Every public health program is unique, and there is no definitive public health curriculum. Methods of instruction are varied, but schools often develop a curriculum in line with their specific mission, striving to uphold the standards of public health while instilling the values that set their students apart.
Most MPH programs are completed within two to three years of matriculation, although some schools offer accelerated programs, and the timeframe might be different if you are a part-time or distance learner. The typical MPH program requires between 40 and 80 credit hours, though each school appropriates credits differently and places its own value on the number of units a class is worth.
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Within your first year, you will be exposed to the principles of public health, which form the basis of your education. These are your core courses, and they cover many of the disciplines prescribed by the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) core competency model. Core courses are your introduction to biostatistics, epidemiology,environmental health, public health biology, social and behavioral sciences, communication and informatics, and the other foundations of public health with which you should be familiar.
Some schools require a certain number of classes in each discipline, or a particular class level. There are also classes in leadership, team management, and program planning that will prepare you for an advanced career coordinating public health services in a community.
Electives and Concentrations
Mostly in your second year, but often in concordance with your core courses, you will have a required number of electives that you must complete. These electives become increasingly specialized as they focus on specific areas of public health, and are designed to give you in depth knowledge of your particular field of interest. It is most likely that the electives you choose will play a part in developing your public health research project. Students usually choose electives in the field they intend to pursue as a career.
The types of electives are as varied as the areas of public health, but some of them include public health nursing, infectious diseases, health systems and policy, food and nutrition, women’s and reproductive health, child and adolescent health, and occupational therapy, among many others.
Many schools require you to declare a concentration, which essentially defines the types of electives you will take. An MPH degree allows you to explore all the areas of public health, exposing you to a broad range of topics before honing in on an extremely specialized area. This area, when declared as a concentration, ensures that the classes you take prepare you for your theoretical career path.
While each MPH program is different, an effective public health education incorporates theory as well as practice. If you are interested in a public health degree, look for a school that offers real public health experience. In addition to classes, the ideal program offers an MPH practicum, a sort of public health internship or service project, as well as an MPH capstone, which is a guided research endeavor that further develops your knowledge of your concentration.
While the core competencies defined by ASPH do not mandate the disciplines that should be taught by a master in public health program, most schools agree that these competencies are indicative of a well-rounded education. ASPH represents the schools that are accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). Therefore, the foundations of public health encouraged by ASPH reflect the standards of the CEPH. Schools that uphold these standards demonstrate a firm commitment to public health education.
Beware, Masters of Public Health programs that offer these features may say that their curriculum “meets the standards for accreditation” or “is designed in accordance with accreditation criteria.” While that may be the case, only schools that carry CEPH accreditation are guaranteed to meet the widely accepted standards of quality MPH programs.