What Is a Master of Public Health (MPH) Degree?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A Master of Public Health (MPH) is a graduate degree that prepares you to work in public health.

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Public health is an important part of any thriving community. A public health official “promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work and play,” according to the American Public Health Association [1].

A Master of Public Health (MPH) is a graduate degree that prepares you to work in public health. Unlike a medical degree, which prepares you to work one-on-one with a patient in a health care setting, you'll work with communities and different populations, educating, promoting better health practices, identifying health risks, and more. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what it takes to earn an MPH and what you can do with the degree after graduation.   

What is an MPH?

An MPH is a master's degree that is designed to provide graduate students with the skills you’ll need to work with various populations on their health and well-being. There are in-person programs, online programs, and hybrid programs, all designed to suit each student’s unique needs. 

Because public health is such a broad topic, you may find that many schools offer specializations that allow you to focus on one aspect of it. 

Sample MPH concentrations:  

  • Biostatistics and informatics

  • Community health

  • Disaster management and emergency preparedness  

  • Environmental health science

  • Epidemiology 

  • Health services and administration 

  • Global health 

  • Maternal and child health 

  • Nutrition 

Common MPH coursework

You can expect to take core courses in public health before you begin focusing on the area in which you’d like to specialize. As you search for MPH programs, take time to look at their required coursework and elective options so you have an idea about what types of courses you’ll need to take, and how they align with what you’d like to learn over the course of your graduate studies. 

Sample MPH core courses:  

  • Biostatistics

  • Contemporary public health issues

  • Epidemiology 

  • Global health 

  • Health care administration and policy 

  • Health promotion and communications

  • Qualitative methods 

  • Social and behavioral determinants of health 

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Other MPH requirements 

Beyond completing the coursework mentioned above, there are typically three additional requirements necessary to graduate with your Master of Public Health. 

  • Comprehensive exam: Many MPH programs require you to complete a comprehensive exam, usually after you’ve finished your required core coursework. 

  • Practicum experience: Because an MPH prepares you to begin a specific career, you will likely have to complete a practicum that puts into practice what you’ve learned. Generally, you can expect to search for a placement with a public health organization and complete supervised work. 

  • Capstone project: You will have to conduct original research in order to create a capstone project (usually a written document and a presentation) that addresses some aspect of public health. 

How long does it take to earn an MPH?

On average, it takes about two years to earn an MPH when you attend full-time, though that timeline depends on the school and program you choose. Generally, you'll need to earn between 42 to 45 credit hours and complete the additional requirements noted above in order to graduate.  

Some colleges and universities offer a fast track that allows you to earn your master’s degree in one year. In many cases, you'll need to have an undergraduate degree in a health science field or be a health care professional. Some aspiring physicians choose to complete these accelerated programs during a gap year between earning their undergraduate degrees and attending medical school.  

Learn more: How Long Does a Master’s Degree Take?

Dual degrees and MPH alternatives

Many colleges and universities with MPH programs offer the option to earn a dual degree, which means you can complete two master’s degrees, or one master’s degree and one professional degree, in less time than it would take to earn each one separately. Dual degree programs can help you gain a more in-depth education that prepares you for a specific line of work, such as law or pharmacy, while helping you gain a foundational understanding of public health. 

Some common dual degree programs include:

  • MPH/Juris Doctor (JD)  

  • MPH/Master of Business Administration (MBA)

  • MPH/Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • MPH/Master of Social Work (MSW)

  • MPH/Doctor of Pharmacy (PHARMD) 

MPH vs. MSPH 

An MPH is not the only master's you can earn in public health. Many schools also offer a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH). While both take around the same amount of time to complete, an MPH is geared toward preparing you to become a public health practitioner, while an MSPH is geared toward research. With an MSPH, you will be responsible for learning how to collect and analyze data, which many graduates put toward a career in education.

MPH jobs, salaries, and outlook

There are many careers you can explore with a Master of Public Health, though some (like public health nurse) will require other degrees. With your MPH, you can explore careers such as:  

  • Public health educator

  • Epidemiologist 

  • Clinical research coordinator 

  • Biostatistician

  • Health care specialist

  • Clinical research coordinator 

  • Public health nurse

  • Health care administrator 

  • Environmental health officer 

  • Occupational health and safety manager

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

Salaries + job outlook

The job outlook for public health careers varies by job, but many roles are positioned to experience high growth in the coming decade. Let’s focus on three of them.* 

Job titleMedian salaryJob growth rate
Health education specialist$48,86017%
Epidemiologist$78,83030%
Health services manager$101,34032%

*Data sourced from US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook [2]

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the importance and demand for health care jobs, including those in public health. The number of jobs in health care are expected to increase 16 percent from 2020 to 2030 [3].

Is an MPH right for you? 

If you're curious about whether an MPH is right for you, ask yourself the following questions:  

  • Do you like to help others? No matter your concentration, public health is about improving the lives of others. 

  • Do you like to solve big problems? Studying public health often means facing big challenges, like pandemics, widespread violence, teen pregnancy, clean water, and food availability.    

If a career in a traditional public health field doesn’t interest you, you may find that you can use your MPH to find a career in “non-health” fields where you can apply your knowledge to other aspects of health and safety. For example, you could take on jobs that involve regulating consumer goods and enforcing local building codes.  

If you'd like to help others, but aren’t sure if an MPH is the right option based on your interests, explore the Master of Social Work (MSW). The graduate degree can prepare you to work with individuals, families, and communities to address and resolve a number of issues. 

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Next steps 

Earn your Master of Public Health online from top-rated schools such as the University of Michigan or Imperial College London on Coursera. Or try a course from the University of Michigan School of Public Health to see whether it’s a subject you enjoy. 

Related articles

Article sources

1. American Public Health Association. “What Is Public Health, https://www.apha.org/what-is-public-health.” Accessed April 26, 2022. 

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh." Accessed April 26, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Healthcare Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm." Accessed April 26, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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