinical neuropathophysiology, and models of integrated primary care. Students personalize their training with electives, self-motivated research, and an applied capstone project. Through Blackboard, ASU offers accelerated online classes that span 7.5 weeks, enabling students to earn the doctorate in under three years. Applicants need to hold a regionally accredited master's program earned at a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also furnish state-sanctioned professional licensure or license eligibility. ASU allows doctoral students to transfer up to 30 credits toward degree completion.

4. University of South Florida

USF operates an online doctor of public health with a concentration in advanced practice leadership in public health. Through a 43-credit degree plan, students develop the evidence-supported knowledge and skills to work in practical settings like health departments and international agencies. Coursework includes population assessment, health disparities, and cultural competencies in public health. To earn their degree, candidates also need to complete an applied practice experience, doctoral project, and written comprehensive exam. Admission criteria include minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, and at least two years of advanced public health work experience. USF online Ph.D. public health programs hold specialized accreditation from the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH).

5. A.T. Still University

Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), ATSU offers an online doctor of education in health professions. Unlike other programs of its kind, the 55-credit ATSU option specializes in experienced-based teaching rather than theoretical analysis and research. Students take context-specific online classes through Blackboard, in areas like proposal preparation, learner assessment, and educational program evaluation. With faculty guidance, students complete a research project based on a topic of their choosing. ATSU graduates go on to high-ranking careers as community health services directors and clinical health educators. The university offers four start dates every year. To apply, candidates need a minimum 2.5 GPA. All distance learners benefit from the same affordable tuition rate and generous financial assistance.