Online Ph.D. in Public Health

An online Ph.D. in public health is well suited for individuals passionate about improving health conditions in community populations. Strong candidates for a Ph.D. program understand patterns and possess critical thinking skills, statistical analysis training, and strong written and oral communication skills.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job outlook for graduates with a Ph.D. in public health generally trend toward the positive. For instance, employment of epidemiologists is expected to expand by 9%, and employment of medical and health services managers is expected to increase by 20%. Therefore, graduates with a Ph.D. in public health can expect a certain level of job security.

Should I Pursue a Ph.D. in Public Health Online?

A Ph.D. program challenges students intellectually and emotionally, and it is important to consider how earning a public health doctorate benefits personal and professional goals. Here are four primary reasons why you might decide to matriculate into an online Ph.D. program in public health: to teach on topics of public health at the undergraduate or graduate level; to conduct public health research in academia; to work as a public health researcher for a government, nonprofit, or private organization; or to be more competitive for an administrative position in public health.

Perhaps the most obvious reason to get a Ph.D. is to work in academia. Most academic positions in the field of public health require a Ph.D. as confirmation of a professor's knowledge and experience. However, other positions exist in academia where having a doctorate may make you a more competitive candidate. For instance, many research think tanks, government organizations, or nonprofit groups often hire public health researchers and possessing a Ph.D. indicates an increased level of training and can make you a more desirable applicant.

In addition to professional reasons, students pursue a doctorate in public health for a multitude of personal convictions, including an ongoing passion for analyzing the health and risks of a population, enjoyment reading scientific articles and books in the field, or learning about methods of scientific analysis concerning larger populations.

What Can I Do with an Online Ph.D. in Public Health?

Graduates with an online doctorate in public health can access a wide variety of careers, including working in healthcare facilities, government positions, academia, and the public sector. Hospitals and clinics employ health services administrators and biostatisticians. Universities need public health professors and researchers. Health departments of state and local governments, research institutions, and nonprofit organizations often search for public health analysts, health policy analysts, and epidemiologists.

Typical public health careers, like those listed above, usually involve either teaching, research, or some combination of the two. Professors and assistant professors of public health balance a combination of teaching and research responsibilities. Public health analysts, epidemiologists, and biostaticians focus primarily on research, which includes laboratory work, statistical analysis, and survey research.

Aside from these more common paths, a degree in public health can also unlock career opportunities in the fields of emergency management, nutrition, community health work, occupational health and safety, community service management, nursing, and industry management and leadership. Some of these other options may require combining a public health degree with another specialty.

Industries search for innovative leaders with an advanced degree in public health, particularly if the industry carries a health-related product or deals with public health policy. Application of the advanced skills and knowledge learned through the acquisition of an online Ph.D. in public health correlate to positions that may require data analysis, writing research reports, and an understanding of community health issues and how they might be improved.

Below are five examples of possible careers for a graduate with an online public health Ph.D.

Career Profiles

Professor of Public Health

Median Annual Salary: $85,859

Professors of public health teach students in the classroom and grade papers, but they also guide students in creating research projects, dissertations, and theses. In addition, a professor may conduct their own original research and write academic articles or books.


Median Annual Salary: $69,660

Epidemiologists investigate causes of disease and illness in humans and analyze patterns of behavior in relation to widespread occurrences of infectious diseases, otherwise known as epidemics.


Median Annual Salary: $75,545 Biostatisticians collaborate with other researchers to design a range of experiments, conduct statistical analysis, and prepare research reports on their findings.

Medical and Health Services Managers

Median Annual Salary: $98,350

Healthcare administrators and managers oversee and coordinate medical and health services provided at a particular facility or organization.

Public Health Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $60,315

Public health analysts conduct and analyze research on community health problems, propose solutions from their findings, and prepare reports for a variety of audiences.

Online Ph.D. in Public Health Program Overview

Several factors can influence choosing the right online public health Ph.D. program, including the research specialities of faculty, what types of courses or certification programs offer, what type of capstone project is required, and cost of tuition. Perhaps the most important factor is what types of careers students desire, since public health programs emphasize either practice or research, preparing students for different career paths depending on their chosen emphasis.

What is the Difference Between a Dr.PH. and Ph.D.?

Those interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in public health can choose between a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Public Health (Dr.PH.). The primary difference between these two types of programs is that a Ph.D. in public health focuses more on research methods and theory while a Dr.PH. is a professional degree that emphasizes the practical application of public health principles.

