The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on the need for more quality public health professionals. Public health workers serve organizations in a variety of important roles. They take up the mantle of educators and communicators or become research scientists and medical service managers. They can specialize in different areas too, or choose to serve in some generalist function like public policy advisors.
The demand for public health professionals is also increasing. For instance, the projected job growth for public health professionals like health education specialists and community workers is a faster-than-average 13% from 2019 to 2029 (BLS, 2021). For medical and health service managers, the job outlook is very positive with a projected 32% growth (BLS, 2021).
In response to this development, educational institutions of higher learning have made programs and courses more widely available. Many reputable schools are also offering purely online doctorates in public health programs. In this article, we will look into these online degree programs and discuss the average tuition costs, common degree courses, and provide tips on how to choose the right program for you. In this way, you will know what to expect when you enroll.
The short answer is yes. You can get a doctorate degree in public health fully online. In fact, many reputable universities have public health programs for baccalaureate and master’s as well. Public health practitioners, in general, work to advance wellness in many populations (Walden University, 2021). This can be accomplished in many ways through different specializations.
Most courses are at the theoretical level with a healthy mix of general advanced foundational courses and training in qualitative analysis and methods. So, these are easily translatable for an online method of delivery. Also, as the world is going into a rapid pace of digitalization, many more programs as complex as public health will be widely available on the web in the future.
In fact, because of the COVID-19 situation, many students have opted for online education rather than face-to-face setups. In fact, for 37% of them in 2020, online education is the only option (BestColleges, 2021). And the availability of online platforms for degree programs has made it easy for them to choose or continue on their degree paths.
Source: BestColleges, 2021
Many employers, nowadays, take online degrees seriously. Firstly, it is good to note that when you get a degree from a university program, the diploma does not specify whether you get it online or on-campus. Secondly, industries are now more accepting of online education degrees. Many quality programs are being offered by highly reputable schools. And, these are accredited by recognized agencies. So, before enrolling, make sure to check whether your school or program is accredited by regional accreditation bodies or something equivalent.
Moreover, as pointed out by Gallagher (2018), online credentials are already mainstream with 61% of HR professionals believing that they are generally of equal quality to their on-campus counterparts.
However, a good portion of employers would rather hire those who earned their degrees on-campus. This may be because this is an indicator that you work well with people and have better organizational skills. This, of course, does not generally hold.
Yes, especially when a program is accredited by a recognized accreditation body. This is more true for online degree programs given by prestigious institutions like Stanford and Harvard. Web-based learning and organizational management have also been shown to be effective in recent years. The pandemic has likewise accelerated the adoption and improvement of technologies and methods for purely web-based work and interactions. So, it is safe to say that in the future, online education will be more mainstream than it already is today.
In fact, according to online degree teachers, higher-learning institutions have good reasons to offer online degree programs. Around 72% believe that employment demand for skills and knowledge is a big factor. Also, 71% think that student demand and interest is also a key factor. And, 70% think that as they already offer the program on-campus, universities should just extend it to online students.
Source: BestColleges, 2020
The main difference between online and traditional doctorate programs in public health is the method of delivery. However, both do not largely differ when it comes to the courses themselves and the quality of education. Also, they are similarly recognized by the same accreditation bodies.
Traditional doctorate programs require students to work in their field full time and from three to four years at a brick-and-mortar location (Capella University, 2017). Online degree programs offer professionals to complete the same amount of work but with better schedule flexibility. The cost, in general, is also less expensive when you choose the online route.
However, there are online doctorate programs that may require in-person dissertation-related residencies (Capella University, 2017).
The learning experience, in terms of peer and mentor interactions, is also different. While in traditional classrooms, students may be physically present, they may not be able to have a one-on-one interaction with their instructors. But, in online programs, one-on-one online interactions are scheduled and can even be done every week (Brant in Capella University, 2017).
In general, online degrees are cheaper than traditional degrees. This is because online students will not make much use of university resources such as electricity and space. They use their own resources at home or in co-working spaces. So, this allows universities to offer online programs at less expensive prices.
As mentioned, an online degree can be as good as a regular degree. They have more or less the same content and the same faculty. Also, they train students on the same skills. For instance, students enrolled in an online master’s degree in data science learn the same programming languages as their on-campus counterparts. They also take the same tests and have the same requirements. However, there are just students that do better in face-to-face interaction settings. So, how good an online degree program is for a person may depend on their social aptitude, level of independence, and even personal preferences.
However, as recent online education statistics show, 52% of graduate students rank online learning experiences better than in-classroom ones.
How much an online doctorate program in public health costs depends on many factors. Firstly, each degree-granting institution may price its programs differently. Secondly, there is usually a difference between prices for in-state online students or out-of-state online students.
In-state online doctorate programs in public health can range from $12,450 to $39,840 for public universities. This is with an in-state per credit cost from $249 to $830. Out-of-state tuition can range from $44,700 to $79,776 with per credit costs ranging from $894 to $1,662.
Also, as a general rule, the more prestigious the program, the higher the tuition will cost. Top schools offer per credit tuition, ranging from $957 to over $1,233. Total tuition based on credits can range between $78,912 to even over $92,832.
