What Can You Do with a Master’s in Public Health (MPH)?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

This graduate degree can be a pathway to many rewarding and high demand jobs.

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American public health expert CEA Winslow defined public health as “the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities, and individuals.”

Earning your master's in public health (MPH) can empower you to make a positive impact on your community in a variety of ways. Let’s look at what an MPH degree is and what career paths may be open to you upon earning yours.

What is a Master of Public Health (MPH)?

A Master of Public Health (MPH) is a graduate-level degree designed to train students to protect and improve the health of communities. As an MPH degree candidate, you’ll learn how to foster better health through education, research, and the promotion of best wellness practices. 

While each university has its own public health degree curriculum, you can expect to take classes in nutrition, epidemiology, biostatistics, population health, determinants of health, and public health policy.

A Master of Public Health (MPH) is a graduate-level degree designed to train students to protect and improve the health of communities.

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Master of Public Health vs. Master of Science in Public Health

As you’re researching public health, you may hear about a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH). This sounds similar to an MPH but differs in several important ways. An MPH prepares you to take an active role working in communities. An MSPH is a more research-heavy degree that prepares you for a doctorate degree or career in academia. 

Many MSPH programs also require students to complete a researched thesis paper. MPH programs, on the other hand, more often require a capstone project or applied practice.

Master’s in public health jobs: 10 career paths

Increased life expectancies and the threat of new viruses and diseases (like COVID-19) make public health professionals more critical than ever. The health care field is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2020 and 2030 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a much faster rate than other industries [1].

Earning your master’s degree in public health opens the door to a wealth of career opportunities in different fields. No matter which field you choose, you could be making a difference in people’s lives on a large scale. Here are ten career paths to consider.

Community health

Community health professionals analyze data, engage with communities, and implement public health programs to address concerns that affect diverse populations. You might perform outreach to schools, help elderly patients understand their health conditions, advocate for local health care needs, or help connect underserved communities to culturally-appropriate health care resources.

Consider a career in community health if you’re empathetic and a good communicator. You have shared cultural or life experiences with a community you’d like to serve.

Community health jobs: Community health worker, outreach specialist, community care coordinator, peer counselor, patient navigator, public health social worker.

Public health education

Health educators help large groups of people by planning and implementing educational campaigns to promote healthy habits. You’ll collect and analyze data to develop effective programs specific to the health concerns of a specific community.

Consider a career in public health education if you approach problems with an analytical mind. You enjoy teaching and empowering people to help themselves.

Public health education jobs: Public health educator, health teacher

Emergency management

The aim of emergency management is to reduce health risks during emergency situations, whether it be a hurricane, viral outbreak, or terrorist attack. Before an emergency occurs, you’ll plan for immediate and long-term responses. After the fact, you’ll analyze the response and adapt it for the future.

Consider a career in emergency management if you work well under pressure, think proactively, and have compassion for others in tough situations.

Emergency management jobs: Disaster relief coordinator, emergency management specialist, emergency preparedness researcher


When a disease or virus impacts a population, epidemiologists investigate the patterns and causes and educate the population about threats to help reduce the risk to public health. You might analyze data and present findings to policymakers, plan and direct treatment studies, or develop health surveillance systems.

Consider a career in epidemiology if you’re inquisitive and curious, and love collecting clues and solving puzzles. 

Epidemiology jobs: Clinical trial researcher, field epidemiologist, veterinary epidemiologist, epidemiology investigator

Global health

Global health workers are tasked with improving health for populations around the world. In this field, you’ll engage in community outreach to promote healthy behaviors or study large-scale epidemics, like malaria, HIV, or COVID-19.

Consider a career in global health if you’re passionate about global health equity and want to make a difference beyond your local community.

Global health jobs: International aid worker, infectious disease analyst, policy analyst, global health educator, field consultant

Public policy

Public health policy can have a big impact on overall health and disease. Everything from smoke-free laws to COVID-19 travel recommendations are the result of policymakers. Working in policy often means acting as a liaison between health care agencies and the government or managing public health programs at the state or local level.

