Do you have a passion for helping others through science, social services, health care, or policy making? If so, an online public health degree can help you gain valuable skills and knowledge for this diverse field. This guide can help you compare the types of online degrees available as well as potential job options for graduates. Also useful are some guidelines for distance learning success and tools to help you find programs that match your academic and career goals.
An online degree in public health serves those who want to find new and innovative ways to help others and impact change in the health care community. Students can choose a degrees in a number of specializations geared toward their dream career. It’s important to research schools before enrolling to ensure your school of choice has the student services, class sizes and pricing that you need. We’ve done some of that research for you, plus looked at the many career opportunities available for those with a degree in public health.
Public health professionals use their specialized knowledge to analyze and address health issues and concerns affecting communities, the nation, and regions around the globe. This growing field emphasizes the importance of wellness among the general public, with several branches dedicated to areas ranging from health education to disease prevention to nutrition.
Public health professionals work with national and community leaders to educate the public and medical professionals about various issues, and develop programs or solutions to ameliorate public health problems. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for health educators and community health workers to increase by 21 percent from 2012 through 2022. Additionally, as part of its Healthy 2020 initiative, the federal government has called for an increase in public health experts across the United States.
Completing a degree program can put graduates in a position to serve the general public and apply for jobs in different areas such as public health administration. Educational qualifications vary by specialty. For instance, health educators typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, and many employers also require the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential. For community health workers, some positions require post-secondary education while others provide specialized skills and knowledge through on-the-job training. For these professionals, there are no national certification requirements but individual states may have certification guidelines.
Students can do research to find online public health degrees that support their professional goals and complement their lifestyle. With online programs, students have the option of earning degrees on a full- or part-time basis. For certain hybrid distance learning programs, some coursework is completed on campus or at a medical center.
This program typically can be completed in two years of full-time study. Students explore the politics behind health issues that affect communities, educational programs, and local and global health services. They learn about ethical standards and professional conduct in this field, and also gain the necessary skills to resolve conflict regarding public health and health care issues. They also complete training in the use of technology to deliver health care services. An associate degree program serves as a foundation and can prepare graduates for entry-level jobs in the field, for example, as a community health worker or social services assistant.
Courses for an online associate degree in public health could include:
Health Services Organization
Introduction to Sociology
Introduction to Psychology
Leadership and Motivation
Many associate degree programs also include an elective component where the student focuses on a certain specialization, such as education, disease prevention or environmental health.
A bachelor’s degree can prepare students for a career in public health and related fields, working to help improve the quality of life of individuals and communities. Some degrees can be completed in four years for full-time students. Courses cover key topics, ranging from epidemiology to biostatistics to economics and policy making. Often these programs include a fieldwork component where students can apply the skills and knowledge learned in the classroom. Examples of courses needed to complete a bachelor’s degree include:
Maternal and Child Nutrition
Public Health Preparedness
Drugs and Society
Health Education Intervention Methods
Biology in Public Health Research
Many employers require a bachelor’s degree as the minimum requirement for employment so it’s a good idea to find a program that provides the education and resources needed.
The master’s in nursing (MSN) is a graduate degree designed for practicing nursing professionals seeking to advance their career, improve their patient care skills, prepare for nursing leadership positions, and make an impact on the next generation of nurses through educational positions. A highly specialized program of study, the MSN may take between two to three years to complete. The average curriculum is divided between generalist nursing courses and the student’s chosen concentration. Read our guide to the online master’s in nursing to learn more about specialization, admissions and today’s best programs.
Online doctoral degrees are an option for those who have completed a master’s degree in public health and want to further their studies in order to move in to research or teaching. These programs can prepare students for a leadership role within a health department of an organization or with health service providers, as well as upper-level positions with international agencies. Some can undertake work with private research organizations that create and execute public health initiatives.
Potential coursework for online public health degrees at the doctoral level include:
Community and Family Health Issues
Health Policy and Administration
Some schools offer a hybrid format where students complete most of their coursework in a virtual classroom setting and then attend campus for one-week intensives or multi-day workshop sessions. These can be an alternative for working professionals who wish to split their time between online and offline learning formats without too many interruptions.
To learn more about specialized online public health degree programs, see our resources for students in those fields below. You can also visit our guide to pre-professional experience for public health students for more information about how to prepare for your career in public health.
Given its interdisciplinary nature, it’s no wonder so many students are attracted to online programs in public health. Graduates of this field have a spectrum of job opportunities available to them, making it attractive to students with varied backgrounds. After selecting a level of degree and area of concentration, students can use the search tool below to find programs not only offering academic excellence, but also meeting other important needs such as proper accreditation, faculty credentials, scheduling options, and internships or field experience.
Many online public health degree programs offer options for the busy working professional. Students should verify that they are enrolling in a program from an accredited school and making an investment that can pay off professionally in the long run. Take some time to compare the curriculum of different programs, prerequisite requirements, and internship or field study options available in order to make the most informed decision.
Here are some things to look for when researching distance programs in public health:
It’s important to make sure the online degree program is offered by an accredited college or university. Students can check the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to find out if the school meets acceptable levels of quality. Completing a degree program from an accredited school can make a graduate more attractive to potential employers and also ensures that students receive a quality education.
Learn about faculty members teaching various classes to determine whether they include public health administrators, researchers and other professionals in the industry. These individuals can provide students with feedback, insights, and guidance throughout the program. Some may also be able to point a student in the right direction when they are searching for a mentor or job opportunities.