While you do not have to spend on board and lodging, there are also hidden costs when taking the online route. These, however, can be extremely cheaper than having to live on campus. These may include:
For those that have a real passion for public health, an online doctorate degree is worth it. With it, they can proceed further into their research or handle more sensitive responsibilities. Also, the pay is not so bad. The median annual wage for community health workers in May 2020 was $42,000. For health education specialists, the median annual wage was $56,500. The median pay for epidemiologists was $74,560 while the figure for medical and health services managers was $104,280 in the same period.
A doctorate in public health program covers a wide range of functions and specializations. This is why there are many routes that one can take to enter the field. There are two main tracks. The first is for people that already have a Master of Public Health (MPH) or a Masters of Science in Public Health. The second one is for those with bachelor’s degrees or higher in a discipline other than public health (Walden University, 2021).
As mentioned, there are hidden costs when it comes to enrolling in an online learning program. These include a high-speed internet connection, a quality computer, and a quiet office or study. One might even need additional devices like a dedicated study tablet. Moreover, as programs like public health can be highly technical when it comes to its methods and quantitative analysis, students might also have to shoulder software costs.
An online doctorate program in public health has more or less the same courses as its brick-and-mortar counterpart. The course contents, as mentioned, are a good mix of theoretical foundations and quantitative analysis methods. Of course, in-depth courses in various specialization areas are also available. There are also elective courses and their offering depends on the expertise of the faculty.
Here is a list of online degree courses you should expect (Walden University, 2021; Johns Hopkins University, 2021).
Leadership and Multicultural Perspectives. This course lets students explore the different leadership theories and models. They also learn the core principles of leadership applied to public health and how to apply a systems approach to it.
Public Health Ethics. Introduces students to the principles and values that propel decision-making when it comes to public health practice and research.
Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis. Introduces students to the tools, methods, and skills required to carry quantitative research. It covers topics from statistical methods and logical inference to software literacy and the interpretation of results.
Health Informatics and Surveillance. Students will get to know the principles, methods, and skills behind using computer science and other technologies to support decision-making in public health (CDC, 2021).
Qualitative Data Analysis. Enrollees will learn the techniques and technology behind robust qualitative data analysis. They will improve their skills in using data collected from texts, interviews, and even case studies to uncover and influence thinking and behavior (University of Michigan, 2021).
Public health courses are also not limited to ‘physical’ health and wellness per se. In fact, the COVID-19 outbreak also unleashed a mental health crisis. As Holmes and colleagues (2020) pointed out in their Lancet Psychiatry article titled “Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science,” the “number of antidepressant prescriptions made in general practice between April 1, 2020, and Sept 30, 2020, was 38,609,032, 3·94% higher than the corresponding period in 2019 (37,144,303).”
Thus, the researchers also called for a more mental-health-inclusive multidisciplinary approach to public health policy and research. Surely, with all this and other developments brought to the field by the pandemic, more courses, specializations, and routes for research will surface in the near future.
Common specializations, however, include community health, epidemiology, leadership, occupational health, and nutrition, among others (Public Health Degrees, 2021).
There are many different things to consider when choosing an online doctorate program in public health. For many tertiary students, however, the top reason for choosing a school is affordability with 51% of them agreeing (Learning House, 2020). The next most popularly important aspect is the reputation of the school/program, with 36% of students citing it. They include:
Firstly, you should check the availability of such programs in one’s location and the ease of access to campus. This is because many online programs are not totally online. Some require students to undergo on-site residencies or on-site seminars. So, it is better to check whether there are such prerequisites or not.
As mentioned, there are many specializations in public health. If you already have one in mind, you should see whether your target schools offer the specialization you want. The list of common specializations can be found in the graphic before this section.
There can be many prerequisites to advanced doctorate-level public health courses. This is especially true for students with non-medical backgrounds. And, not all prerequisite courses have online class options. So, prospective students should apply due diligence in planning their doctorate careers.
You want to enroll in a program offered by an accredited and recognized institution. So, it is best to check on the type of accreditation that your prospective programs have. You can check your target school’s website or search their names in the database of regional accreditation agencies.
Support and Networking Services
Lastly, you should also check for the support services that a particular institution has available for online students. These include your online library and journal access. Also, it might be better to enroll in an institution with great networking services, especially if you wish to work with some institute, scholar, a government agency, or a business entity.
Source: Learning House, 2020
The importance of quality public health policies and practices cannot be overemphasized in today’s pandemic-stricken world. What COVID-19 showed us is that we lack the necessary systems to deal with such calamity in a quick decisive manner.
It is not just government agencies that were found lacking. Private institutions, including corporations and non-profit organizations too, were shown to be under-equipped. Thus, the demand for more quality public health professionals has increased exponentially. As discussed, there are many facets to public health practice.
These include health education, informatics, surveillance, organizational change management, leadership, biostatistics, public policymaking, and many more. Public health is inherently an interdisciplinary field and it draws from other disciplines from the natural sciences, social sciences, and even humanities. This involves many professionals from biologists to public relations experts. All of them are needed. So, there are many holes to be filled. Since there are no necessary prerequisites to enroll in many programs, many people are qualified.
Filling public health job roles can be important to an individual for two reasons. Firstly, it is needed and it can be fulfilling work. Secondly, the pay can be good and there are ample opportunities for upward and lateral mobility in and among organizations. Thus, public health professionals can, at the same time, contribute to the betterment of society while getting paid reasonably.