An individual looking toward work as a researcher in a medical lab, research institution, or university may prefer a Ph.D. program, whereas a Dr.PH. better suits an individual who hopes to work as a manager, director, or consultant in a health department or public health program.

Curriculum and graduation requirements can differ between these two types of doctorate programs. Ph.D. programs require writing and defending a dissertation in order to graduate; Dr.PH. programs may require an applied practicum as an alternative or in addition to the dissertation. Practicum components usually ask students to complete a project for a healthcare facility or organization to advance public health practice, similar to practicum experiences required by masters of public health programs. Both types of programs take around four years to complete, requiring about 55-65 credits of coursework.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Applicants to online Ph.D. and Dr.PH. programs have typically completed a master's degree, preferably in public health. Some programs also accept students holding a master's degree in a subject outside of public health while other programs consider these students on a case-by-case basis. Yet other programs offer a combined MPH and Ph.D. of public health degree, in which case students enroll immediately after graduation from undergraduate study.

Most online doctorate programs in public health also require GRE scores, with a minimum combined score of 1000. Other application materials include a statement of purpose, resume or CV, transcripts from previous institutions demonstrating a GPA higher than 3.0, and three letters of recommendation. Some Dr.PH. programs may also require work experience in the health field.


Online doctorate programs in public health are typically structured by four main elements: foundational courses, concentration core courses, electives, and dissertation credits. Most public health programs allow students to further specialize in an area under the umbrella of public health such as biostatistics; epidemiology; health promotion and behavior; health services and policy research; or environmental health.

After taking foundation courses in topics such as advanced research methods, statistical analysis, and public health ethics, students often take courses of their choice in an area of concentration and elective courses. Core course requirements usually total 18 credit hours while concentration and elective courses equal around 30 credit hours. Most Ph.D. programs also require that students pass a comprehensive or qualifying exam before advancing to candidacy. After that, students continue on to complete practicum and/or dissertation research and writing hours. Potential courses for an online Ph.D. in public health are listed below.

Population Perspectives for Health

This course delves into population health problems and what factors might affect community health outcomes.

Program Evaluation for Health Leaders

Students learn to identify issues with public health programs, systematically designing evaluation frameworks, collecting data from the program, and analyzing the data in order to propose a more efficient solution.

Theory and Practice in Health and Prevention

This course provides students with theoretical knowledge and best practices associated with health promotion and disease prevention. Students learn about theories from various disciplines and schools of thought including social theory from the behavioral and social sciences, organizational theories, and eco-social theories.

Epidemiological Methods

Covering the methods used to design an experiment, collect data, and analyze data in epidemiological studies, this course prepares students to conduct their own epidemiological studies from the ground up.

Biostatistical Methods

his course examines the principles of data analysis necessary for biological and medical research, including concepts in applied probability, statistical inference, and exploratory analysis.

Public Health Ethics

Key points of discussion and exploration in this course encompass ethical issues relevant in public health, key ethical frameworks, and the differences between public health and medical ethics.

Health Policy Analysis

This course provides a deeper understanding of the policy making process and how policy affects public health outcomes in order to propose more effective solutions.

Public Health Administration

An overview of public health administration and practice studies relevant laws and regulations, financing, workforce issues, and efficient management practices.

Program Outcomes

Students should graduate from an online Ph.D. program in public health with the ability to conduct statistical and epidemiological analysis, design and carry out an original research project on public health issues, conduct literature reviews and write reports containing original research findings, and understand the ethical issues encountered in the public health field. These skills and competencies can directly translate to public health research, pedagogy, and administrative or leadership positions. Familiarity with statistical analysis and experience using statistical analysis software like STATA, SAS, or R, is particularly valuable to employers in a wide variety of career paths. Critical thinking and writing is also a marketable skill in both more traditional academic settings and practice-oriented positions. Many students aspiring to continue on in academia emerge from a Ph.D. with publishable or published material demonstrating their credibility and knowledge of the public health field.

Accreditation for Ph.D. Public Health Online Programs

Always verify that the online public health Ph.D. program you choose is accredited since accreditation helps ensure students receive a quality education by holding postsecondary programs to certain standards. Students should look for these accrediting bodies when evaluating online Ph.D. public health schools and programs.

Regional accreditation is generally more reputable and prestigious. In the United States, there are six regional accrediting organizations. Both the U.S. Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation compile databases of regionally accredited colleges and universities. In addition to these regional agencies, the main field-specific accrediting agency for public health is the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).