Earning an Online Ph.D. in Public Health

As a public health official, you want to leave a positive impact on communities' wellbeing by creating valuable health education programs and ensuring that people live in healthy environments. To meet your goals, consider earning a Ph.D. in public health online.

A Ph.D. in public health prepares you for a rapidly growing field. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the need for medical and health services managers should rise 20% between 2016 and 2026. Also, as these managerial positions pay near $100,000 per year, you can consider an online Ph.D. in public health an investment in your future.

Continue reading to learn more about doctor of public health online programs and about financial aid options, program requirements, potential careers, and professional organizations.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Public Health?

Online Ph.D. students earn their degrees for different reasons. Some do so to pursue a specialization for a specific career path. Other students earn an online degree for career advancement: senior managers, professors, and government advisers often possess a Ph.D. Finally, an online program gives students the flexibility to earn their degrees while still working full time or part time.

Prerequisites for Online Public Health Ph.D. Programs

Each accredited online doctoral program in public health you research should ask you to submit a similar application portfolio. Below, you can learn more about how everything from work experience to interviews affects the application process. Please keep in mind that each school to which you apply may require modified or additional prerequisites.

  • Work Experience: Work experience plays a vital role in many doctor of public health online programs. Programs that require work experience do so for two reasons. First, it shows admissions departments that applicants want to make public health their permanent career. Second, work experience brings shareable wisdom to the classroom. For these reasons, you should consider working in public health before starting a Ph.D. program.
  • Exams and Test Scores: If you already possess a master's degree in public health and work experience, the programs to which you apply may not ask you to submit test scores. If you possess only a bachelor's degree, start studying for the GRE or GMAT. Set a score goal at or just above the 75th percentile. At most universities, your scores remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Master of public health programs satisfy nearly all doctoral programs' coursework requirements. Programs that accept applicants with bachelor's degrees may limit applicants to those who majored in public health or a closely related field. The most competitive programs require applicants to possess a minimum 3.5 GPA. Some online universities accept relevant work experience to satisfy coursework requirements.
  • Recommendations: Ask 3-5 people (e.g., former professors or current work supervisors) to write recommendation letters on your behalf. The people you ask should speak to your academic performance, work ethic, and future career prospects. Give the people writing your references at least two weeks to do so.
  • Essays: niversities typically require doctoral applicants to submit 2-3 essays on subjects related to public health. Common essay topics include your public health experience, your career aspirations, and your opinions regarding the most pressing public health issues. Other universities may ask you to submit both essays and an academic work portfolio.
  • Interviews: Online Ph.D. in public health programs often use interviews to make their final selections. Interview committees include professors and administrative staff. Typical interview questions mirror those you answer in essays. However, interviewers may challenge you by asking you to describe your professional weaknesses and how you try to improve them.
  • International Students International students typically must pass two additional hurdles if they plan to earn their doctorates in the U.S. First, students from non-English-speaking countries must pass the TOEFL or similar exam. Second, most U.S. universities require that international applicants' foreign transcripts undergo a specialized review. As a result, international students should submit their bachelor's and master's transcripts as soon as possible.

How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Public Health?

Medical and health services managers earn $58,350-$176,130. As an online Ph.D. in public health graduate, you can expect to earn a salary at the higher end of this range. Ph.D. graduates possess specialized knowledge and skills that prepare them for positions in senior management. However, you may decide to pursue a nontraditional career. Continue reading to learn more about possible career paths, their median salaries, projected job growth, and duties.

Traditional Careers for Public Health Ph.D. Graduates

Careers Stats Description

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers work in colleges and universities. They instruct students, develop curricula, and work with other teachers to implement school-wide initiatives. Many public health professionals with a Ph.D. enter academia to share their experience and wisdom with the next generation. Hiring institutions typically require that applicants possess a Ph.D. and relevant experience.

Research Director

Median Pay: $101,116

Job Growth: N/A

As the job title suggests, research directors oversee a research department or institution. Typical job duties include hiring and training new staff, ensuring projects' success, and collaborating with other directors and managers. Nearly all research directors possess a Ph.D. and at least five years of relevant work experience.


Median Pay: $62,142

Job Growth: 9%

Research scientists who study how diseases spread, epidemiologists pay a vital role in stopping the next epidemic. On the job, they collect data through experimentation; they also visit areas where life-threatening diseases appear. Many epidemiologists possess a master's in epidemiology or public health. An online Ph.D. in public health may help graduates advance their careers more rapidly than their peers.

Senior Biostatistician

Median Pay: $108,471

Job Growth: 33%

Senior biostatisticians blend their statistics and public health knowledge to assist medical researchers plan experiments, collect data, and interpret the results. They often write original software programs so researchers may compile and analyze data more efficiently. A public health doctorate and a bachelor's or master's in statistics prepare graduates for this rapidly growing field.

