Earning an MPH

Earning an MPH

The goal of a Master of Public Health (MPH) program is to prepare professionals to anticipate and address the most urgent public health challenges in the world today, from emerging crises to systemic disparities. Earning an MPH requires hard work and commitment, but for individuals who are passionate about promoting well-being and protecting the health of members of diverse communities, an MPH program offers a pathway to achieving those goals. 

Pros of an MPH

Earning an MPH has many advantages. For example, many higher-paying public health jobs, such as a role as an epidemiologist, typically require at least a master’s degree. An MPH prepares candidates to specialize in a field of their choice and do work that benefits local or global communities.

Public Health Jobs With Above-Average Salaries

A number of high-paying public health jobs require a master’s degree at minimum. The following careers are examples of roles within the field that have above-average median salaries, where job candidates may benefit from having an MPH.

Medical and health services managers, also called health care executives or administrators, earned a median annual wage of $101,340 in May 2021. These professionals are in charge of medical and health services, often for hospitals or medical practices. Some medical and health services managers earn bachelor’s degrees while others opt for master’s degrees, which may be preferred by employers.

Epidemiologists are public health workers who research causes of disease and injury. Many have an MPH or related degree. In May 2021, the median annual salary for epidemiologists was $78,830.

Occupational health and safety professionals are responsible for inspecting, testing and evaluating workplace environments, equipment and practices to enforce safety standards and government regulations. These professionals typically earn a bachelor’s degree but can make themselves more competitive by furthering their education. The median annual salary for occupational health and safety specialists and technicians was $77,560 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Security

Public health workers are needed now more than ever, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Demand for professionals in this field has increased significantly in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. The BLS projects that employment of epidemiologists will grow 30% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This indicates that these public health professionals will likely have good job security. 

Your Work Benefits Your Community and Beyond

Is public health a good career? According to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), people who work in the public health field are “helping to solve the world’s most pressing health problems.” From addressing health disparities and creating healthier communities to advancing environmental health and improving global health, public health professionals improve quality of life around the world. 

You Can Specialize in a Multitude of Fields 

Earning an MPH can prepare candidates to work in different fields of public health. A student’s career focus depends on their personal preference. Some people work in scientific research or development, in state or local government offices, for a hospital, in a lab or in a clinical setting, or for a college or university.

Many people with an MPH choose to specialize in a certain topic. Some areas of specialization in public health include infectious diseases, environmental health, epidemiology, mental health, and public health preparedness and emergency response.

In the MPH@UNC program, students may pick one of four concentrations:

  • Leadership
  • Nutrition
  • Applied Epidemiology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

Learn on Your Time With an Online Option 

For those seeking online MPH programs with no GRE requirement, the MPH@UNC program offers students—regardless of where they live—the same classes, coursework and experiential learning opportunities they would get in the on-campus program at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The online MPH program offers live classes where students can get to know their classmates through small discussion groups and team projects. The online format lets students learn on their own time while maintaining work and family responsibilities. 

Factors to Consider When Pursuing an MPH

It’s important to consider the cost and time requirements of a graduate program and the potential challenges of the field itself, which may include a fast-paced work environment and hurdles to securing funding for public health projects. 

Time Dedication and Requirements

Regardless of concentration, course schedule or mode of instruction, earning an MPH requires a significant time investment. Outside of live sessions, students in online programs must set aside time each week to review asynchronous course content and complete assignments. 

Students in the MPH@UNC program who are working toward a concentration in Leadership, Nutrition or Applied Epidemiology may enroll on a full-time or part-time basis. Full-time students can complete the program in as few as 20–24 months. Part-time students can set their own pace as long as they complete all program requirements within five years. Most part-time students complete the program in 28–36 months. The online MPH is a 42-credit degree program that requires at least 200 hours of practicum experience. Students in the Nutrition concentration may opt for an accelerated track that allows them to complete the program in 16 months.

Cost of an MPH

A graduate degree can be expensive, so applicants will want to consider whether the investment makes sense for their career path. In addition to tuition and fees, there may be textbook and practicum costs. Aspiring students can explore financial aid options that could help with the cost of a master’s degree in public health. 

Potential funding options for MPH@UNC students include scholarships, loans, fellowships and military education benefits. For more information about the UNC MPH cost, visit the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid website.

Entry-Level Job Competition 

As mentioned above, employment of epidemiologists is predicted to grow 30% from 2020 to 2030. However, according to the BLS, “Because it is a small occupation, the fast growth is expected to result in only about 2,300 new jobs over the decade.” That may mean more competition for jobs. 

Often, entry-level jobs don’t require a public health degree. If a candidate has one, however, it demonstrates that they have a certain knowledge base in the field, which could help set them apart from other applicants. 

Potential Stress and Job Hazards

Working in public health may come with certain stresses, depending on the role. According to the BLS, epidemiologists encounter minimal risk when working in laboratories or in the field, due to their training and the precautions they take. However, a study of field epidemiologists—the front-line public health workforce that responds to outbreaks of communicable diseases and other emergencies—found that more than 50% of participants in field epidemiology training programs experienced occupational stress.

Project Funding

MPH graduates can go on to work in the private or public sector. Securing project funding in the public sector can be a challenge at times. According to the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, public health in the United States is chronically underfunded. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the primary driver of federal public health funding through its grant programs. Yet, CDC funding for public health preparedness and response programs was cut in half from 2010 to 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, however, public health expenditures increased. From rescue plans and relief funds to money spent on vaccine development, COVID testing and health facility preparedness, federal government spending on health care went up by 36% in 2020, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Despite the challenges of public health funding, making an impact in the field is still possible.

Still wondering if an MPH is worth it? According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), “Public health saves money, improves our quality of life, helps children thrive and reduces human suffering.” It’s hard to imagine a more worthy goal than that. 

Citation for this content: MPH@UNC, the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s online MPH program.