Consider a career in public policy if you enjoy the challenge of persuading people.

Public policy jobs: Health care policy analyst, health care administrator, health care lobbyist, health services manager

Medical practice

While traditional nurses and doctors care for one patient at a time, public health practitioners care for entire communities or populations. You’ll work in your community to identify health risk factors, develop education, immunization, and screening campaigns, and provide direct care services to at-risk populations.

Consider a career in medical practice if you’re already a registered nurse or physician and want to enact positive change on a bigger scale.

Medical practice jobs: Public health nurse, public health doctor

Environmental health

Environmental health deals with the natural and manmade aspects of the environment that impact human health. You’ll study the impact and develop interventions for issues like air pollution, climate change, sanitation practices, and occupational risks.

Consider a career in environmental health if you care about the planet and are passionate about making the world a safer place for vulnerable and at-risk communities.

Environmental health jobs: Environmental safety engineer, environmental health specialist, health and safety director, health inspector

Behavioral science

Behavioral scientists seek solutions to widespread public health issues from the perspective of human behavior. You’ll analyze data and the latest behavioral research to develop public health intervention programs for issues like addiction, obesity, smoking cessation, mental health, domestic violence, and overall wellness.

Consider a career in behavioral science if you’re interested in what makes people do what they do. 

Behavioral science jobs: Behavioral data analyst, addiction treatment program developer, behavioral scientist, social service manager


As the health care field advances, so does the amount of data available from studies and clinical trials. Biostatisticians take this data and transform it into meaningful guidance for public health decisions. You’ll collect data, analyze it, and use it to evaluate health programs, create new interventions, or influence public policy.

Consider a career in biostatistics if you enjoy working with numbers and reading up on the latest scientific research.

Biostatistics jobs: Biostatistician, research associate, statistical programmer, research scientist, data analyst, data scientist

Master's in public health salaries

Thanks to the advanced nature of the MPH and the specific training it provides, a master's in public health can open the door to higher salaries, though figures may differ by industry, location, and experience. A 2019-2020 survey from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that graduates made an average salary of $83,801 USD [2].

TitleAverage salary (US)
Public health social worker$66,347
Public health educator$51,093
Emergency management specialist$45,185
Health care administrator$45,509
Clinical research associate$63,583

*All salary data from Glassdoor (April 2022)

Is a master’s in public health worth it?

Earning a Master of Public Health could open up a wealth of diverse career opportunities that empower you to make a difference in the lives of your community and populations around the world. It’s also a significant investment. As you evaluate whether this degree is right for you, be sure to think about your individual career goals, and whether a MPH will help you achieve them.

Other degrees in health care

If you’re interested in health care but are unsure if public health is right for you, there are some alternative degree paths that might be a better fit.

Clinical degrees

Earning a clinical health care degree equips you with the skills necessary to work directly with patients. If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, physician, physician assistant, physical therapist, or laboratory technician, you should consider a clinical degree.

Health care administration

If you’re interested in health care and business, consider pursuing a degree in health care administration. Health care administrators help keep health care facilities (hospitals, doctors offices, nursing homes, etc.) running smoothly by handling the business side of patient care.

Learn more: What Is Health Care Administration? What You Need to Know

Social work

If you’re interested in working directly with people but not necessarily in a health care capacity, consider social work. With a degree in social work, you’ll build a foundation for helping vulnerable and at-risk individuals in fields like child welfare, mental health, and substance abuse.

Online MPH degrees

If you're considering earning your MPH, but need more flexibility than attending an on-campus program, consider earning your degree online. With some online public health programs from leading universities, you can learn from the same professors as on-campus programs and graduate with a recognized degree in the field. 

Learn more about earning a Master of Public Health online from the University of Michigan or Imperial College London, or try a course from the University of Michigan School of Public Health to experience for yourself whether it’s right for you.

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Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Healthcare Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm." Accessed April 12, 2022.

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