Environmental Health Director

Median Pay: $75,037

Job Growth: 11%

Environmental health directors use their public health Ph.D. to draft policies that benefit the environment and communities' health. Succeeding at this job involves staying up to date on the latest environmental health regulations and laws. Finally, like nearly all traditional and nontraditional careers for public health graduates, this position requires advanced research and analytical skills.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Nontraditional Careers for Public Health Ph.D. Graduates

After graduating, you may decide to work in a nontraditional occupation. These careers typically offer slightly lower salaries than traditional careers. However, strong projected job growth rates indicate that you should find job openings when you graduate. This section also features overlapping skills, the skills you hone during your online Ph.D. program, that you can use in a nontraditional career.

Career Stats Description

Executive Director, Nonprofit Organization

Median Pay: $65,031

Job Growth: 18%

Executive directors serve as their nonprofit organizations' chief executives. Much like a CEO, they work with subordinate staff and other managers to ensure that their organizations complete all short- and long-term goals. On call at all times, this career requires extreme dedication, many years of professional experience, and an advanced degree.

Skills Overlapped: Administration; leadership; grant writing

Social Scientist

Median Pay: $70,228

Job Growth: 1%

From college research laboratories to government think tanks, social scientists perform experiments that study human nature. Dual degrees in sociology and public health prepare graduates to uncover how sociological forces both positively and negatively affect communities' health. Many social scientists who work in colleges and universities split their time between research and teaching.

Skills Overlapped: Research; writing; analysis

Wellness Director

Median Pay: $55,612

Job Growth: 16%

When organizations want to improve their employees' physical and mental health, they hire wellness directors. These professionals determine employees' needs through interviews and surveys before designing a wellness plan for the organization. They collect data on their initiatives' success and report findings to senior management.

Skills Overlapped: Research; interpersonal; project management

Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)

Median Pay: $126,432

Job Growth: 20%

Experienced nurses become CNOs so they can make an enduring positive impact at their medical center. On the job, they mentor nurses, provide feedback, and determine their departments' needs. A master of science in nursing degree, a doctorate in public health, and extensive professional experience prepare graduates for this role. A public health education benefits CNOs as they can identify how their medical centers can better cater to their communities' needs.

Skills Overlapped: Research; clinical supervision; management

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

Paying for a Ph.D. in Public Health Online

Earning a Ph.D. in public health online can take 3-6 years, so tuition cost can vary widely depending on the program you select and the amount of time needed to earn your degree. Accelerated Ph.D. programs can certainly save you money. No matter how long you need to graduate, grants and scholarships can also reduce your tuition bill significantly. Continue reading to learn more about five scholarships that help public health graduate students pay for their educations.

Scholarships for Online Public Health Ph.D. Students

Due to the increasing need for public health professionals, students can apply to many lucrative scholarship opportunities. The scholarships below represent a few of those that help students in online schools finance most or all of their degrees' cost. Please keep in mind that all scholarships list different application requirements. You may not qualify for all scholarships on this list.

What to Expect from an Online Public Health Ph.D. Program

Although most students in Ph.D. public health online programs can complete their coursework in 2-3 years, writing the dissertation can take an additional 2-3 years. Therefore, depending on whether you study full time or part time, plan to spend 4-6 years in your program.

Continue reading to learn about major milestones, graduation timelines, and potential postgraduate certifications. Contact programs to learn more about how they help online students complete milestones and make the most of their time in school.

Major Milestones

  1. Complete Internships or Practicums

    As you take foundational coursework, your program may require you to complete supervised internships or practicums in your local community. Internship and practicum supervisors send your university regular updates on your work's quality.

  2. Finish Foundational Courses

    At the end of your affordable program's second year, you finish foundational courses. At this point, your program may require you to pass a comprehensive written or oral exam to move on to your Ph.D. program's next stage.

  3. Select Dissertation Topic

    As foundational coursework includes courses in dissertation writing and research, you start to explore potential dissertation topics. Your dissertation adviser works closely with you to make this important decision.

  4. Finish Dissertation Research

    Depending on your dissertation topic, it may take you 1-2 years to complete the necessary research. Research that requires extensive experimentation may take longer than two years.

  5. Dissertation Defense

    When you complete your dissertation, you must pass a dissertation defense in which you present your research and take questions from your dissertation committee. A successful defense concludes your Ph.D. program.

  6. Preparation for Licensure Examination

    Preparing for your career may mean more than earning a Ph.D. As your program winds down, begin studying for licensure examinations your future job may require. As with all standardized tests, the sooner you start studying, the better you should perform.


Before starting your dissertation, you complete extensive foundational and specialized coursework. The six courses below represent those nearly all students take in their programs' first two years.

Global Public Health Ethics

This course prepares students to use ethical decision-making skills when working in developing countries. Course topics include global public health issues' history, the importance of informed consent, and researchers' responsibilities when studying communities.

Strategies for Success

Although many students start Ph.D. programs after earning a master's or gaining work experience, they still lack many vital skills. This program highlights research skills and how students can start preparing for careers in academia.


Although not all Ph.D. students go on to careers as college professors, they must still know how to plan and implement curricula. Besides academic skills, pedagogy courses prepare students to take on mentoring and training roles in their future positions.