Students with family or work obligations that may prevent them from completing a degree program on campus can look for online and distance education programs. Having the freedom to organize a personalized schedule while completing a degree is one of the perks of online degree programs. Students need to determine whether there are any campus-based requirements with online public health degrees at the school they are interested in or special project requirements that would interfere with their schedule.
The core curriculum for associate and bachelor’s degree programs in public health studies is somewhat similar across schools. Electives and advanced courses at the master’s degree and doctoral level differ significantly, depending on the type of school and department that offers the program. It’s helpful to compare the course requirements to make sure schools offer a well-rounded education and cover current public health topics that could be of use throughout professional careers.
Some schools have an internship requirement before graduation or may offer field study opportunities throughout the term. These can provide vital skills and experiences for students interested in a career in public health administration, health services, and health education.
Students may be able to take advantage of a career placement assistance program — especially when looking for a job out of state or entering a specialized field. Determining whether the school can assist with career placement right before or after graduation can help prospective students pick a program that meets their needs.
Many schools that also offer campus-based courses extend student services and resources to online students. This means a student may have access to libraries, research centers, special events, seminars and workshops to supplement their educational experience. Even having virtual access to a library or resources can help a student throughout their educational career.
An online bachelor’s degree in health sciences with a concentration in public health is available from NAU. Students can learn about health promotion and disease prevention by covering a variety of topics related to current issues, environmental health, injury prevention, and disease. They can also develop skills in areas such as legal and ethical codes of conduct, communication and professional practice.
This program also includes a supervised fieldwork experience component where students work on projects in a professional health promotion setting. Students must complete 270 clock hours at an internship site to fulfill the degree requirement.
The Master of Public Health Professional degree program includes health policy and management courses, with a focus on developing leadership skills for a management position in this field. This is a 42-credit program and students are admitted year round. Coursework may include, Introduction to Health Management and Policy, Principles of Biostatistics, and Theoretical Foundations of Individual and Community Health. Degree requirements also include practical experience and a culminating capstone project.
Online public health degree programs are designed for students with busy lifestyles and can be a viable way to earn an education while working toward professional goals. Distance learning makes it easier to study at home or from work while keeping up with course requirements. Still, students need to be self-disciplined with their time and feel comfortable working in a virtual classroom setting. Here are some tips for success that public health distance learners can keep in mind:
Students are expected to review a variety of course materials throughout the term and may need to log a certain number of posts in discussion forums each week, participate in lectures or attend webinars. Time management skills are essential to stay on schedule with assignments and other study obligations by plotting a calendar and making room for personal obligations.
Many online degree programs have a work experience or internship component, and students need to clock in a certain number of hours in a professional setting in order to graduate. You can take the lead on searching for companies, public health service organizations and similar agencies in the area that may be looking for students or graduates to join their team. These opportunities can provide crucial work experience and introduce students to industry professionals as they begin their career.
If the school has a campus, you can seek out opportunities to connect with faculty members, other students and industry professionals that may be visiting the campus from time to time. Some schools host lectures, workshops and other events related to the public health field throughout the semester. Planning ahead can make it easier to participate in these events.
Those working at the graduate or doctoral level can find a mentor or someone who works in the field to provide guidance or support. Some schools may assist you in this area by assigning a guidance counselor as you progress through the program. This can be an invaluable resource regardless of your level of study.
Students can learn more about the industry, career options and professional growth opportunities by researching organizations and nonprofits such as the American Public Health Association (APHA), Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPHH), Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) and the This is Public Health website.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately 100,000 health educators, community health workers, and epidemiologists work in public settings. Graduates may end up working for a government agency such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), with state and local public health departments, or even in academia. Here are some job options for public health graduates:
Director in charge of a health services department who oversees all administrative functions of the facility. Such a manager may be directly involved with hiring and firing employees, cost and accounting activities, and compliance activities.
If you have a passion for nutrition and food science, explore a career as a nutritionist where you can help clients maintain a healthy diet and prevent certain types of diseases by promoting sound nutrition choices.
This leadership position involves managing day-to-day activities at a facility and requires strong skills in decision-making, budgeting and personnel management. Administrators may be responsible for strategic planning and developing an internal leadership team to support these efforts.
Work with people that have been infected or diagnosed with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Openings are possible in a hospital or in a private clinic setting. These specialists need to earn a medical degree in conjunction with a public health degree to enter this field.
Work in a public office or in the private sector to supervise departments, advise clients and educate groups about health care prevention. Administrators may hire staff members, manage a budget and make important decisions that affect the organization as a whole.
If you want to work on the political side of public health, law school may be necessary. You could serve as a public health attorney to draft policies that improve general health or serve as an advocate for patients’ rights.
If you enjoy doing presentations and talking to others, you can specialize in sharing information about healthy lifestyle choices, wellness and disease prevention with the media and community.
Your job is to create a safe and healthy work environment for employees in a certain setting. You may be responsible for making sure that certain types of machinery are working properly or develop solutions that solve problems that are affecting the employees’ work environment.
These officers are in charge of sharing information about disease prevention and major health issues with the public. Most are employed by hospitals, clinics and other medical organizations to communicate regarding major health issues and concerns in a timely manner.
These highly trained specialists are in charge of identifying and analyzing public health issues. Most epidemiologists work in a lab setting but some also do field research to develop theories and conclusions about illnesses and diseases affecting the community.