Introduction to Quantitative Research

This course prepares students to collect and analyze data, two vital components of the dissertation process. The course conveys much of the same information that students would learn in a graduate-level statistics course.

Dissertation Research

In this course, students work one on one with dissertation advisers to select a topic and perform extensive research and experimentation. Throughout this process, students often meet with their advisers to provide updates and change the research's direction, if necessary.

Degree Timelines

Just like online bachelor's and master's programs, many online Ph.D. in public health programs offer part-time, full-time, and accelerated pathways. The table below provides information on each format's length and rigor.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description


6+ years

Part-time programs take the full-time curriculum and extend it by at least two years: an additional year for instruction and an additional year to write the dissertation. This flexibility provides students the opportunity to continue working full or part time while earning their degrees. Some students whose personal or professional circumstances change may need up to eight years to graduate.


4-6 years

Full-time students spend their programs' first two years completing foundational coursework in both public health topics and dissertation preparation. In the final 2-4 years, students perform research and write their dissertations. A full-time schedule may extend longer if students also work as teaching assistants (as a way to finance their education). Doctoral programs recommend that full-time students do not work while earning their degrees.


3 years

Few universities offer accelerated Ph.D. programs in public health. Those that do typically require that students pursue both the Ph.D. and an M.D. in a unified program. Students in these dual-degree programs take only three years to earn their Ph.D., but only after spending at least four years earning an M.D. or another advanced degree.

Licenses and Certifications

Public health professionals who earn a Ph.D. can further advance their careers by earning one or more certifications. These certifications show prospective employers that candidates possess a highly advanced skillset. Earning a certification also requires professional experience and passing one or more examinations. Certified public health professionals renew their certifications by completing continuing education (CE) courses. The certifications below represent just a few that public health professionals obtain.

  • Certified in Public Health: Public health professionals with bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees and at least five years of work experience can apply. The National Board of Public Health Examiners requires applicants to pass a rigorous exam. After earning the CPH, you must take at least 50 credit hours of continuing education courses each year. Employers respect applicants with the CPH as it shows tremendous dedication to the public health field.
  • Certified Health Education Specialist: The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing awards this certification to bachelor's, master's, or doctoral graduates with at least five years of work experience. Applicants must pass a 165-question examination and take continuing education credits each year. CHES signifies the holder's expertise in health education.
  • Master Certified Health Education Specialist: After maintaining the CHES for five years or more, applicants can advance their certification through earning an MCHES. Like the CPH and CHES, the MCHES also requires a rigorous examination. The MCHES represents a terminal certification, one that qualifies professionals for managerial and leadership positions within health education organizations.
  • Certification in Infection Prevention and Control: Industry experts view the CIC as the gold standard for practicing epidemiologists. The Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology continuously updates the CIC exam to keep up to date with the latest infection prevention and control best practices. Many professionals who earn the CIC become healthcare managers, a lucrative position.

Professional Organizations and Resources

A doctor of public health online requires a tremendous amount of time and dedication. Expect to need others' assistance during your program. To give yourself ample support, consider joining 1-2 public health professional organizations. These organizations connect professionals all over the world. Once you join, you can learn from other members through private discussion boards and exclusive publications. As you research organizations, do not forget about free public health resources, many of which can help you jumpstart your education and future career.

  • American Public Health Association: Nearly 25,000 public health professionals from over 40 countries join APHA to improve their communities' health. All members receive an invitation to the annual expo and can collaborate through the online membership portal.
  • Association of Clinical Research Professionals: ACRP student members receive not only numerous continuing education resources, but also significant discounts on certification training programs. ACRP's local chapters host networking events where students can form relationships with practicing public health officials.
  • American School Health Association: ASHA attracts professionals who strive to improve students' physical and mental health. The association invests heavily in research to discover school health best practices. Member benefits include continuing education courses and an private job board.
  • Association of Public Health Laboratories: An excellent association for students preparing for research careers, APHL strives to improve federal, state, and local governments' public health laboratories. Membership connects student members to potential employers through continuing education courses and in-person networking events.
  • National Environmental Health Association: Students researching the connections between communities' health and environmental health should consider joining NEHA. NEHA offers its members over a dozen training programs that lead to credentialing in areas such as food safety.
  • American College of Epidemiology: The premier organization for epidemiologists, ACE uses its nearly 40 years of experience to advance and further the epidemiology profession. The organization provides online Ph.D. in public health students valuable information about this rapidly evolving field.
  • Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health: ASPPH represents prospective students' one-stop shop for detailed information on public health programs, certifications, and scholarships. Visit regularly to take advantage of the latest information and opportunities.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The U.S.'s first line of defense against communicable diseases, the CDC continuously releases crucial information to public health officials and the general public. Also, the CDC sponsors several fellowships that can both pay for your education and attract potential employers' attention.
  • Delta Omega: The honorary society in public health, Delta Omega gives public health students the chance to connect with other dedicated and high-achieving students throughout the United States. Applicants must attend a school with a Delta Omega chapter.
  • Careers in Public Health: The New York state Department of Health provides this comprehensive resource to public health students. Visitors can explore more than 50 careers doctoral graduates can pursue.